Millennials make up most of your community. I know I’m stating the obvious, but this is important to point out.
As a church leader, it is vital for you to know who the people are in your community, what they think about the church, and what they are looking for from you. When you are armed with this information, you can best reflect upon your ministry, overcome potential obstacles, and remove any unnecessary roadblocks to the gospel reaching the people in your community.
Millennials normally get a bad rap (I know this from personal experience). We are considered lazy, entitled, and irreverent. Well, this last point does have some merit to it when you consider that only 2 out of 10 people in the U.S. under the age of 30 believe that the church is important or worthwhile—and this is at an all-time low.
While this data point isn’t encouraging, it gets worse when you consider that millennials are the largest living generation and workforce in the U.S.
So, what do millennials want from your church? How can your church reach Millennials? Based on my own experience as a millennial and research, here are the three things millennials need from your church.
How to reach Millennials
1. Millennials want your church to be real
Millennials want your church to be real. Think about it this way: Millennials have seen more advertisements within a few short years than any other generation. For instance, from the time I was a kid, I have seen and heard thousands of ads on TV, the radio, billboards, the Internet, and now social media. After swimming in a sea of promotions, millennials have been conditioned to be skeptical of anything salesy, overhyped, and overtly promotional.
The first step if your church wants to reach Millennials is for it to be real. Not relevant mind you—real. And there’s a fundamental difference between the two. You don’t need to wear skinny jeans, get a dope fade, or use phrases like, “lit,” “fam,” or “swole” to connect with millennials. If anything, they will react negatively to something that looks or sounds disingenuous.
A recent survey by the Barna Group revealed that 66% of millennials found U.S. churchgoers to be hypocritical. As the church, we need to take off our masks and wipe away our fake smiles. We must lead with vulnerability. Millennials want us to be real and to be ourselves.
2. Millennials want to experience community
In the same survey referenced above by the Barna Group, when they asked Millennials to choose from word pairings to describe their vision of the ideal church, 78% of the respondents wanted “community” over “privacy,” and 64% chose “casual” over “dignified.” Here’s the big takeaway from these responses: Millennials want to know people and to be known by people. The best place for millennials—and anyone for that matter—to find this type of community is the church.
Personally speaking, I don’t need to hear another great message or a rocking worship set. For many millennials, including myself, they see what the church has to offer — e.g., inspirational messages, children’s ministry, contemporary music, etc. — as a commodity. At anytime and anyplace with Internet access, anyone can listen to any song ever recorded and most sermons being preached today online. So, to a degree, millennials may not feel a need to be a part of your church.
Your church CAN overcome this obstacle and reach Millennials by fostering a place for people to experience community. With the advent of the digital age, real community is difficult to find, but the church is uniquely positioned and equipped to provide it.
3. Millennials want to be included
Finally, the third thing millennials crave from your church is a seat at the table.
You see, millennials feel despised because of their youth. For example, when I walk into a church, I’m considered a kid (Yes, I’ll admit I have a youthful appearance). But like many others, I’m “adulting,” and it’s hard. My twenties thrust me into the real world, and I had to figure things out on the fly. I have a mortgage, I’ve been married for five years, I’m the parent of a toddler, and I’m a small business owner. My example is one among many.
When you look at the data, it is evident to see that most millennials have a backseat on leadership positions. There are more pastors over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 40. However, the communities we serve are getting younger. Millennials are the largest living generation in the U.S. and more than 1 in 3 U.S. workers is a millennial.In the church, millennials are regularly overlooked as the “up and coming” and “next generation.” But many millennials are qualified to be leaders and live exemplary lives in “speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
If you want to reach millennials, then you need to prioritize millennials in your church.
Here’s another thought to consider: The largest demographic in your community is the millennial generation, yet, the median age of a senior pastor is 54. Why does this matter? Simple. On average, there is a 20-30 year gap between the senior pastor of a church and the biggest group of people in their community he or she is trying to reach with the message of Jesus. So, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, if you want to reach millennials, then you will need the help of millennials.
As a church, you have been called to love God, love people, and make disciples. However, often, as the church, we build unnecessary roadblocks that stand in the way of the people we are trying to reach, which has been the case between the church and millennials.
If this is you, then I encourage you to tear down those obstacles and be yourself in Christ, provide real community, and give millennials a seat at the table and an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
What is the first obstacle you and your church can tear down? Share your thoughts in the comments below!