“Millennials aren’t interested in going to church anymore,” agreed a church elder.
I believe it’s more accurate to say many Millennials are not interested in the traditional model of church.
Millennials (or Generation Y) are young men and women who matured into adulthood at the beginning of the 21st century. They are the children of the Baby Boomers or Generation X. Millennials were born between 1980-2000.
Church attendance is at its lowest in recent history (Barna Group, 2014). The most drastic attendance reductions are among Millennials (22-35 year olds). Two in 10 Americans under 30 believe church attendance is important or worthwhile. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials who attended church with their families when they were growing up no longer participate as adults.
The Pew Research Center (2015) reported that the percentage of Millennials who consider themselves “religiously unaffiliated” (atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”) rose from 16.1% (2007) to 22.8%. However, 80% of the Millennials surveyed said they believed in God. Many Millennials describe themselves as “spiritual,” but not “religious.”
Caroline Newman, university news associate at the University of Virginia, believes many Millennials are disillusioned by church scandals reported in the news. She adds Millennials are especially turned off by polarized entanglements between religion and politics.
Many churches struggling to find ways to coax young adults and families through their doors are asking the wrong questions. Millennials are ready to tell us. We must be willing to listen.
In a brilliant article, Why Millennials are OVER Church, Sam Eaton explains why young adults are not interested in church. Sam is a teacher, youth mentor, and a Millennial. He shares his truth – but he also offers solutions:
Nobody’s Listening to Us. Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without asking for our input, we get the message loud and clear: nobody cares what we think. Why should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
- Create regular forums, surveys, and meetings to discover needs of young adults both in AND outside the church.
- Invite Millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
- Hire adults and volunteers who have desire and skills to connect with Millennials.
We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture. Every older generation blames younger generations for the world’s problems. Perhaps it’s easier to focus on all of the problems out there than actually address the mess here.
- Focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
- Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture.
Don’t Invite Us – Then Refuse to Talk to Us. Many Millennials describe church experiences as “exclusive” and “cliquey.” Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.
- Create authentic communities with shared purpose centered around service.
- Form and train a team of people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events. Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population.
- Stop blaming individuals who struggle to get connected. We have to find ways to bridge that gap.
Distrust & Misallocation of Resources. We’ve been repeatedly told to give more money to the church, but where does that money go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions because we have witnessed how corrupt and self-serving they can be. We want transparency.
Why should our hard-earned dollars go towards a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community when that money could provide food, clean water, and shelter for someone in need?
- Make financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence.
- Create an environment of frugality.
- Consider how church dollars could be used to serve others.
We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At. Preaching doesn’t reach us like our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of preaching pastors all over the world at our finger tips.
Millennials crave relationships. We are the generation with the highest percentage of fatherless homes. We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and future. We want real people who actually care about us.
- Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them.
- Ask the older generation to be intentional about building relationships with Millennials in your church.
We Want to Feel Valued. Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up that we aren’t good enough.
We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.
We need a church that sees us and believes in us; that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.
- Start conversations and listen to us.
- Go out of your way to thank people who are giving much of their lives to the church.
We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image. We need role models who will speak the truth into every single one of those areas.
A sermon-series on sex is not appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way to live because Millennials are starving to discuss these topics.
- Create safe spaces for young adults to learn, grow, and be vulnerable.
- Arrange opportunities for young adults to connect with mentors.
- Form a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need.
- Train young adults how to live spiritual lives instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.
The Public Perception. It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of “church” within the community. People near a church should be thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving them. As church members, we desperately need to call schools and the city, knock on doors, and ask everyone around us how we can be make their world better.
- Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are.
- Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
- Make your presence known and felt at city events.
Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something). Words without action are far worse than ignoring us completely. We hear phrases spoken in our general direction. We scrutinize every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and hearing broken promises).
- Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach us.
- If you want the respect of our generation, under promise and over-deliver.
It’s Time to Take Action. We need to accept reality and intentionally move towards developing relationships with a generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.
- Look at the data and take risks. We can’t keep doing the same things and hope Millennials will magically wander through the doors.
- Admit you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the Millennials in your communities before they ask themselves, “What I am still doing here?”
Many Millennials are quietly, passionately, eagerly waiting for church members of all denominations to make the next move – to reach out, value them, ask questions, and listen to them. They are desperate for churches to invite them, welcome them, and assure them that their presence is important.
Jimmy Dean once said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” Members of 21st century churches must adapt our words, actions, behavior, and decisions to the needs of those we serve.
There are great opportunities to build relationships with Millennials in our communities. This is the right time. We are the right people to rise to the challenge.
How will you reach out and connect with a Millennial?
Do you want to know more about Millennials? Read 9 Great Things About Millennials.
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