Engaging Millennials in Today’s Church
There are some things that never change. Billy Graham said it well:
“While our world is shaking and crumbling, we need to realize that one thing will never change, and that is God. He is the same today as he was ten million years ago, and will be the same ten million years from today.”
Despite the constancy of God, how successive generations relate to and engage God varies from generation to generation. Each new generation has its own take on things and feels that a unique perspective and ideas the world has never seen before. Millennials are no different. As church leaders, if we don’t engage and relate to each generation in a way that is relevant to them we risk losing touch and missing the opportunity to extend the Gospel.
Engaging new generations in the church isn’t a new concept. We’ve been asking this question for many years and we will be still thinking through this many years from now. The millennial generation (ages 20-36) has often been an easy target for criticism but their unique perspective to the things of God is something that needs to be appreciated and valued if we are going to meaningfully engage with them. There is plenty of existing data to show that this generation isn’t attending church, but research has proven then aren’t less spiritual. But why aren’t they filling seats?
Measuring engagement can be a tricky thing. For far too long, many churches have used the singular metric of attendance as the measurement of success. Perhaps it’s time to begin evaluating engagement differently. There is much more than bodies in seats that to consider when evaluating engagement. Millennials are a prime example of this.
They are a generation that came of age at a time when church scandals were hitting that national news. This is the generation that are native digital users. These and many other factors have shaped the type of connection that they develop both with Christ and his church. As a result, we have a generation that has apprehension of the organized church and in a time where the church is not center and pillar of community life like it once was.
As we all know, a discipleship and personal spiritual growth happens in the context of community. Engaging millennials is healthy for the church and healthy for the people attending. But where are millennials finding these relationships if they aren’t involved in a church? More importantly, how are millennials being educated to make disciples of others? Bottom line, discipleship is a team sport. The church needs to have the gamut of age groups, including millennials, and millennials need to be in meaningful relationship with Christ followers from other generations. Engaging them is possible, but it will likely require going about things with a slightly different approach.
The Power of A Story
For a time, some churches took to updating the look and feel of their church in order to connect with younger generations. Refreshing the feel of your church is great as long as you don’t lose the connection to your story and history. One of the major themes of the millennial generation is narrative. Millennials seek to live “meaningful” lives and are drawn to captivating stories. Even social media has migrated to the story platform with SnapChat and Instagram stories as well as Facebook live.
Millennials aren’t looking for a perfect church, they’re looking to join a story.
Many churches may distance themselves from their own rich history and tradition in an attempt to reach a younger generation, removing denominational indicators from their names and traditional elements from their gatherings. This isn’t to say you should never change your worship style or seek improvement where possible. But, be careful not to lose sight of the story you are telling when making those adjustments. Your unique narrative is far more important than the tempo of your music and the logo on your bulletin.
Engagement is the Goal
As stated previously, story matters to this generation. As a result, they are looking for a part to play in the narrative, not simply to be a spectator. Moving this group from the desire to be involved into action is tied to how well we communicate the cause that we are working towards.
Engage millennials by giving them an opportunity to serve and have ownership of some of the ministry of the church.
There are some roles in the execution of church life that seem insignificant. If you are asking someone to set up or tear down a room for an event, be intentional to communicate how this fits into the mission of what you’re doing. Beyond that, try to identify ways to leverage the skills, passions and experience of your congregation to serve the Kingdom. Ask questions and take the time to get to know your volunteers. The process of connecting them in a role that engages both the hands, but also their minds and their hearts will be worth the effort.
A great preacher might make a difference in Sunday attendance, but it will not be enough to keep millennials around long-term. In order to bring millennials into the church and keep them around, you will need to find creative ways to build and facilitate meaningful relationships, making them feel like they are a part of the movement of your community.
This may mean investing time and energy in creating thriving small group opportunities where millennials can easily get to know people and feel known. Another option may be to have easily accessible outreach and service opportunities. Millennials easily make connections and thrive in an extroverted or task oriented environment. Contrary to many studies that state how lazy millennials are, they actually are very interested in working on something where they feel they are part of a greater story.
Millennials are the first generation of digital natives. All previous generations had to learn how to use computers and mobile devices as they were developed. Millennials don’t remember a time when digital engagements was just a normal part of life. Podcasts and live streaming make it possible to have people who don’t live in your city follow your church and in a very real way can feel that they are part of your community. God can work through your ministry in the lives of people you’ve never met in person. This is the reality of the church in the digital age. Additionally, millennials are a mobile first group. You need a great website, but much of their engagement in other areas of their life happen on their phones.
Passion Is Where The Heart Lies
This is probably the most important and powerful thing you can do to reach the millennial demographic: share your passion. Regardless of your worship style, website or service opportunities, nothing will turn millennials away from your church more than a lack of passion.
While it’s easy to get weighed down by all of the stresses of ministry, it’s important to remember what motivates you and share that as often as you can. Are you thrilled to see the lost experience and trust in the Gospel? Shout it! Do you get excited to see Christ break into people’s lives? Share it! Does your heart fill with joy as God brings reconciliation and restoration to broken families? Let that come through in every message!
Passion, excitement and joy are contagious. Share your vision, share your story and do it with confidence. Millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and your church could be that something.
Can you identify your top areas of improvement to engaging millennials in an intentional way?