Banner News

December 15, 2018
Magnolia Banner News

What to do about Millennials and church?

By Deena Hardin
This article was published November 14, 2017 at 11:39 a.m.

I’ve been on a bit of a Millennials-bashing-Baby-Boomers kick lately, but this isn’t funny. Since my kids are Millennials, this has been causing me concern ever since they stopped going to church with us, which was for each of them roughly around the time a driver’s license was handed to them.

For about three decades, many writers have opined that GenY, commonly known as Millennials (those born 1977-1994 or 1981-2000, depending upon whom you ask), will be the generation to transform our culture and our world for the better. But, as Winston Churchill famously said about Russia, Millennials are “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

In an article originally posted on his blog in June of 2014 and reposted this year, Frank Powell (a Millennial himself) said that there are ten important characteristics of any church that will cause Millennials to turn their backs on it. He also said most churches have failed to cater to Millennials because they are “different.” But, hey, what generation is producing the most babies these days? There’s a reason for the saying “If you don’t hear crying, the church is dying.”

Not that churches should cater entirely to Millennials — not by any means — but if churches want to draw them in and keep them, some of Powell’s thoughts (with my bend toward a more positive view) might apply.

  1. Be willing to change programs, activities, or the entire culture of your church if long-held traditions aren’t working. Millennials don’t care about traditions much, especially ones that aren’t moving things forward. “This is how we’ve always done it” is the last thing they want to hear.

  2. Have a dream for the future of your church which includes Millennials, iGen, and generations to come. Find ways to allow them to lead as they come along. M’s dream big, so they will look for a church that does, too.

  3. Find ways to stand out, to be extraordinary with your church’s goals and accomplishments. Powell said that M’s can’t stand mediocrity. To quote him, “Failure is not going to drive the train.” I don’t know of any church that wants to fail, but I guess some do by stubbornly sticking to the status quo.

  4. Treat M’s as the adults they are. Turn them loose and let them lead without micromanaging. They have talents and gifts they want to give, so let them do their thing. Don’t assign them something with the assumption that they will want to do what you think they typically would. As far as I can tell, the word “typical” is useless when dealing with M’s.

  5. Be inclusive, inclusive, inclusive. If your church has an insider-outsider mentality — if it is not reaching out to the lost in the world, and not just globally — M’s will likely pass it by. When they see a church reaching out to the local homeless, poor, needy, and those who might be considered “damaged,” they see a church doing something they consider valuable. Focusing on your building fund does not interest M’s in the least.

  6. Be open, honest, and transparent, not “holier than thou.” M’s know about church scandals — they’ve been reading about them since they were old enough to — so they’re not looking for perfect leaders. Jesus was the only perfect leader. They’re looking for those who will be up front about struggling, being sinners, being tempted.

  7. Mentor these young folks without trying to parent them. In Powell’s words, “They value wisdom and insight. It is a treasure, and they will travel long distances to acquire it.” But, he goes on to say, they want to learn from sages, not dads. “While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on learning from past generations.” Sounds to me like churches might want to mix 20-somethings and 30-somethings with 80-somethings in Sunday School classes. Just a thought.

  8. Stop portraying culture as the enemy. “The next generation is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God. The goal of Christian living isn’t to escape the evils of the culture and finish life unharmed,” Powell wrote. Jesus spent time with and reached out to all kinds of people (many who were considered “unseemly” or a similar word) across all cultures. M’s see a need for the church to be heavily involved just beyond its doors.

  9. Value community. Millennials see power in numbers, in being connected with others. Powell quoted an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” M’s I know rarely seek out human interaction other than with a small group of friends. If they’re going to have it at church, they want it to be deep and meaningful.

  10. Value unity. Powell wrote, “Churches that value racial, generational, and socio-economic unity will attract Millennials. The gospel is most fully reflected when all of these groups are brought together, and most Millennials are just crazy enough to believe the power of the Spirit is sufficient to make it happen.” In his opinion, churches need to get serious — and soon — about understanding these crazy, grown kids of ours.

A side story here but an important one, I feel: A Millennial we know related once that she was shunned by many in her home church when she became pregnant out of wedlock. “The church I attended since birth turned its back on me. If a constant presence in my life could so utterly abandon me, how could I trust a church full of strangers to be my solace and support? I had faith in God. I had lost faith in His people.”

That broke my heart.

I have no doubt that Millennials will become our leaders in many avenues, maybe especially in our churches. They don’t always do things in the order we think they should, but we must welcome them — and their children, “legitimate” or not — as they come, as they are, and let them take the lead where they will.

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