“Millennials want to be known by what we’re for…not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”
― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Millennials are characteristically described as lazy, unintelligent, bratty, whiny, selfish, etc. The list can go on and on. Yes, some of these descriptors can be true about the Millennial generation. However, the irony of the situation is, every generation goes through the same growing pains; the only difference is the culture and technology those growing moments take place in. When talking to those from older generations, I consistently hear that the generation before them- Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X & Y- called them the ‘terrible generation’. And believe me, I am already giving this next group of youngin’s (those who were born after the year 2000) a hard time about things that Generation X & Y and Baby Boomers complained about with Millennials.
The Church is seeing statistics that blatantly show the Millennial generation is not attending church. Millennials may grow up in church but once they hit that age (relatively around the time they graduate high school) they make the decision that they will no longer attend. As a Millennial, I know what this is like. I know that Millennials can and will make excuses for not going to church (we all do). The question is, how does the Church reach this new Millennial generation?
From a Millennial’s point of view, here are some of my ideas:
- Millennials want to help. Millennials desire to find jobs, activities, and hobbies that allow them to make a difference in the world. Honestly, if you’re looking for a new, creative way to serve your community, ask a Millennial for an idea. A few months ago I was part of a Dream Session for church. I attended two sessions: one was filled with Generation X & Y and Baby Boomers while the other was filled with young adults (AKA Millennials). What I found interesting is that in both sessions a common theme seemed to come up- how to serve the community. The difference, however, was found in each generation’s suggestion of how to actually accomplish the goal.
- Millennials want leadership opportunities. Time invested in Millennials will help keep them around. They will feel like they are needed and a part of the community. Let’s be honest, eventually Millennials will be the ones in charge. Invest in them with your time and give them a chance to take on responsibility.
- Millennials demand authenticity. Millennials have pretty much grown up with technology, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We can tell when someone is full of it. Once we see it, the chances of us wanting to participate or be around something that is faked decreases dramatically. We don’t want things to always be “okay”. We don’t want the church to be a place where everyone smiles and says, “I’m great!” during meet-and-greet. We want to be involved in a community that doesn’t wear a mask but comes broken, open, and honest about the struggles they are facing. Jesus didn’t hang out with the religious leaders but ate with those people that were open about who they were. We want to talk about social justice issues. We want to talk about the hot-button issues. We want to talk about subjects that will make people uncomfortable. Be willing to listen and also to speak, because we want to hear from others too.
- Millennials do not need flashy, they need Jesus. All of us need Jesus. Millennials don’t come to church because of the fancy lights or the hip pastor or the contemporary music or the up-to-date technology. They come to church because they see Jesus, they see His words, His lifestyle, His actions, and they crave them. They crave wanting to ‘love their neighbor’ and to serve the marginalized and those who are considered outcasts. Don’t hold back on Jesus.
- Millennials want community. I know I said this before but this deserves its own bullet point. Millennials desire relationships. I have a blood family but, when I go to church I know that I have people I consider mom #2, mom #3, dad #2, dad #3, grandparents #2. I have people who care about me like I am one of their own. If you see a Millennial, whether a young adult or a teenager, go say hello to them. Buy them a donut/bagel/coffee and sit down and see what is going on. I know Millennials look like they don’t care because our faces are glued to our phones and tablets but we are pretty much an open book. Remembering their name goes a long, long way.
This seems like a lot. My suggestion would be to pick one or two of these to start with (if I were to give you another suggestion it would be to begin with #3 and #5). I’ll end with a quote that I find reflects what the Millennial generation wants from the Church:
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which gives us a false sense of security, within rules which makes us harsh judges, within habits which makes us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “give them something to eat.”