Many people are pessimistic about Millennials, but I believe the next generation is poised to transform the culture (and the world) for the good in life and in church. For many churches and leaders, however, Millennials are (to borrow from Winston Churchill) “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
I would agree with Churchill’s statement on some levels, but the riddle can be solved. Once you find out what makes Millennials tick, they are not that puzzling. They simply have a unique set of passions, interests, and viewpoints on the culture and the world.
But the church has largely failed to take stock in this generation because they are different. This is a problem. A lack of knowledge breeds fear, and this is true of the church in relation to Millennials. Many churches do not take the time to know the next generation, so they are stuck with attaching stigmas (many untrue) to them.
There are churches, however, that are thriving with Millennials, and if you did some investigation I believe you would find similar results, regardless of the church locale.
What do millennials want from church?
So, what differentiates a church culture that attracts Millennials from one that repels them? There are many factors, but I want to highlight ten really important ones. If your church wonders why reaching the next generation is difficult, the following points might shed some light on your struggle.
1.) There is a strong resistance to change.
The next generation doesn’t understand why churches refuse to change a program, activity, or even an entire culture if they aren’t effective. Millennials don’t hold traditions close to their heart. In fact, for many (myself included) traditions are often the enemy because many churches allow traditions to hinder them from moving forward.
Is this right? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a reality nonetheless. One that must be understood.
Millennials are tired of hearing the phrase “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. Millennials want to change the world. Many times traditions hold them back from this. Change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things. The next generation understands this.
2.) A compelling vision is lacking or non-existent.
If creating an environment totally void of the next generation is your goal, especially those with any initiative and talent, refuse to cast vision in your church. That will drive Millennials away faster than the time I saw a rattlesnake in the woods and screamed like a girl. Don’t judge me. I hate snakes…and cats.
It baffles me when a church doesn’t value vision and planning. In no other arena of life do we refuse to vision and plan, but for some reason the church is different.
“If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small.” ~Craig Groeschel
Millennials will not invest in a church that refuses to dream big because they see example after example of an infinitely powerful God doing amazing things through normal people. You might think they are naive, but most Millennials don’t believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to start non-profits, plant churches, or lead businesses.
So, go ahead and believe “the Spirit is supposed to guide us, not a man-made vision” or just allow sheer laziness to lead the way, but your church will continue to be void of the next generation.
3.) Mediocrity is the expectation.
Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They believe they can (and will) change the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire for the extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials aren’t scared to fail. And they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset.
Failing and being a failure are mutually exclusive. They dream often and dream big because they understand they serve a God who works beyond their abilities.
Millennials have a collective concern for making the world a better place, and mediocrity fits nowhere in those plans.
4.) There is a paternalistic approach to leading Millennials.
If you want to push the next generation from your church, refuse to release them to lead.
This is one I have experienced personally. If you want to push the next generation away from your church, don’t release them to lead. Simply giving them a title means nothing. Titles are largely irrelevant to the next generation. They want to be trusted to fulfill the task given to them. If you micro-manage them, treat them like a child, or refuse to believe they are capable of being leaders because of their age and lack of experience, wisdom, etc., they will be at your church for a short season.
Millennials will not allow age to keep them from leading…and leading well. If you refuse to release them to lead, the next generation will quickly find another church or context where they can use their talents and gifts to their full capacity.
5.) There is a pervasive insider-focused mentality.
Traditional or contemporary worship? High church or low church? A plurality of elders, board of directors, or staff-led church? While past generations invested a lot of time in these discussions, most Millennials see these conversations as sideways energy. There might be a time and place for talking about acapella versus instrumental or high church versus low church, but the time is very rarely and the place is not from a pulpit or in a small group.
Millennials won’t attend churches that answer questions nobody is asking.
“When the faithful saturate their schedules with Christian events at Christian venues with Christian people, the world has a hard time believing we hold the rest of the world in high esteem.” ~Gabe Lyons
What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.
The next generation is pessimistic towards institutions…the church included. Millennials are not going to give their time and resources to a church that spends massive amounts of money on inefficient and ineffective programs.
Church leaders can get mad or frustrated about this, or they can consider changing things. Churches who value reaching the next generation emphasize the latter.
6.) Transparency and authenticity are not high values.
Despite what I often hear, most Millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou” mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like terrible people, your church will be largely devoid of the next generation.
Why? Because the next generation knows something the church has largely denied for a long time…church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations, or failures. Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church (i.e. Catholic church scandal) and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders.