A Friend of a Millennial: Two Ways to Make Your Church More Millennial-Friendly

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Trending Topic: #ReachingMillennials

I love my generation. We have the iPod, iPhone, and iPad—and soon we’ll have computers that fit over our eyes (hurry up, Google!). We have texting at our fingertips—even while driving! We have our own new Star Wars—or at least we will soon (we don’t claim those prequels as our own). We have angry birds and sometimes angry protestors. We have some awesome people like Tim Tebow, Josh Hutcherson…Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus…

All right, so we got our negatives as well as positives. Frankly, I don’t know which we have more of. Most of our greatest gifts are also our greatest weaknesses. Our technology and love of it enables us to connect with more people—but also disconnects us from the people around us. Our social media enables us to experience more diverse cultures—but also causes us to doubt all universal truth.

It’s many of these weaknesses that get unnecessarily emphasized by the older generations of many churches. But the fact is that ALL generations have pluses and minuses. Our goal as the body of Christ is to create an environment in our assemblies where each generation’s strengths can be best used without drawing out another generation’s weaknesses. Unfortunately, I—and many of my fellow millennials—feel that our churches are not employing the millennial generation in the ministry as they should.

The need is dire. And the data is clear—especially the research done by Pew this year—millennials are leaving church in droves. Soon, it’ll be one third of all millennials who are uncommitted to a religion! Apparently, there is something wrong—either with the millennials or with the churches. Obviously, much of the blame lies at the feet of my uncommitted, pluralistic generation—I won’t deny that. However, some blame could be laid at the feet of the churches and their leaders who are failing to outreach to millennials in their ministries.

I understand their dilemma. They don’t want to drive away the older generations by overemphasizing the millennials and their desires. Some churches have done this—and the research shows that millennials don’t even like this, much less the older people! We want a church that is real—not one trying to be “cool.” But at the same time, we want a church that is relevant to our generation—and that’s not a bad word! We want a church where we can grow, thrive, and hone our spiritual gifts to be used for the glory of God. We want a church that takes the Gospel and communicates it in our cultural context without compromising the truth. But sometimes that’ll take alienating the older generation to accomplish that.

But not always. There are two simple things that each church could do that would encourage millennials to participate in the ministry without alienating the older generations.

  1. Become more visual.

Our generation is a visual generation. Duh—we stare at screens most of the day! We are obsessed with movies and TV shows—just research how many hours we spend “binge-watching” or how quickly a new trailer will start trending on Facebook. We also love art—of any kind! We may not be pumping out Raphaels, but we enjoy the modern art on display in coffee galleries. We like searching Pinterest for new “artsy” ways of renovating normal things, and we obsess over new Broadways. Like every generation of all time and in all places, we like STORIES.

Telling stories is one of the best ways of communicating truth. Don’t believe me? Well, the very Son of God employed story most often to communicate His message of the kingdom—we call them “parables.” Too often, our church services are focused on two things—music and preaching. And both are Biblically required—preaching especially! But it’s interesting to note that Christ did not go around Galilee with a traveling choir! Instead, He walked around telling fictional stories (and yes, preaching).

And Christ is a great communicator to the millennial generation. No, we shouldn’t transform our services into “storytime.” But we should use all venues available to communicate to millennials, as well as the older generations (who also love stories). Perhaps this looks like cutting the music service down a few minutes to have time to show a relevant video that ties into the sermon. Perhaps it means forgoing the usual “cantata” and instead having a drama or video made or produced by millennials in your church.

Millennials could we wasting away in your church with many talents and a passion for communicating truth via story. You may have a great cinematographer or actor or writer or artist in your church just waiting to employ their talents as a method for communicating Gospel truth. Or they may not have even thought of using their talents in such a kingdom-building way! No wonder—they think that church and their future work are totally unrelated fields because they have never been given an opportunity to use their “secular” talent for a “spiritual” purpose.

You can give them that chance. Make your services and programs less about structure and traditions but rather about communicating the Gospel through all available mediums—including the one that touches millennials the most: the visual.

  1. Become more relational.

Millennials are a relational generation. We perceive everyone on the same playing field—leaders should not be high and lofty, but rather act like “one of us” who struggles but has found a measure of success. The older generation may think this will lead to a lack of respect for authority—but it’s quite the opposite. Millennials respect a leader more the more he makes himself “relatable.”

Millennials crave relationships. We may try to put up walls through “impersonal” communication forms like texting or social media, but we love communicating overall and feeling like our voices are being heard, for good or for ill. We want to be “listened to.” We have some good ideas—and some bad ones too. Yet, I’ve found that once you’re in an organization for a while, you get caught in a rut and cannot see how to initiate reform. But when someone from outside—with “wide eyes and bushy tails”—joins the organization, he can often see what needs to be fixed and is full of ideas to do just that. Millennials are quick (perhaps too quick) to give these new people power to implement change and in the process drive away the old members. But I do think more of a balance can be maintained where we take ideas and insights from all members, including millennials—with a grain of salt!

Beyond this, millennials also want to feel like they’re being invested in. That the leaders and older members of the church actually care about them. First things first, that they actually know the millennials’ names—they’re not just another face in the pew, even if they only visit during the school year. That there are adult members who know not only their name, but also their interests, their prayer requests, their financial needs, and their relationship status. When a millennial needs counsel, he should feel like he can go immediately to a leader in his church and ask for advice—without having to explain his whole backstory to someone who barely knows him! There should be at least one adult who has invested in each millennial who can offer advice—even if it’s not requested. The church should be the first place they run to for counsel—not Facebook, Google, worldly TV shows, unsaved friends, or bloggers.

What does this look like? My favorite word: “mentoring.” One-on-one, over coffee, over current issues, over recent sin struggles. Time and time again, week by week, over fun and over failure, over dreams and doubts. You want to know the cure for millennials leaving your church at a rapid pace? One simple solution: get to know the millennials! Invest in them—so that they have to step over you if they’re going to leave the faith.

This is my passion in life. This is what I come back to over and over again. I know I’ve blogged about it a lot—and I hope I die blogging about it! Because this stuff is important. Nine out of ten millennials who leave the church never had a mentor at all, according to Barna (see infographic below). That’s some frightening data. That should compel action.

Millenials_Infographic_SLICE_2_REVISED

It’s not going to be easy. It may upset some older people. But I highly doubt implementing these two “simple” steps will cause any older people to leave your church. But not implementing them has already and will continue driving millennials out of your church. Older people will not object to more visual media—so long as it doesn’t detract from the Gospel, but rather boldly proclaims It! And they certainly won’t reject pushing for more investment in millennials—in fact, they should be leading the charge on that! And if they are opposed to that, then it’s time to confront them about that sin.

Sin. That’s pretty harsh. This isn’t just my opinion, though. I have no authority to address this subject, nor the experience or wisdom to solve the problem. I take into consideration the passage that warns not to “rebuke an older man sharply” (1 Tim. 5:1). But I take the approach of the second half—“appeal to him as you would to a father.” So I appeal to you, in Paul’s later words to the same man, to “entrust to faithful men” what you have heard (2 Tim. 2:2). I urge the under-shepherds of Christ to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5)—which includes millennials! I encourage everyone to take another look at Christ—and another and another! Observe how He ministered to people—old, young, Jew, Samaritan, sinner, self-righteous, dead, or alive. And imitate Him.

After all, He knows how to keep millennials in your church. He loves millennials. He died for millennials. He’s a friend of millennials. Are you?

-M@

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