I’m technically one of those dreaded millennials. I was born in 1994, the last year to be considered one, so I nearly touch the next generation you’ll need to learn about for “church growth” as well.
You’ll see articles about how to attract millennials and younger people to your church. You’ll hear and possibly partake in the lament about how so few of these people are interested in church and how you just can’t seem to get them to be a part. You might try the cool smoke and lights, hire a social media consultant, and try all the things you can to be “relevant.”
Now, I’m not your average millennial – I work for a ministry and am in leadership in a church – a church I’ve attended for nearly 12 years. However, I still think that my thoughts might be useful to you.
I believe there are many factors behind why we see so few people my age in church, and some of those aren’t necessarily in your immediate control. However, I’d like to focus on something that is within your scope – something you can do to catch the attention of millennials and younger people once they come through your door. Yes, all the nice graphics, social media presence, and easy-to-use website will be helpful in making one such as myself come to the doorstep, but from there, it’s on you.
Let me begin by telling you that I really enjoyed going to youth group at a previous church. They had a band, cool lights, a brief message, then let out for games and snacks at the snack bar. We could go play on the basketball court and the younger end (mine at the time) would also utilize the playground for our shenanigans. We had a lot of young people to interact with. They planned fun outings. It was great.
Then we began going to a new church. And this church, in the beginning, I did not like. There were no cool lights, no youth band, no snack bar, no outdoor playing area, and no extensive amounts of games. We had a service about as long as the main service. They did sometimes serve some hotdogs or something after if we had time. They had a fair amount of youth, so at least it wasn’t painfully boring once we got to talk amongst ourselves.
But something strange happened. Within a few weeks, I didn’t really care about whether we had fun, relevant games, snack bar, youth band, or cool lights. I came for another reason, and that reason is why I’ve stuck to a church body through thick and thin to this day.
If you’re still not sure what it is that young people or millennials are looking for, let me tell you, first and foremost – it’s Jesus. It’s a true, life-changing relationship with God. And in that, it’s authenticity. Look anywhere and you’ll find a gimmick. You’ll find “fake news,” an emotional appeal for some random cause, or a movement that’s not rooted in reality. You can find inauthentic people pretending to be something else everywhere. There are so many people that make an appealing experience their very lucrative job.
Yes, it’s good to make your message easy on the ears with a bright stage and clear sound and a great marketing plan that gets that person through the door. But if what you say into that microphone is the same gimmicky garbage we’ve heard before … sure. A few of us may stick around because it’s nice to hear something fun and bite-sized and all that. And if it’s all convenient and it makes us feel good, we’ll probably be around for a little bit.
But if you want people who really are committed, who really care, who will stay when someone says something mildly offensive or you can’t afford the newest trend, let go of your control over the service. Let go of the traditions or the new intuitive, integrated worship service timeline, to let God speak to your heart about how service should go. How few of my friends ever went to the altar at their churches (or when they visited places once or twice) and really felt the Holy Spirit. How few of them walked away transformed. How few of them ever looked back.
There are many factors that pull away the millennials and the next generation. But if you can manage the feat of getting them through your doors, then please, don’t subject them to sugar-coated trash. Don’t try to make them into your mold. Open every door to the Holy Spirit so He can move in service, through you and your leadership, and the entire congregation.
What we need is something we know is real.