If you clicked on this post looking for answers, especially answers regarding the most difficult question the church faces today, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I can’t give you answers. I can’t offer you a seven-step guide to increasing the attendance of millennials in your church. But what I can give you is perspective, and hopefully that will be enough to get the conversation started in your staff meeting, with your senior minister, or with whomever is currently getting blamed for the lack of young adults in your pews.
It’s been six months since I have officially held the title of “pastor.” Six months since I put on my fake smile and hoped nobody saw my flaws. Six months since uttering the words “me too” felt like job suicide … and I couldn’t be happier.
So now, instead of hoping for someone to show up on my doorstep on Sunday, I’m talking with friends about life. No, I’m not some progressive hipster who hangs out at Starbucks (although that’s where I’m writing from now). I am finding that the more conversations I have when the title of “pastor” is stripped away, the more honest people become about their issues, doubts, and fears with the Church.
A recent Barna study found that church attendance among Millennials (22-35 years old) is the lowest in recent history. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials who went to church growing up now no longer attend, and 35 percent believe the church does more harm than good. (If you’re in ministry and that sentence doesn’t give you the cold sweats, get into the insurance business today.)
Put simply, what the church wants to be and claims to be is contradictory to what is experienced by Millennials. They believe that their time and their money can be better spent helping out at a local non-profit or donating to a Kickstarter campaign rather than attending and giving to a church.
I believe that the greatest way to attract Millennials back to the Church is to practice authenticity. But how do you do that? Here are four strategies you can use to create an authentic, inviting environment for Millennials.
4 Strategies To Consider If Millennials Aren’t Showing Up At Your Church
When it comes to reaching Millennials, the question I have heard from so many pastors and churches is, “Why won’t the young people come to my church?” That question traps you in a dead end that keeps the younger generation away. (Also, quit using the word “young people,” you’re just showing your age.)
That question is all about you and not about them. It puts the blame on someone else’s shoulder and keeps the church from being held accountable for its lack of results. Furthermore, it allows you to continue to hide out of fear that if Millennials did in fact start showing up, then your church would have to change. (Would that be so bad anyway?)
The better question is: “What will we need to do differently to reach the younger generation?” It takes the focus off of you, forces you to talk options not opinions, and allows you to truthfully decide if you do in fact want to be a church that attracts Millennials.
Basic right? You might even say, “Kyle, my church does want them to come!” But your actions may not back up your words. When was the last time Millennials in your own church were asked why they come or why their peers don’t come?
You might have an incredible church staff that is skilled at leading a more traditional congregation but not know how to relate to the younger generation.
If you want to be a church for Millennials, then take an honest inventory of yourself and decide if you want to make the necessary changes. At the same time, be okay if you are not ready to be that church yet. The important thing is be true to who you are, and honest about what you want to become.
Nothing hits at the heartbeat of the Millennials more than charity. They don’t want to just hear your church is doing great things; they want to see it in action. It’s not enough to collect a tithe and state that 10 percent of that is going to missions around the world (which is laughably small anyway). They want to see that money affect the community they’re in.
Your neighborhood should be a better place because your church is in it.
Can I go so far as to say that there should be a noticeable dip in homelessness and poverty in your neighborhood because you are in it? Can I say that no child should go hungry on weekends because your church works with their school? Can I beg that no single mom should have to pay for a babysitter because your church is nearby?
You want to attract Millennials? Show them how much you care.
Millennials are more secular, more progressive, more educated, and have more information available to them than ever before. Answering hard theological questions with “because the Bible says” is no longer an acceptable response. (That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s just not enough information.) One out of 4 Millennials believes the local church does not teach the Bible clearly enough or often enough (Churchless, pg. 98-99). Pastors are doing a disservice by believing Millennials can’t handle difficult intellectual challenges. We protect them by helping them think through the challenges (even if there isn’t a clear answer).
Dallas Willard says, “When Satan undertook to draw Eve away from God, he did not hit her with a stick, but with an idea” (pg. 100).
Let them know it’s okay to struggle and doubt and question. These are all natural responses to growing and maturing in faith. We become inauthentic and unattractive when we pretend that we have all the answers and that everybody else is wrong.
It’s not enough to know that you simply believe; Millennials want to know why.
So go ahead, arm yourself with this information and take it to that staff meeting or to that person. Ask the difficult questions, decide what’s best for your church, and learn what needs are in your community. Just find your answers from within, not from some website.