“It’s Not About Us!” –Millennials
“How can we reach the Millennials in our community?”
“Our church is focusing on reaching the Millennials.”
“We are making our church as Millennial-friendly as possible.”
We hear these kinds of statements in so many churches and denominational gatherings these days. Evidently, the Millennial generation generates a strange attraction for churches, considering the pervasive effort going into connecting with and attracting them.
So, perhaps a little translation can be helpful here. When churches focus in on Millennials, asking how they can reach more of them, what they are really saying is, “We want Millennials to join us in our way of being Church?” We want the Millennial generation to engage in our church, yet we want them to be engaged in the ways we like to be church. We want them to come join us in our model, our approach, our paradigm, our way of being church.
Frankly, the Millennials already voted. They already communicated their response to that “ask” with their feet (marching out the door). In 2014, Barna Research Group shared, “Americans Divided On The Importance Of Church Attendance.” The big takeaway was that only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low), while 59% of millennials raised in a church have dropped out. Though the intention behind the invitation for Millennials to join us in our expression of church is good and noble, it’s been largely rejected.
After only brief reflection, we see the issue may not actually be Millennials and their preferences. Instead, the issue may be us…those of us who are acculturated into the predominant expressions of God’s Church formed during the last half of the twentieth century. We are fond of our way of being church (naturally so) and are reluctant to shift our ways of being church. Our desire to help open doors to God for more people in our communities is conflicting with our desire to do church in personally familiar and cherished ways.
Yet, because we care about God’s Church, we cannot ignore the facts. What does the exodus of Millennials and other age-groups tell us about church-as-we-have-known-it?
Those who appreciate the traditional expression of church are aging-out. This is true about church overall, but it’s more true about traditional church-as-we-have-known-it church paradigms.
Fewer younger people resonate with the traditional church-as-we-have-known-it model. Certainly we see exceptions, yet on a large scale… (See research from Barna Group noted above).
While the need for traditional churches remains, fewer people resonate with that expression of church.
Church-as-we-have-known-it has a life-cycle.
Culture and religious expression are always dance partners; sometimes complimenting one another’s moves while other times stumbling over one another.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the problem. Many people in our culture respect and admire Jesus and his teachings.
So, where to from here? Where do these insights about the religious preferences of emerging generations leave us? Allow me to offer some thoughts on our present and future trajectory.
Living in the Way of Jesus is this world’s best hope. If only a few more of us lived slightly more into our faith story, it would influence so many on this shrinking and crowded planet.
The spirit and soul of our churches is far more influential than the particular cultural expression. If we have no soul, then we will only resonate with those who match our spirituality. When we are captivated by the beautiful Way of Jesus, our cultural expression grows less important to us and everyone else as the light of Christ shines through.
Respect your congregation’s trajectory, knowing there is need for traditional church-as-we-have-known-it congregations. Some congregations will not move beyond current expressions of church; forcing them to do so may break their spirit or cause too much conflict. At the same time, don’t let them off the innovation hook…lead them to innovate in other ways.
Embrace the call to innovation. Vibrant churches are always on the move somehow. Start a new worshipping community on your campus which is not designed for those who are currently there. Start a new worshipping community in your community away from your campus. Invite another church to share your church facility. Follow the Spirit’s lead!
Assess your church’s capacity for innovation and adaptation. You may want to do Pinnacle’s Readiness Inventory to learn about your readiness for mission-congruent change (contact David Brown).
No, it’s not about the Millennials. Nor is it about us and our preferences. It’s about the very, very good news of the gospel. May we love God and God’s Church more this day than ever before.
Pinnacle Leadership Associates