This is a follow up and an even more in depth article from my posting on May 4th about getting Millenials back into the pews. Enjoy the Read, I did
Nearly six out of ten Millennials will leave the Church at some point. Almost sixty percent of high schoolers who grow up going to church will close the doors on their church experiences after high school. And typically they don’t come back. (based on research done by the Barna Group)
For the sake of clarity, “worship” in this sense refers to the broader application of the term worship, NOT the limited application that only refers to music.
Why is it that the church as an institution has caved to the pressure to present church in a manner that looks just like the outside world’s versions of entertainment? As a Gen-Xer I believe that it is a noble intent to reach and engage people. But, sadly it doesn’t seem to be working with this generation. They aren’t looking to come into our doors and sit in our pews to be coddled, entertained, or lectured.
They want to BE the Church, and they want the Church to BE a family.
Cooler, Hipper, Shinier Church?
Rachel Held Evans recently posted an engaging op-ed article at The Washington Post titled “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” Millenials aren’t looking for a cooler, more produced version of church. They can find entertainment anywhere. They are looking for the very things the BIBLE shows that happen in the faith community. She says:
You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.
What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.
She goes on to say:
But I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.
Summary: Millennials Want Authentic, Biblical expressions of the sacraments and they want to see the “unloved” loved.
For more insight into why Millennials are leaving the Church read the book: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.
Don’t you WANT US to be Part of the Family?
One of the prevailing thoughts in why Millennials choose to leave and not come back is that they feel like they were never a part of “big” church in the first place. Multi-generational “worship” is important to Millennials and it should be important to those of us who are older. It’s an important part of this discussion. When we choose to segment our worship services and environments by age from the time a person is born until they go off to college, we probably shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t feel like part of the larger church family.
On an insightful post at Ministry Matters, Tom Fuerst (a Millennial) says this:
It wasn’t until we graduated college that we were actually expected to be a part of the intergenerational community called “church.” We’d been segregated by age for the first 22 years. And you not only allowed this, you encouraged it.
I’m sorry, but you never really valued us being part of a church before…
…you created structures and systems of “doing church” that taught us that our presence in the communal gatherings were relatively irrelevant. We learned from your structures, not necessarily your example.
Like I said in Multi-generational Worship And Why It’s Important, it’s not wrong for our churches to create age-specific environments for teaching and learning. But it IS important to be aware that if we only focus on those, without some OTHER communal, family oriented gatherings, we might be creating problems in the future.
Summary: Millennials want to be part of the family. Creating worship spaces, gatherings and environments that are communal in nature are important to them. They want to be connected to the “larger” faith family.
For more insight on why so many people are leaving and not coming back to the Church read George Barna’s book Churchless.
Real, Authentic, Engaging, Hands-on
Millennials are looking for the real thing when they step foot “back” into churches. When they visit churches they are not looking for an hour that they sit through to check off of their list of good deeds to do. They don’t go because they’re “supposed to” or because it’s the “right thing” to do.
They go because they seek authentic experience. They want to get their hands and feet dirty. They are in their twenties and they’re looking for life answers. They want direction. They don’t want to be entertained. They want to be taken seriously.
Exponential.org offers this perspective about Millennials:
“They don’t want to sit on the sidelines and observe. If they’re going to be part of a church, it must have value and meaning. In generations like the Boomers, people attend church out of some moral obligation to do so. Millennials won’t have any of that. If it doesn’t provide meaning and value to them, they won’t participate. They’ll go and find something that does have meaning and value.”
Williams’ perspective jibes with Barna’s research. Millennials want to be taken seriously today. They’re not interested in earning their place at the table at some future date; they want a seat there now. Their desire to be taken seriously and to be given real responsibility is something Kinnaman says churches should take note of—and be eager to fulfill.
They don’t want to be seen as the “future” of the church. They want to be included in the NOW of the church. They want to step up and tackle the tough issues. They want to be generous. They want to change the world.
What they don’t want is a preacher preaching at them. They want a community that accepts them, teaches them, and empowers them. They want relationships that challenge them. They WANT to be discipled and mentored. It’s not just out of duty or moral obligation that they show up. They are serious.
Summary: Millennials that come “back” to church are serious about BEING the Church. They don’t want to be lectured. They want to be empowered.
To learn more about this generation (born 1980-2000), read Thom S. Rainer’s book The Millennials.
Some things we can make part of the discussion as we explore this issue:
- Talk to Millennials, read Millennials, engage with Millennials. How could we possibly create any environment that targets them without their input? Two out of the three points above are based on the writings of Millennials.
- Explore ways to make Church feel more traditional. Millennials are not looking for a cathedral experience, but they are looking for an experience that feels connected to the long history of the Church. That means including more elements of the historical, traditional Church (often referred to as sacraments and liturgy).
- Create spaces for rest. Often times our spaces and gatherings are so busy. Millennials feel really inspired by and connected to nature (sunset and nature photos on Instagram, anyone?). Are there ways to incorporate more greenery into our imagery? Or even into our actual spaces?
- Explore ways to make Church feel more communal. This is beneficial for ALL generations. The modern church is missing out on one of the biggest elements that made the traditional church work: family. Can we include elements, environments, and spaces that are centered around family? Can we work to bring together our age groups more frequently?