The Church needs Millennials to continue Christ’s mission of redemption, restoration and reconciliation in the world. And Millennials need communion with Christ and his Body to bring wholeness and meaning to their fractured, frenzied lives.
Four design areas are critical for making space for Millennials: culture, ministry, leadership and facilities.
In making space for Millennials the question should be asked: How can we create transformational space for and with Millennials?
There are five major reasons Millennials stay connected to a Christian community:
- Cultural discernment
- Life-shaping relationships
- A firsthand experience of Jesus
- Reverse mentoring
- Vocational discipleship
Culture is a reflection of worldview: the values, assumptions and allegiances shared among a group. Watershed cultural shifts taking place as Millennials emerge into adulthood are significantly changing their worldview from the perspective shared by older generations. These changes can be broadly categorized in terms of access, alienation and authority.
Instant, almost unlimited access – which Millennials have had since they began their journey into adulthood – has shaped how they learn, the ways they relate to and interact with the world, and their expectations for church and Christianity.
Millennials have seen corruption at all levels of leadership in almost every type of institution.
In a modular world, everything can be taken apart and reassembled in a new pattern. The top down, highly organized studio system has given way to a freelance system. This cultural expression is modularity, and it is the new way our lives – from work to education to relationships – are organized.
What does this mean for the community of faith?
First, it means people’s needs are changing.
Second, if modularity is changing what people need from churches, it is also changing how people engage with churches. As in the realms of family and work, people are piecing together “church” according to their preferences and experiences.
In our modular world, we can get great Bible teaching from a John Piper or Beth Moore podcast, fellowship on Facebook or Skype, an opportunity to serve at the crisis pregnancy center and worship on the I Heart Radio app.
The challenge for faith communities is to help young adults identify what pieces of “church” are inadequate, misshapen or missing in their modular lives and then help them rebuild or fill the gaps.
The calling is not to compete with the other pieces but to make space to help Millennials make sense of them all.
Home, Family & Work
The church has a role to play as a welcoming, stabilizing community for those who are struggling to find their place to belong.
Many Millennials have an idyllic concept of “home”, but the reality is that they are far from it.
While a traditional view of family stil makes a strong showing. the cultural expression of friends as de facto family is as popular as the 90’s sitcom.
In God’s family, teens and young adults are our younger siblings and deserve a place at the family table – and not the little kids table, either! Too ofter we treat young people as troublesome children, rather than as heirs with us of God’s glory (see Romans 8:17).
The Christian community can cast a vision for becoming a wife or husband, mother or father, and help young adults connect that vision to their fragmented lives.
Millennials are drawn to the great outdoors. How could you adapt your communal space to help young adults reconnect “work” with the rest of life?
If your standard Bible-teaching method is a 30-45 minute sermon delivered once a week by one leader on a stage at the front of your worship space, you may find it difficult not only to pass on rich Bible knowledge but merely to hold Millennials attention.
Few Millennials need more information, from churches or anyone else. They have access to more knowledge than any generation in history. What they need is wisdom – spiritual understanding that allows them to put knowledge into practice.
Is your community of faith equipping Millennials to be wise about digital tools?
Many Millennials are seeking a more holistic, cohesive approach to tech – an approach that is fully integrated with the Christian understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image.
Wisdom, guided by God’s Spirit, is what allows us to connect right attitude with right action. But teaching young disciples what to think and what to do will not impart wisdom. We must train them (and relearn for ourselves) how to think and act like Jesus – to discern the right way to go and then to get going.
Not Jewish culture. Not Gentile culture. Kingdom culture.
Paul wrote: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In a similar way, the Jesus community today is called to transcend, with the Spirit’s help, our generational values, allegiances and assumptions and adopt a shared Kingdom culture.
When we conceive of our faith community as a religious services industry, even unconsciously, we understand our difficulty appealing to Millennials as a failure to create brand loyalty – a failure whose solution is a better product and/or better marketing.
If a ministry is successful, we assume, the people whom we serve will gradually become more deeply involved (that is, more loyal to our brand). For instance, if 200 children from the neighborhood attend Vacation Bible School but none of the kids or their parents comes to a church service after VBS is done, we would question whether VBS is an effective ministry. And it’s a valid question – we should assess our ministry effectiveness early and often.
Should the goal of our programs and ministries always be more people actively engaged in our programs and ministries? Is our mission to expand market share and brand loyalty?
Like it or not, consumer culture has shaped what people expect of church.
Millennials are hyperaware and deeply suspicious of the intersection of church and consumer culture.
What do Millennials think about church? Why have so many closed the door on church involvement? Why, even among those who grew up in church, have nearly six in ten dropped out at some point? Why have more than half been absent from church for the past six months? Why do three in ten Millennials say church is not at all important while an additional four in ten feel ambivalent, saying church is either somewhat important of somewhat not important?
Among those who say church is not important, most are split between two reasons: Two in five say church isn’t important because they can find God elsewhere (39%), and one-third say it’s because church is not personally relevant to them (35%). One in three simply find church boring (31%) and one in five day it feels like God is missing from church (20%). Only 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date”, undercutting the notion that all we need to do for Millennials is to make church “cooler”.
A significant number of young adults perceive a lack of relational generosity within the Christian community. 52% of respondents view present-day Christianity as aggressive and critical.
What do Millennials find valuable in church? Their answers can give us insight for what to prioritize in ministry and with Millennials.
A plurality say they attend church to be closer to God (44%) and nearly three in ten go to learn more about God (27%). Getting outside the humdrum of their everyday lives to experience transcendence – in worship, in prayer, in teaching – is a key desire for many Millennials when it comes to church.
Millennials are, on the whole, skeptical about the role churches play in society. This is the closed door. But their hope for the role churches could play? That is an open window.
Respect and Respond
There is one universal when it comes to social status: The person of higher status sets the terms of the relationship, and the person of lower status respects and responds to the boundaries set by the higher-status person.
As a rule, Millennials are not terribly status-conscious, but they are keenly aware that information is power.
The only piece of information a sizable majority of Millennials is comfortable sharing with your church is their first name (82%). Only half are willing to give their last names (53%). Just one-third are comfortable sharing their email address (33%).
Only one in five Millennials are comfortable handing over their physical address (19%), and even fewer their phone number (12%). A mere 6% are willing to grant you access on social media, such as friending on Facebook or following on Twitter or Instagram.
When Millennials visit your faith community, are they welcomed and respected, or harassed and put on the spot? Are they cornered into conversation or physical contact? Are they peppered with requests for personal information? Or are they free to set the boundaries of the relationship, as they feel comfortable?
If Jesus’ discipling style is any indication, consistent, deepening friendship over a long period of time and through life’s hills and valleys is an (if not the) essential element of lasting spiritual formation within the community of faith.
Are friendships flourishing that can sustain younger and older adults during seasons of spiritual dryness? Do people of all generations serve together, blessing their community with God’s abundant grace and unconditional love?
Two-thirds of U.S. adults agree strongly or somewhat that Christians should play a
strong role in alleviating poverty (66%). The proportion of practicing Christians under 40 who agree is even higher: nearly nine in 10 (86%).
Millennials have a reputation for being concerned about social justice, even though their record as effective, long-haul activists is spotty thus far. They share an expectation that communities of faith should lead the charge on justice issues like poverty. And when a church’s resources are channeled inward instead of outward, they don’t hesitate to criticize.
To Millennials, sacrificial generosity is non-negotiable when it comes to communities that claim to follow Jesus.
There is an aspirational element involved in this high standard—and isn’t that a good thing? Many in the younger generation express a desire to make the world a better place. Their desire is a faint echo of God’s intention to remake the heavens and the earth into a whole, healed place where he will dwell forever with his people (see Rev. 2:1-5). What would it look like for your church to mentor Millennials to live in the new creation? If young adults aspire to be sacrificially generous but don’t know how, their mentoring friendships should incorporate clear teaching on and rigorous practice of the Christian virtue of charity.
More of Jesus
The fact remains that eight out of ten young adults say growing to or learning about God are the two most important reasons to attend church.
There are four factors that emerge as essential to developing the next generation of spiritual leaders:
- reverse mentoring
- vocational discipleship
What does it look like to “be authentic”?
It means being true to who you are. Don’t represent yourself as something you’re not.
Many of the institutions previous generations respected as pillars of a healthy society have been disgraced by scandals during Millennials’ formative years. Corruption has been exposed within trusted institutions like government, big corporations, national sports teams and organized religion. From President Clinton to Lance Armstrong, from Tiger Woods to the Catholic church, from the NSA to Martha Stewart, Millennials have plenty of reasons to be skeptical.
Young adults aren’t looking for perfect leaders. What they are looking for is leaders willing to admit they’re not perfect. Hypocrisy is one of the biggest criticisms Millennials have of Christians. A full two-thirds of Millennials believe American churchgoers are a lot or somewhat hypocritical.
Instead, lead from your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses.
Millennials want to make an impact. Barna research for 20 and Something shows that Millennials want passion for their job (42%) even more than a job that helps them become financially secure (34%) or that provides enough money to enjoy life (24%).
As a generation, they have an undeserved reputation for a lack of loyalty. As a rule, however, this is inaccurate. While it’s true that Millennials do not generally demonstrate loyalty to organizations or institutions, most are extremely loyal to causes and people.
They’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present—not future—tense.
More than six in 10 Millennials like that they know more about technology than older adults. And, the truth is, the church needs the next generation’s help to navigate digital terrains. Aside from a fluency in technology, you might look to your Millennials to “mentor” you in the following areas:
- Global perspective
- Sustainability ideas
- Social concern
- Entrepreneurial spirit
Nearly half of Millennials (48%) think God is calling them to a different work, but haven’t yet been willing to make the change.
This is where vocational discipleship comes in. Because Millennials are so concerned about the significance of what they do, older Christians who are also established professionals or tradespeople can help them
- 1) identify their life’s work, and
- 2) help them connect it to their identity as a Christian.
More than one-third of Christian Millennials (37%) do not have an older mentor who
gives them advice about work. Almost two-thirds of all churched adults (63%) say that, in the past three years, they have not received any teachings or information that helped shape or challenge their views on work and career.
Helping young adults connect the dots between faith and work makes a difference to their lifelong pursuit of Jesus.
Working and Leading Together
In the not-too-distant past, the most common method of career training was apprenticeship. An unskilled worker who showed promise was apprenticed to a master craftsperson, training under his or her guidance until the apprentice could carry out first the basic and, eventually, the highly skilled aspects of the craft. Even from the very beginning, although she didn’t yet have the knowledge or skill to work on her own, the apprentice was right in the thick of it, in the shop alongside the master and other apprentices of varying skill levels, learning the rhythms of the craft and offering her brute strength and boundless enthusiasm to the shop’s success.
What is your favorite place to connect with God? To connect with others? How about the best place to spend time in personal reflection?
Most of our modern churches have excellent areas set aside for corporate worship, group learning and community-building. But they leave something to be desired when it comes to personal reflection and prayer.
Overall, the “un-churchy” atmosphere of the space, which had more of a corporate vibe than a holy feeling, and the absence of Christian symbols failed to suggest transcendence.
First, cathedral-style churches seem to Millennials like fine china compared to the everyday dishware of the modern churches.
Second, we talked with the field groups about Starbucks versus the independent coffee shop, and many participants agreed that, while they might aspire to the ambiance, community and authenticity of the indie coffee house, they usually find themselves at Starbucks.
On the whole, Millennials have a strong preference for unambiguous visual clarity. Practically speaking, field group participants expressed appreciation for clear signage and directions for how and where to find information. More philosophically, Millennials want to be able to answer the questions “Where am I?” and “What’s expected of me?” by looking for cues in their surroundings. Cathedrals and traditional churches have such cues in spades, yet modern churches are often designed expressly to be ambiguous.
Millennials want a church to be open and honest about what it is and about what it is trying to accomplish.
Religious iconography connects people to the traditions and history of Christianity.
Our churches are places of action, not places of rest; spaces to do rather than spaces to be. The activities, of course, are designed to connect people with God and each other—and some Millennials hope for that, too—but many just want an opportunity to explore spiritual life on their own terms, free to decide for themselves when to stay on the edges of a church experience and when to fully enter in.
Is it a wonder we see an uptick in Millennials seeking out liturgical forms of worship? Or that Millennials who know about Lent are more likely than their parents to practice it?
Many Millennials connect their desire for peace directly to their expectations or hopes for church.
Your church. It it a place of energy and activity? Where do Millennials go to experience Jesus’s invitation, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”?
Our findings reveal two core questions churches should ask about their facilities.
- First, how do we bring the outside in?
- Second, how do we bring the inside out?
Instead of using landscaping simply as a frame for the building, could we use it as a legitimate ministry space – a sacred place in its own right?
Building for the Whole Body
Again and again, we have circled back to five reasons Millennials stay connected to a faith community: cultural discernment, mentoring, vocational discipleship and life-shaping relationships with God and other people.
There is no cookie-cutter, mass-production solution for welcoming Millennials to your
space, but there are questions your community can keep in mind as you build to include the whole church body:
- How do our facilities present visual cues? Can people easily answer the questions “Where am I?” and “What is expected of me?”
- How do our facilities offer respite from the outside world? Can people find a place of peace that is accessible and comfortable?
- How do our facilities connect to Christian history and traditions? What symbols or design elements evoke a sense of the sacred and tell the story of God’s actions in the world?
- How do our facilities integrate elements of nature? How can we bring the outside in and take the inside out?
Cultural discernment, intergenerational friendships, reverse mentoring, vocational discipleship, and an experience of and connection with Jesus are five reasons Millennials go to and stay in church. How well do your facilities, inside and out, allow you to facilitate these important outcomes?
For more information feel free to go and buy the book Making Space for Millennials from the Barna Institute at https://resources.barna.org/products/making-space-for-millennials