This is the Church writing to you. We have been trying to reach you for decades, although admittedly with little to no success. We have tried all kinds of methods to connect with you. We have dumped our traditional service, fired our organists and replaced them with a praise band leader and more edgy music. Still, you do not come. We have put away our suits and ties and dress more casually, yet you still do not come. We have moved our worship service out of the sanctuary into the gym, added mood lighting changed worship time to later on Sunday, and still, you do not come. We have abandoned the assigned Scripture readings for Sunday and replaced them with sermon series more in touch with today’s challenges and you know what happened? You still did not come. So this is an open letter to Millennials with a simple plea. Help us figure you out.
The Frustrated Church
Maybe this letter could appear in your local newspaper as you feel this frustration. How do we reach what some have called the “Lost Generation?” I pray this blog today will give you some insights. It is based on some very telling research from the Barna Group.
In a study about Millennials, the Barna Group uncovered some key details:
- The unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population.
- Nearly six in ten (59%) of young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life.
- Third, when asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors. Instead, the most common drivers of spiritual growth, as identified by Millennials themselves, are prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children, and their relationship with Jesus.
Now you may look at this information and come away feeling even more hopeless than before. Well, fear not, hopefully, this blog will give you five simple things, within the capabilities of your local congregation, that will not bust your budget yet still make a kingdom impact with that lost generation every congregation is seeking to connect with. So do I have your attention now? Good, here is why you should be encouraged. From the Barna research:
About one-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds are practicing Christians, meaning they attend church at least once a month and strongly affirm that their religious faith is very important in their life. A majority of Millennials claim to pray each week, one-quarter say they’ve read the Bible or attended a religious small group this week, and one in seven have volunteered at a church in the past seven days.
The Top Three Reasons the Research Says They Attend Church:
54% To be closer to God
31% To learn more about God
16% See the church as God’s hands and feet in the world
So in good Lutheran fashion what does this mean?
- Make room for meaningful relationships.
The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships.
My ministry twin Mike Mast would love this. He talks to congregations all the time about the fact that if you want to connect with those outside your walls you have to build relationships with them. Sounds simple, right? Yes and no, because the type of relationships Millennials seek is to develop a close personal friendship with adults in the church. If that kind of deep relationship is formed the studies show that fifty-nine percent (59%) of Millennials will stay at that kind of congregations versus thirty-one percent who are no longer active in a congregation.
So the coaching questions for you Frustrated Church is: What systems do you have in place or could develop to create and environment where deep relationships can be formed?
2. Teach Cultural Discernment
I remember working with a call committee who wanted diversity in their team so that added a millennial. As we were discussing what they wanted in their next pastor an OWL (Older Wiser Lutheran) said, “We have to make sure this next pastor is against gay marriage.” The millennial responded, “I don’t see anything wrong with gay marriage because you love who you love.” Boom goes the cultural clash of values.
Barna’s study found that Frustrate Church needs to provide a vehicle to help Millennials navigate this strange new world of post-Christian values. So it is important that one of the ministry outcomes is to help today’s Millennials to develop discernment skills, especially when it comes to understanding and interpreting today’s culture. To better serve this generation that is lamenting the complexity of life, the Frustrated Church can provide clarity to this frustrated generation. Millennials need help learning how to apply what is in their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities.
3. Make Reverse Mentoring a Priority.
The Frustrated Church often talks about the leaders of the future. In other words, when I am too old and tired to serve who will take my place? So often the thinking behind that statement is we need some “youngins” to join so we can step down. The Barna Group has learned that an effective ministry to Millennials involves understanding that young people want to be taken seriously today— and not just seen for some distant future leadership position. So how does the Church make room for them to lead now? However, this is the kicker, Millennials don’t want to necessarily lead our Church structure they want to lead a Church that is making an immediate, transformational impact in the community around them and the world. So the idea of sitting in meetings three or four times a month is not what they have in mind. A meeting to plan a community event? Now you’ve got something.
4. Embrace the Potency of Vocational Discipleship
A fourth way churches can deepen their connection with Millennials is to teach a more potent theology of vocation or calling. This is what Kinnaman calls it “vocational discipleship,” a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to. Help them find their God-given calling in life, what is the purpose for which God created them. As the sainted Dr. Martin Luther wrote”…the works of monks and priests, however, holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.” The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
5. Facilitate connection with Jesus.
Finally, Millennials look to the church to generate a lasting faith by facilitating a deeper sense of intimacy with God. For those in the church who argue they want a watered down version of God’s truth, no. Millennials seek a deeper connection with the crucified and risen Savior. The challenge to the Frustrated Church is: “How do we take them on a deeper spiritual journey?” “How do we create a worship, Bible Study, fellowship culture that leads to a more in-depth, intense, relationship-forming connection with Jesus? A tough challenge I would say, but boy would that be an exciting opportunity not just for Millennials, but for every Christian who currently sits in the pews? So Frustrated Church all is not lost. I would say what the lost generation is seeking, we already have, Truth, Relationships, a sense of Calling and a deeper connection with the Savior. They want we all want, to be a better disciple in this age.
So Frustrated Church, all is not lost. I would say what the lost generation is seeking, what we already have: Truth, Relationships, a sense of Calling and a deeper connection with the Savior. They want what we all want, to be a better disciple in this age.
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