In his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, [Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn] recalled the words he heard as a child when his elders sought to explain the ruinous upheavals in Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” He added, “If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘men have forgotten God.'” – John Wilson, reviewing “Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World, in Christianity Today, Feb 7, 1994, p. 57.
Interesting that even back in 1983 a shift was happening; more and more people were drifting away from God. As millennials enter adulthood that trend has reached a critical mass. Millennials defined as 18-34 by 2015 are not attending church as much as some previous generations. Barna Research reports, “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.” What are the factors keeping them away? To be clear I am speaking in generalities here. Not all Millennials fall into this category. It is always a bit dangerous to peg an entire group based on market research, so keep that in mind as you read this. Millennials are individuals. Millennials are also a very talented group, with enormous potential to radically change the world. When Millennials find their unique calling, watch out world.
Millennials want Authentic Community.
Community is nurtured through intentional, authentic, honest, real relationships. A community is not a Sunday morning only experience. This unique relationship is formed by living life together. It is forged over the hot coals of brokenness and restoration. Over the coals of tackling difficult faith issues, and societal contradictions through this journey of faith. Community means daring to have uncomfortable faith conversations.
Millennials Want an Active Role in the Church’s Transformational Story
“Millennials aren’t looking for the perfect church, they’re looking for a captivating story to join.” Rusty Gates
Millennials are seeking a more prominent role to play in the Gospel story than merely sitting in the pews.
They have heard countless sermons on all of the various parts of the body of Christ and the many spiritual gifts given to the people of God. Now they are looking for a way to put their talents and passions to work as a vital part of the church and school. Before you get overly excited and think, great now, we can put their names on the ballot or all those vacant board positions, don’t! Pump the brakes on that one. It not about serving on some board it is about joining fellow believers on a faith journey where relationships are formed. Being a Sunday-morning-only church does not produce, deep, meaningful relationships for Millennials. If we are honest, that doesn’t create deep, meaningful relationships with most Christians.
Among those Millennials remaining active and connected to the church, relationships are the glue that connects them. The most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational.
“Seven out of 10 Millennials who dropped out of church did not have a close friendship with an adult, and nearly nine out of ten never had a mentor at the church.” David Kinnaman
Before you start thinking their demands are unrealistic. That desire to connect relationally with the church is biblical. Here what Jesus says in John 15, “4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.” (CEV) My call to the church that wants to reach Millennials be a John 15 relationally connecting church.
In summary, Millennials aren’t seeking anything different than anyone else. It is not rocket science. It does not require you to change your worship and your constitutions. It requires you to focus on the Work of God, teach and preach the truth. Focus on God’s mission and carry out that mission in that impacts the people in your community.