Congregational Life and Ministry, Millennials

Millennials Want a Courageous Church


This post continues a series on the kind of church young people today are seeking.  It should be clear by now that this is not all that different from what most people are seeking. However, there are some stark differences in the level of importance one group places on these factors over and above another.

Millennials are seeking a courageous Church

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.[1]According to Barna Research on Millennials a common struggle young people today are faced with are cultural challenges.  And the issue the church faces is how does it respond to that challenge of teaching cultural discernment to young adults?  Here is how Barna describes the landscape: “Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world is one of the most powerful motivations for today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way. “

So, what does this mean?

People in their twenties want to be challenged to think about difficult messages. They don’t just want to have easy topics each week. Millennials want to dive into difficult-to-understand topics and passages and explore how they apply. Take young people on a spiritual journey of discovery through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  Provide an environment where you can have a dialogue to discuss real issues. For example, “Here’s why you should stay sexually pure until marriage. Here’s why it’s good to tithe. How do you witness to the LBGT community?”

Imagine a sermon series that address the question, “Can I be a Christian IF…” and you fill in the blank with some of the tough issues of our day, such as woman’s reproduction rights, social justice, race relations, and there is even some question if you can be a Christian if you are on one political side or the other. I understand there are some pastors out there getting nervous just thinking about taking on such possibly divisive issues.  Something for you to consider, if we can’t have these conversations in the church where can we have them?  Where can members go to get a balanced biblical dialogue about the questions that are running through their minds?  The internet is not the new source of truth.  And who better to lead this discussion than a person well versed in the understanding of the truth of God’s Word and the compassionate soul to respect other viewpoints, yet still point people to God’s divine plan for humanity?  Of course, to pull this off requires courage.

A Word of Caution

Jim Fiebig says, “There’s a fine line between courage and foolishness. Too bad it’s not a fence.”  This post is not a license to be mean or condescending.  Millennials and no one else wants to be apart of a church that condemns and appears intolerant. We want to approach tough issues with sensitivity and love while still holding to the truth of God’s Word.  That is a fine line and I don’t know where that line is until we cross it.  But we need to find a way to lead in this changing, scary at times post-Christian society.  May God gives us the courage and the wisdom to do just that.

[1] Eddie Rickenbacker, Bits & Pieces, April 29, 1993, p. 12.

Other posts on the topic:


What Prospective Parents Want in a Christian School


This post is a summary of a presentation I gave at a teacher’s conference in the fall of 2017.  The presentation was on what do prospective parents want in a Christian day school.  Some of you are thinking they want what everyone else wants, right?  Well not so fast.  Because this generation is not as grounded in faith as previous generations there is a shift in what they value and desire for their children.  I will give you just a taste of what four factors will determine their educational choices.  This is based on August 2017 Barna Research study on Parents and Christian Schools.  I have included the link if you want to dig deeper into the findings.

  1. Safety

According to Barna Research, “A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and prospective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include ‘cultural safety,’ such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect. Prospective parents, though more generous toward public (21%) and charter schools (35%), also give private Christian schools (both 42%) a 10 of out 10 for their ability to provide a safe environment.” [1]

You can see how this is important to parents regardless of age.  As we look at the world around us, it is becoming more and more of a dangerous place.  And the places that were off limits in the past, schools, churches, concerts have all come under attack in recent years.

  1. Quality Teachers
    The definition of what is a quality teacher is changing with this next generation. Quality is defined by the strength of the relationship between parent and teacher. Here is what the research says.

Children experience a wide range of relationships at school, but the core ones are with peers and teachers. Parents want warm teachers who they can reach easily. “Teachers who really care about their students” (98%) is the aspect of schools that Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) parents are most likely to say is essential (tied with safety at 98%), followed closely by “accessible teachers,” which slightly fewer (94%) said was a necessity.  Parents whose children are in private Christian schools tend to rank their experience with the schools very highly. Almost six in 10 (59%) give their current school a 10 of out 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and over half (52%) give the same ranking to “accessible teachers.” For prospective parents, almost four in 10 (38%) gave a 10 out of 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and about one-third (34%) gave the same rating for “accessible teachers.”[2]

  1. Academic Excellence

One of the more surprising revelations from the study are the goals prospective parents want for the academic futures of their children. Barna research points out that:

“Academic excellence is a top priority for parents of both current and prospective Christian school students. Nearly all current Christian school parents (95%) say it is essential. For prospective parents, that number is slightly lower, at 88 percent. Surprisingly, parents do not consider academic excellence more important as their children grow older and closer to the window for college admissions.”

  1. Character Development & Spirituality

It is in this sector that the greatest divide begins to become more evident.  According to the Barna Research:

“Current and prospective parents both also give high priority to “intentionally developing children’s character” (current: 94%, prospective: 73%). But in addition, current parents especially desire spiritual development for their children. This reinforces the above findings showing how most current Christian school parents believe that character and spiritual development are among the ultimate purposes of education.

When it comes to spiritual formation specifically, more than eight in 10 (82%) parents of current students believe it is essential when weighing a choice between different schools, but only one-quarter of parents of prospective students (26%) feel the same.”

Where we currently connect character development to faith this next generation appears to separate character from faith.

This reminds me a study of character formation.  In the 1950s a psychologist, Stanton Samenow, and a psychiatrist, Samuel Yochelson, sharing the conventional wisdom that crime is caused by environment, set out to prove their point. They began a 17-year study involving thousands of hours of clinical testing of 250 inmates in the District of Columbia. To their astonishment, they discovered that the cause of crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression. Instead, crime is the result of individuals making, as they put it, wrong moral choices.

In their 1977 work The Criminal Personality, they concluded that the answer to crime is a “conversion of the wrong-doer to a more responsible lifestyle.” In 1987, Harvard professors James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein came to similar conclusions in their book Crime and Human Nature. They determined that the cause of crime is a lack of proper moral training among young people during the morally formative years, particularly ages one to six. [3]

The challenge Christians schools will need to address is how do you reconnect faith to character development?  We don’t want to just produce good students, we are called as believers to develop disciples.  Character is forged with the transformation of the new life in Christ. The apostle Paul describes how a character is formed.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

These are interesting times for the church, but Jesus has equipped us just for these times.

Other posts in the studies done to connect the church with Millennials:




[3] Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 30.

Congregational Life and Ministry, Millennials

Millennials Want a Community Church


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, 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. 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 are 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.

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