A 2015 study suggests that some millennials, young adults born between 1984 and 1997, tend to have a less-than-positive outlook on church, but that doesn’t mean they don’t consider themselves spiritual.
In fact, 84 percent of millennials who took part in a Barna study (conducted on behalf of The United Methodist Church) said that they value spiritual development. That number only slightly decreased (71 percent) when respondents were asked if they believe that church has something to offer them.
So, millennials are not anti-church. That’s good news.
The bad news is that Pew Research Center has found that less than 50 percent of millennials say that religion is important to them or that church has a positive impact on the country — let alone their own lives.
Since you, as church pastors and leaders, know the value that church can and should play in our society as well as our personal lives, it’s imperative to ask, “How can we help this generation be more attracted to church?”
Make church like church.
Contrary to popular belief, just because someone is relatively young does not mean that they expect church to be some sort of social club. In fact, research indicates that most millennials like sanctuaries better than coffee shops or auditoriums. In addition, they don’t mind overtly Christian images in their places of worship. They actually think the imagery helps them feel closer to God.
And while a church's size isn’t necessarily the most important factor, they tend to be like Goldilocks and prefer churches that are not too big, not too small, but just right. Millennials are like most of us when visiting a new place. They don’t want the congregation to be so small that they stand out like a sore thumb, but they don’t want the congregation to be so large that they are just a number. In fact, many millennials are somewhat turned off by megachurches that seem to them more like big business than a haven of peace and praise.
Include technology correctly — when it’s relevant.
Yes, millennials are technological natives. They have grown up with cell phones in their pockets and computers in their bedrooms. They have no qualms about sharing the intimate details of their lives on social media. They know how to tweet, are adept at taking selfies and use hashtags with confidence.
But, as hard as it may be to believe, these young adults are not impressed with technology just for the sake of technology. Technology is impressive when it is used correctly, is relevant and actually enhances experience. Millennials will be turned off if you don't post engaging content or if you don't know how to use hashtags. If your projected lyrics aren’t timed correctly, you're technology will end up hindering worship instead of helping.
So, if you are trying to attract millennials, then use technology wisely. Think about ways that it will be beneficial to your congregation and implement those types of advancements.
Convey the right message.
The primary factors motivating millennials to attend church are to find help with their spiritual development and to have an opportunity to find out more about God.
For many churchgoers, this might seem obvious, but for others, it is a surprising find.
Volunteerism, community service projects, fighting for social justice … these are all great things that have their place among any body of believers. But, according to the research, the primary reason unchurched millennials would consider going to church is the very same reason the church exists in the first place.
Millennials are looking for enjoyable, insightful and meaningful sermons that are practical and actionable in their lives. This is even more important than whether hymns are being sung or drums are being played. It’s more important than whether the service is traditional or contemporary — projection, no projection. It’s even more important than whether or not they know someone in the congregation.
If millennials are going to go to church, it’s for these reasons. They want to grow spiritually. They want to find out more about God. Go ahead and preach sermons to connect with millennials or sermons about taboo topics. They’re searching for truth so they want to hear facts, reason and evidence without people telling them what to think, but rather how to think. They want to hear how the Scripture applies to tough subjects; how it applies to their lives.
In addition, according to the Barna study, United Methodist churches can benefit from the knowledge that 74 percent of all seekers surveyed (all ages) found the tagline “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” appealing. Therefore, you may want to not only use that tagline but also to think about how that message can be incorporated into your services, ministries and worship.
Create a community.
Millennials are a generation of young adults who have grown up with friends on Facebook and whose concept of neighborhoods is no longer limited by geography. Friends are not necessarily the people who live next door, but are just as likely gamers from across the world.
Emails, texting, video chat and social media have made proximity an unnecessary factor in relation to companionship. However, despite that broad interpretation of comradery, millennials report that another primary motivation to attend church is the desire for community.
These young people are no different than many of their elder peers. They too are searching for face-to-face connections. They want the opportunity to meet new friends and to connect on a deeper level with friends they already have. They want to be welcomed. They want to be whole, which includes having role models to lean on when times get hard. They want to be included. They want accountability and community that support and accept them. Churches are an awesome avenue to do just that.
Find out for yourself
So, given these finds, what can your church do to attract more millennials?
Check out these key findings about millennials for yourself. Find out what some of the other priorities are in their lives. Figure out what matters to them.
Remember, generalizations are never spot-on. Every person is unique, and there is a wide disparity in the age span of the millennial generation. Life events, which drastically affect how one thinks about church and spirituality, will vary greatly from a college student whose greatest concern is trying to pass this week’s chemistry test to a married-with-kids 33-year-old who is battling bills and trying to climb the corporate ladder. So, while this information is being presented on the basis of statistics, it's best to just make friends and get to know millennials for their individual qualities.
Start with the millennials already in your church. Talk with them. Ask their opinions on matters of church business. Make their appearance known and felt in your church. Discover how they think. Put them in positions of leadership. Encourage them to participate. Build the very thing they are looking for — a community of Christ followers, growing spiritually as they learn more about God and love each other.
Don’t let age be a barrier. Get to know what millennials like and what turns them off. Seek out personal, meaningful relationships with individuals in this age group, and help them see the relevance of the church in the lives of all believers.