RELEVANT CONNECTION WITH THE CHURCH: A GENERATIONAL SERIES (PART 3)
Americans are as varied as our landscapes. Yet, there are common characteristics among the six living generations that make up the majority of U.S. society today.
Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) will soon surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation. The generation continues to grow as mainly young immigrants join its ranks.
Much is written about these 25- to 39-year olds, especially when comparing them to other generations. Millennials are the most studied generation in history by employers, marketers and sociologists. How they will impact the trajectory of society through their use of technology and their killing of industries is the study of the moment.
United Methodist Communications has written about how to connect with this rising generation, including key research churches should know, how to attract millennials to your church, top 10 church faux pas that turn off millennials and sermon series topics to connect with millennials.
While much has been made of the millennial “delayed adulthood,” they’re of an age where:
Their education comes at a cost: 63% of millennials carry more than $10,000 in student debt — at a time when the perceived value of a college education has decreased. The Great Recession of 2008 - 2009 began as millennials started entering the workforce. These factors have resulted in a long period of their underemployment and job switching, lower savings and lower home ownership.
Millennials are comfortable turning to technology and to one another (using technology!) to find ways of coping or answers. They trust peers and advocates to guide them to the best choices.
Social media and YouTube are tools used to discern not only the benefits of a brand but also the social reputation. Whether it’s a soft drink or a nonprofit cause, the way to earn millennials' respect is through demonstrable social authenticity, shared experience and purpose. Churches must consider this as they seek to connect with them.
Millennials don’t join a church just to take part in community service projects, social justice causes or coffee groups. Unchurched millennials attend church to find help with their spiritual development and to learn more about God.
Church is a place to explore deeper meaning and put their beliefs into practice. They want to be a part of a welcoming community where they can ask tough questions and experience God. Millennials seek fellowship to feel part of a movement greater than any individual.
Unlike the seeker services in warehouses targeting their boomer parents, millennials look for a church to feel like a holy place: “Many aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism,” according to Barna Group, “but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”
This requires balancing the need for quiet, contemplative worship with creating a welcoming, casual, authentic environment.
What this all boils down to is that millennials value “things like integrity, transparency, honesty, grace and truth,” according to Carey Nieuwhof. “The question is not what do we need to do as much as who do we need to be?”
Budget and flashy technology matter less than the authenticity of the people in the pews and the relevance of the message to help millennials progress in their spiritual journey as a community.
Here are six practical ways to connect with millennials:
- Get your website up to date. Nothing will turn off a millennial faster than an out-of-date website that doesn’t work on a mobile device. Ensure your church website is built on a responsive platform and that the information is current. Make sure you’ve claimed your Google listing and all of your information is correct.
- Engage in spiritual topics on social channels. Use social media to connect with millennials. This requires planning conversations on spiritual topics, including some that may be considered taboo. Make sure people know who the person behind the account is and engage in conversation. For millennials, social media is for connection and not advertising.
- Build an authentic experience. Your church service doesn’t need to be “perfect,” but it needs authenticity. Address matters of spiritual significance with compassion and honesty. It’s not a matter of having the right answer but teaching millennials how to think theologically. Let them draw their own conclusions.
- Create opportunities for community. Millennials crave community. Look for ways that enable people to connect with one another. Whether it’s an informal meetup at a coffee shop to discuss spiritual topics or a chance to serve at a local soup kitchen, spending time together matters.
- Follow their lead for programming. The best way to engage millennials is to listen to what they need and invite them to help develop ways to meet those needs. Collaborate with them to develop and conduct a survey about topics of interest. Have millennials in your church share opportunities with one another instead of relying on advertising to spread the word.
- Lead differently. Millennials embrace collaboration. They have little patience for traditional committee structures and hierarchical leadership. More effective is building focused teams to manage a project or to learn something new. Disband once the goal is met.
By 2030, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce. Will they represent 75% of your church? Only through changing our mindset about how we engage millennials can the church manage this generational transition and grow.
This is part three of a four-part series examining how the church can tailor its approach to connect with current generations in a relevant and meaningful way. Stay tuned for Part 4 to uncover ways to connect with Gen Z.
Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.