I like statistics and data. Why? Because they don’t lie. They aren’t like opinions or ideas, they just are. You can’t really argue with them.
When I say I like statistics, I should be clear that I don’t always like what the statistics tell us. For example, when we look at the statistics of millennial church attendance (people between the ages of 18 and 30), things get pretty uncomfortable.
At our church, we know the data concerning millennials in our congregation. Although the data isn’t as alarming as we originally supposed, it is still concerning. Over the last few years, the percentage of millennials in our congregation has been declining.
I’m guessing your church is facing the same data. Most churches are. Let’s be real. Nationally speaking, this is a huge problem. What can we do about it? How exactly do you reach and keep millennials? Well, I’m not sure I can completely answer that question. However, I can share what we’ve been learning through our research.
I believe that when millennials encounter our churches, they are asking four questions. It’s crucial that we answer these questions well.
QUESTION 1: ARE THESE PEOPLE REAL?
If there is one word that captures the ethos of millennials its authenticity. My friend Brad, who leads our church’s ministry for 18-29 year olds says it this way:
“For millennials, authenticity is the language of hospitality.”
Over the last decade, the American church has grown tremendously in production excellence and polish in our worship services. For a lot of reasons, this is a good trend, however, it has created the potential for a problem as we try to reach millennials.
There’s a fine line between a polished worship service and a slick worship service. A slick worship service is highly polished but lacks authenticity.
My friend Brad says that the level of authenticity in our worship services must match the level of production excellence. I think he’s absolutely right.
If we want to attract and retain millennials, we must be real — especially during church. We must share real stories about our lives. We must be perceived as on the journey rather than arrived at the destination. And, we must talk about our failures as well as our successes. This is the language of authenticity.
For millennials, authenticity is the language of hospitalityTweet
The first question millennials are asking about our churches is, “Are these people real?”
QUESTION 2: DOES THIS CHURCH CARE?
The millennial generation places a high value on social justice. To their credit, they are typically informed about, concerned for, and active in helping those who are suffering. At the same time, millennials are wary of organizations that appear to be selfishly motivated.
From my observations, Christian millennials are looking for churches that are involved in and serve their communities. They are looking for churches that engage social issues and suffering. They want to be part of a church that truly cares about people.
Here’s the good news: Most of our churches do care! And, we’re involved in serving our communities. When it comes to answering this question well, the solution might be as simple as highlighting what your church is already doing more often during weekend services.
This strategy might sound a little like self-promotion, but think of it this way: If someone attended your church for the first time last week, would they know that your church cares about your community? This is an important question because visiting millennials will be asking.
QUESTION 3: WHERE ARE MY PEOPLE?
Visiting a new church can be a little like a middle school cafeteria. You get this panicky feeling as you visually sweep the room looking for “your people”. If you can spot them, your blood pressure immediately drops. If you can’t… you eat your lunch hiding in your locker.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but when it comes to millennials deciding whether or not they could see your church as a home church, if they can’t spot any other millennials then you’re in trouble.
“Do my people even go here?”
If there aren’t 20 somethings in the audience, there is very little chance a visiting millennial will feel comfortable.
QUESTION 4: CAN I PARTICIPATE?
There is a related question that millennials ask when first observing the demographics of a congregation:
Are my people valued here?
If there aren’t 20 somethings on the stage, on staff or in leadership roles then it is very unlikely that a visiting millennial will feel valued in your church. Why? Because this is a generation that wants to jump in and participate. They want to engage. And if there aren’t millennials visible in the leadership of the church, that’s a clear signal that millennials aren’t invited to participate until they grow up.
So, what do we do? We start by investing in the millennials we have. Care for them, mentor the, value them, and give them opportunities to lead.
So there you go, four questions that I believe millennials ask when they encounter our churches. If you want to get more serious about reaching and keeping millennials, I encourage you to do two things:
First, read Growing Young by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and Jake Mulder. It’s a great read and contains helpful strategies in becoming a church that is well, growing young.
Second, I encourage you to do what we’re doing. We’re in the middle of a millennial secret shopper initiative. Basically, we’re inviting millennials to come check out one of our services and then give us feedback on what they experienced. It’s helping us understand what our services feel like to a millennial.
If you have ideas on reaching and keeping millennials, we’d love to hear them. Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.