I have received a number of inquiries regarding my presentation during the recently completed diocese summit. I pray this article will bless you given we had limited time to address this issue last week.
I am very passionate about the Millennial generation. I know much has been said pessimistically about this generation, but I hold to the belief that the Millennials are poised to change the culture for the good in this country and impact the world. But for many churches and leaders, Millennials are (to steal from Winston Churchill) “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I would agree with this on some levels, but I also believe the riddle can be solved. Millennials are a unique generation, but once you find out what makes them tick you realize they are not that puzzling. They just have a unique set of passions, interests, and viewpoints on the culture and the world.
The problem is I believe the church has largely failed to take stock in this generation because they are different. A lack of knowledge breeds fear, and this is true of the church in relation to the Millennials. Many churches do not take the time to know the next generation, so they are stuck with attaching stigmas (many untrue) to them. This is problematic. There are churches, however, that are thriving with Millennials, and if you did some investigation I believe you would come out with similar results, regardless of the church locale.
So, what differentiates a church culture that attracts Millennials and one that repels them? There are many factors, but I want to highlight ten really important ones. If you are a church member that has been asking why it is so hard to get the next generation to become part of your culture, the following reasons might shed some light on your struggle.
1.) There is a strong resistant to change
This generation does not understand a refusal to change a program, activity, or even an entire culture if it is not working. Traditions are not something most Millennials hold close to their heart. In fact, for many (myself included) traditions are often seen as the enemy because many churches allow their traditions to hinder them from moving forward at all. Is this right? Maybe not, but it is a reality nonetheless. One that must be understood.
Millennials are removed from the era of doing everything because “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. A very strong value of this generation is changing the world. Many times traditions hold them back from doing this. In addition, the next generation understands change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things. The followers of Christ did what was necessary to promote the cause and were not limited by their own beliefs or weaknesses.
2.) Compelling vision is lacking or non-existent
If your goal is to create an environment that is totally void of the next generation, especially those with any initiative and talent, refuse to cast vision in the church. That will drive Millennials away faster. It always baffles me when a church does not place value in vision and planning for the future. There is virtually no other arena of life where we refuse to vision and plan, but for some reason the church is different.
If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small. -Craig Groeschel (We have read a number of his books) Dr. Reid’s twitter pal.
Millennials will not invest in a church that refuses to dream big because they see example after example of an infinitely powerful God doing amazing things through normal people. You might think they are naive, but most Millennials do not believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to start non-profits, plant churches, or lead businesses.
So, go ahead and believe “the Spirit is supposed to guide us, not a man-made vision” or just allow sheer laziness to lead the way, and your church will continue to be void of the next generation.
3.) Mediocrity is the expectation
Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They are very optimistic about their ability to excite change in the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire to do something extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train for most Millennials. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials are not scared to fail and they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset. They hold to the mentality that failing and being a failure are mutually exclusive. Failing is not viewed as a step back. They dream often and dream big because they understand we serve a God who works beyond our ability. The Millennials have a collective concern for making the world a better place, and mediocrity fits nowhere in those plans.
4.) There is a paternalistic approach to leading Millennials
This is one I have experienced personally. If you want to push the next generation away from your church, refuse to release them to lead. Simply giving them a title means absolutely nothing. Titles are largely irrelevant to the next generation. They want to be trusted to fulfill the task that has been given to them. If you micro-manage them, treat them like a parent, and refuse to believe they are capable of being leaders because of their age and lack of experience, wisdom, etc., they will only be at your church for a short season.
Millennials will not allow age to keep them from leading…and leading well. If you refuse to release them to lead, the next generation will quickly find another church or context where they can use their talents and gifts to their full capacity.
5.) There is a pervasive insider-focused mentality
Traditional or contemporary worship? High church or low church? Plurality of elders or board of directors or staff-led church? While generations past invested a lot of time and energy in these discussions, most Millennials see these conversations as sideways energy. There might be a time and place for talking about acappella versus instrumental or high church versus low church, but the time is very rarely and the place is not from the pulpit or small group.
What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have a lot of programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.
When the faithful saturate their schedules with Christian events at Christian venues with Christian people, the world has a hard time believing we hold the rest of the world in high esteem. -Gabe Lyons
Millennials are not going to give their time and resources to a church that turns around and spends massive amounts of money on programs and events that are inefficient and ineffective. The reality is most of the next generation has a very pessimistic attitude towards institutions…the church included. Church leaders can get mad or frustrated about this reality, or they can change some things. The churches who value reaching the next generation emphasize the latter.
6.) Transparency and authenticity are not high values
Despite what I have often heard, I believe most Millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou” mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like they are terrible people and the preacher is perfect, your church will be largely void of the next generation. Why? Because they know something the church has largely denied for a long time…church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations, or failures. Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church (i.e. Catholic church scandal) and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders. Millennials are not looking for people to be perfect…Jesus already handled that for us. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.
7.) Mentoring is not important.
This is a common misconception about the next generation. While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on gleaning wisdom from generations past. I have a good friend who drives nearly two hours away to sit at the feet of a man who has mentored him for years. He does this because this man has some knowledge that my good friend values highly. He is not an exception. I have driven as far as Dallas to spend a weekend with a family that I love and respect. I had no other reason for going than to watch how they parent and let this man give me nuggets of wisdom on following Jesus and loving others. Many might think this is ridiculous, but this is what makes the Millennials unique. We value wisdom and insight. We see it as a valuable treasure, and we will drive any distance to acquire it.
The Millennials are not standoffish towards those who have gone before us. They place a high value on learning from people who have a strong desire to be a sage instead of a dad. If the church is generationally segregated and refuses to pour back into the next generation, you can be sure this church will not attract Millennials.
8.) Culture is viewed as the enemy of the church.
I have so much to say on this, but space will not allow (light bulb moment…maybe my next post will be on this…boom!). Anyway, Millennials are tired of the church viewing the culture as the enemy. Separationist churches who value creating “safe” places for their members and moving away from all the evil in the city are highly unlikely to attract the next generation. The next generation is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God.
The next Christians believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people FROM something. He wanted to save Christians TO something.
Millennials are increasingly optimistic about the surrounding culture because they see Jesus loving all types of people, loving cities, and engaging culture. They also know the church does not stand at the center of culture anymore, and reaching people only comes through engaging culture. In generations past, preachers could stand in the pulpit and talk about the evils of the surrounding culture because the church was the shaper of the culture at large. Today, this is not true. The church needs to stop believing the goal of Christian living is to escape the evils of culture and finish life unharmed and untainted. To reach people in 2014, the church must be immersed in the community for the glory of God.
9.) Community is not valued
This might be one of the greatest values of the Millennials. Community is a non-negotiable part of their lives. And they are not looking for another group of people to watch the Cowboys play football on Sunday or play softball…the next generation desires a Christ-centered community. They value a community that goes beyond the surface and yields transformation. Community keeps Millennials grounded, keeps them focused, and challenges them to reach heights never imagined alone. They see Jesus living in community with twelve men for most of His earthly ministry. They see Jesus spending much of His time pouring into people and initiating transformation. Community is not a passive, optional part of a Millennial’s life…it is essential.
Personally, I have seen the value of community on so many levels in my life. Without authentic Christian community, I would not be in full time ministry today. I would not have overcome some serious sins and struggles. I would not have been challenged to live fully for God.
In a culture that is becoming increasingly independent and disconnected, I believe the Millennials are modeling something important for the church. There is power in numbers. As an African proverb states,
If you want to go fast, go ALONE. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.
Millennials want to go far and want their life to have meaning. In their minds this is not possible without deep, authentic, Christ-centered community. I agree.
10.) The church is always a source of division and not unity
Nothing frustrates Millennials more than a church that does not believe unity should be a very high value. Jesus’ final recorded prayer on earth in John 17 is one church leaders have preached on for years. What many churches miss is one of the central themes in that prayer…unity. On four separate occasions, Jesus explicitly prays for unity. It was important to him. He brought together tax collectors and Zealots (read about both of these groups if you want to know how difficult it would have been to bring these two together). He talked to prostitutes. He brought people together. This is why places like coffee shops are grounds (like my pun?) for scores of Millennials. They provide an atmosphere for all to come and feel welcomed and accepted.
Churches that value racial, generational, and socio-economic unity are the churches that are going to attract Millennials. Why? Because most next gens believe the gospel is most fully reflected when all of these groups are brought together, and most of them are just crazy enough to believe the power of the Spirit is sufficient to make it happen.
It is my prayer that this article will stir your hearts to understand the goal of the church today is to reach all generations. We are living in a post-modern society where we have unique needs from married couples, singles and teens to our seniors and youth and pre-teens. The elderly are not the church or yesterday neither or our youth the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today!
Remember that average and mediocre are the enemies of excellence!
Dr. John H. Reid, III