What Millennials Want

america, christianity, church, millennials, unchurched

I hear so much talk about “how to reach Millennials” in the Church. In case you need a refresher or a definition on what a MIllennial is, it is the group of people born from early 1980s to early 2000s. Seeing as I was born in 1990, I am smack dab in the middle, so you could say with all confidence that I embody a Millennial.

Here’s the thing: I hear all this talk about how to reach my age group, a group of people who have fallen in the cracks and who the church have lost.  I see committees get together on how to reach me, I hear people talk about how to savvy up their technology to reach me, how to hire people in positions specifically to reach me, and how to make these fun parties or events to reach me.  But guess the average age on these groups of people making decisions for me? Mid-40s-early 50s.

No one is asking me what want for my generation.

Some people argue that it’s because Millennials don’t know what they want. Oh, the contrary. Millennials are the most educated generation yet, and even our criticized love of entitlement says something bold: We have a dream, a specific dream, and we won’t stop until we get it. We will kick, scream, and even leave the Church if we don’t get what we want.

And let me stop to say a disclaimer and something that may shock you: If I wasn’t in youth ministry, I would probably not be in the Church, too. My vocation has committed me to the Church, and it is difficult most days.  It is difficult serving in an environment where everyone is old enough to be my parents and, in most cases, my grandparents. I find it embarrassing when a new young person comes and the only person that can connect to them is me.  Because I have a huge desire for my lost generation, I do it and I don’t complain, because I am passionate about it and love it.  Yet, it gives a huge message from the Church to that person coming in: We have nothing for you except for this one person. Now, multiply and build us a young adult ministry.

Doesn’t work like that. Church, if you want to grow younger, which you need to if you don’t want to die, then you need to get involved. Here is proof that Christianity is dying, and it is up to you:

So here are a few things us Millennials want:

We are tired of the gimmicks.

Most churches think that to reach a younger generation, they have to change themselves to look younger. So, they spend a lot of money updating their sound system, their building space, and their music to reach young people.

But, let’s be honest: If I wanted those things, I could get that just about anywhere. But I’m not anywhere. I’m lost in the cracks.

If you want to reach me, then you need to be real with me. You need to show me what it is like to authentically walk in faith. Quit deceiving me with gimmicks. I view hundreds of advertisements a day that are selling me something, I don’t need to be “sold Church” with those same gimmicks. Give me something real. Give me something authentic. And don’t try to “sell me authenticity” too, just prove it.

We want to get back to the fundamentals.

You may not have noticed this, but there is actually a resurgence within Christianity among young people that is calling for a more conservative Christianity in terms of theology.  We are reevaluating classic debates in early Christendom and getting a little more classical and traditional.   Even reformed theology is even getting trendy, something that I grew up thinking was “evil” but somehow find myself in camp with.

Not only is our theology getting more fundamental, but so are our ethics and traditions. There is the call for men to get back to becoming men, and start leading again. I have friends who grew up in congregationalist churches running to liturgical churches, because the tradition is beautiful to them. Even I, who grew up very congregationalist, am finding comfort in a church that is famous for its traditionalism.  There is something refreshing here, probably because it’s authentic and it’s not being pushed on me, but I chose it for myself (back to that first point!).

We want you to care about what we care about.

Millennials are passionate about social justice, and that is rooted not only in our culture but in our spiritual and religious beliefs. We believe in a radical Jesus who helped the hurting and gave a political message of love for everyone. This translates into everything that we do: This is why we’re all over “green initiatives,” human trafficking, racial equality, healthy  and ethical eating, and even gay marriage. We believe in equality, regardless of background of a person. And we believe that comes from Jesus. And since we believe that came from Jesus, we need you to see that, too.

We want the destruction of dichotomies.

You may have noticed that some of this contradicts itself: How are Millennials getting more conservative theologically, yet at the same time fighting for gay marriage? Ha, great question!

That’s because we are sick and tired of being put into a box.

We see you guys fighting in the White House, and think there is a third option to being a Republican or a Democrat. I don’t need to be labeled as Evangelical or Mainline. I am not Conservative or Liberal. I can vote for gay marriage and think it’s incompatible with my religious beliefs, because I can believe that there is a separation between church and state.

You cannot put Millennials in a box.

And the beautiful part of this article? This is the way one Millennial feels. Although I feel like this article sums Millennial Christians up, there will still be some variance, and that’s what makes Millennials: Millennials. We are unique and have unique voices.

And church, that’s why you need to pay better attention: Because we are ever-changing, ever-growing. And, the next generation is up to bat, which means it’s our turn to shape them.  And how can we do that if the generation above us hasn’t shaped us?

We want YOU.

We cannot do this alone. As a generation that values learning and knowledge, we need to get this from somewhere.

We need you. Sometimes we scare you, and perhaps rightly so; but quit running away from your responsibility to train us and equip us with wisdom.  We are an abandoned generation by the Church, and we need to get back on track. However, we cannot do it without you.

As a disclaimer: When I say “Church” I mean the Church as a whole, and not one specific church. I appreciate some of the efforts the church I am blessed to serve in is doing, and I look forward to being a part of the visioning of how to reach younger people.

5 thoughts on “What Millennials Want

  1. This is good. I was born in 86, so I would fall into the Millenial generation, too, and a lot of these points describe me. However, to prove your point of how we can’t be put into a box, my ideal worship service would be a weird hybrid of liturgy/tradition and contemporary-ness (don’t know how to word that). I like a lot of the elements of a liturgical service, but when it comes to actual music/worship, I want something more, and even something different.

    I find myself being more and more drawn to a style of worship that’s more along the lines of “All Sons and Daughters” or “The Rend Collective,” but even then, I want to experience other forms of worship. I want to see more art. I want to see more congregational interaction. I like going to events like SYMC because they like to push the boundaries. I was just there a couple weeks ago, and they had Eric Samuel Timm, an artist, on stage doing paintings while we were singing. The morning sessions always include some sort of interaction with the people around me, too.

    When I come to the church building to worship, I want to be thrust into the presence of God. I want to go on that journey with the people around me. I want to “experience” worship, not watch it. I want something more and something different.

    Have you read “You Lost Me” by David Kinnaman? I led a short term study through the video curriculum that accompanies it. A lot of what you said here shows up in the research that book analyzes. Good stuff. Thanks for this!

    1. I have NOT read that book, but I’ll add it to my reading list!

      If I could worship with only five artists my entire life, it would be All Sons and Daughters, Shane & Shane, Jon Foreman, David Crowder and Kirk Franklin. :) I’m a hipster and a gangster in one… I don’t believe in dichotomies ;)

      I’m definitely a contemporary girl myself, but there’s something so comforting about tradition. Growing up Baptist, there were traditional elements, but not like liturgy. I’m loving that my church is trying to blend the elements with the new service that launched two weeks ago!

      I think this is more than worship in terms of music, which you say–“I want to be THRUST into the presence of God.” If I’m not feeling God at church, I won’t go! That’s how Millennials feel–so many things are competing for our time, so it needs to be worth it.

  2. To your point of, “If I’m not feeling God at church, I won’t go…” First, I agree with this, but I would hope a church would do all it can to invoke the presence of God during worship. Yeah, it might come across as selfish or consumeristic to say that, but it’s more than what “I’m” feeling. If the church I’m attending isn’t making this happen, I wonder where else it might falter. One thing “You Lost Me” points out is Millenials have a difficult time trusting institutions, and this includes the church, so if a church doesn’t work hard on the thing they do most frequently, then how will they do on the other things that require more specialized skill and planning?

    1. Good points–I don’t mean in a “crazy charismatic consumeristic” way. I mean in an authentic way of keeping God the center. :)

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