6 Ways Churches Can Reach Millennials
By: Rusty Gates September 5, 2016
By definition, I am a millennial. I was born in the 80’s, I can remember a world without cell phones, but I also wrote my first research paper on an early version of Microsoft Word. Over the last decade, I've heard more and more talk about how the Church needs to reach MY generation.
But I'm also a millennial with almost a decade of ministry experience under my belt. I've served as an intern, Youth Pastor, and Associate Pastor. With a foot in both worlds, I’ve prepared what I believe to be six of the best ways the church can engage and reach millennials today.
1. Share your church's and/or denomination’s story often.
One of the major themes of the millennial generation is narrative. We seek to live meaningful lives and are drawn in by the most captivating stories. Donald Miller became a household name because of a book that simply told his story, and now he is helping countless others see the narrative elements of their own lives through his company, Storyline.
I have seen many churches distance themselves from their own rich history and tradition in an attempt to reach a younger generation, removing denominational indicators from their names and liturgical elements from their gatherings. This isn’t to say you should never change your worship style or seek improvement where possible, but rather that the story you are telling about and through your gatherings is far more important than the tempo or genre of your music.
If you’re Methodist, tell the story of John Wesley. If Lutheran, then Martin Luther; If Presbyterian, Calvin, etc., etc. All of these people were passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you’re a non-denominational church, tell the story of how your church came to be and why. In doing so, you will invite people to see themselves as a part of that story and see themselves as having a stake in writing the next chapter for the church.
2. Create ministry opportunities (and a lot of them).
The narrative focus of millennials has led us away from a simplistic, formulaic understanding of the Gospel and to a holistic, incarnational Gospel. Millennials are seeking a bigger role to play in the Gospel story than merely sitting in the pews. We have heard countless sermons on all of the various parts of the body of Christ and the many spiritual gifts given to the people of God, and we long for a way for our talents and passions to be a part of the church.
Engage millennials by giving them a role to play and ownership of some of the ministry of the church.
This goes beyond setting up and tearing down chairs or handing out bulletins (though those are important things). How can you leverage the skills, passions, and experience of your congregation to serve the Kingdom? By creating unique ministry opportunities - such as a finance ministry that invites accoutants in your church to teach people how to create a budget - not only meets an immediate need, but calls upon church members to own a part of the story. These ministry opportunities can be as varied as the people in your church and will do a great deal to help millennials find a long-term place in your community.
3. Find ways to connect relationally.
While a great preacher can make a big difference in your Sunday attendance, it will not be enough to keep millennials around long-term (especially in an age where every great sermon from last week is available as a podcast at the touch of a button). In order to bring millennials into the church and keep them around, you will need to find creative ways to build and facilitate meaningful relationships, making them feel like they are a part of the movement of your community.
This may mean investing time and energy in creating thriving small group opportunities where millennials can easily get to know people and feel known. I’ve also seen this successfully done in churches that have many different outreach opportunities that allow newcomers to join in on service projects. This has a dual benefit of both helping them build relationships while also giving them an opportunity to use their giftings to build up the Kingdom. Either way, creating a place where established leaders in the community are available and approachable will mean the world to someone trying to figure out if they can belong to your particular tribe.
4. Invest in Children’s & Family Ministry.
At the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we have the distinct privilege of getting to work with thriving churches from all over the Church’s family tree. One of the golden threads that runs through nearly every successful ministry, regardless of denomination or affiliation, is a high emphasis on Children’s Ministry. As millennials are beginning their own families, they are looking for churches that take seriously the discipleship of children.
This isn’t just a matter of buying the most expensive curriculum you can afford, but rather means making this ministry a priority. How does the Children’s Ministry budget compare to the Youth or Outreach ministry budgets? How are you celebrating the victories of your Children’s Ministry in your Sunday gatherings? My Pastor is fond of saying that the success of our church will be determined by how well our children love God as adults.
By communicating the importance of children in the Kingdom and investing time and resources into that ministry, you will make your church more attractive to those millennials entering this stage of life.
5. Invest in your web presence.
At my previous church where I served as an Associate Pastor, we realized that there were a ton of people who didn’t live in our city who followed our church and in a very real way felt that they were a part of our church. We referred to this group as the “community beyond the community.” This group included people who once attended our services but moved away and people who simply found us online from the other side of the world. It was through this community that we realized how important our web presence really was. God can work through your ministry in the lives of people you’ve never met. Your website is no longer a place where people can find out the service times, but can be a place of real, tangible ministry. This is the reality of the church in the digital age.
As such, it is vital that you create a well-crafted and engaging website. This goes beyond adding some fancy graphics to thinking intentionally about the people who will find their way there and providing them with intentional resources. It also means that your church needs to be present in some capacity via social media, interacting with the community beyond the community when at all possible.
6. Share your passion.
While I hope you find all of the previous points helpful as you seek to engage millennials through your ministry, this is the most important and powerful thing you can do to reach this demographic: share your passion. Regardless of your worship style, website, or service opportunities, nothing will turn millennials away from your church more than a lack of passion.
While it’s easy to get weighed down by all of the stresses of ministry, it’s important to remember what motivates you and share that as often as you can. Are you excited to see the lost experience and trust in the Gospel? Proclaim it loudly! Do you get jazzed to see heaven break into present lives? Share where you’re already seeing it. Does your heart leap as God brings reconciliation and restoration to broken families? Let that come through in every message!
Passion, excitement, and joy are contagious. Share your vision, share your story, and do it with gusto. Millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and your church could very well be that something.
How can you begin to better engage the Millennials in your church congregation?
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