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It’s no secret that church attendance has declined among millennials (see the article links below for some statistics). If churches want to grow in the next two decades, they will have to account for what millennials want in a church.
I’m sure some think, “Well, they’ll change. They’ll have kids and come back to church just like other generations.” But research suggests that may not be a valid assumption anymore. For one, the marriage rate among millennials has declined compared to previous generations[i]. The birth rate has also declined[ii]. The rationale of “we’ll go to church because it’s good for our family” will consequently decline. And, according to a research study published on Barna’s website, church attendance among those born from 1980 to 1984 took a downturn when they reached their 30’s[iii].
It looks as though the church will have to adapt to keep attendance steady. They can’t rely on millennials coming back to church, well, ever. So what do millennials want from church? What might get them in the door?
I’ve read several articles about this subject (I’ve listed them at the end of this article), and here’s the synopsis. Millennials want genuine community in which they have genuine relationships, can grow closer to God, and can affect positive change in their communities. Yes, they may like a certain style of worship, but that won’t keep them at church. Millennials want substance. They can tell almost immediately if a church is genuine or if they’re fake. If Jesus, community, and justice aren’t being pursued then millennials won’t stay.
What does this mean for churches? In a way, I think this can be a very good thing. The church’s budget, the quality of programs, the flashiness of the service, and the standard of the preaching don’t matter as much. In the coming decades, the churches that consistently thrive may just be the ones that have close-knit community, vibrant discipleship, and serve people outside the church. More time, money, and resources can be spent on outreach, caring for the poor, and discipleship instead of Sunday morning service (not that Sunday morning service is inherently bad or that we should abolish it).
If I was a church leader looking to attract millennials, I would focus on the basics. I would focus less time on sermons and programs (although I certainly wouldn’t neglect them), and I would focus more on relationship/community-building activities, from things as simple as chili cookoffs to monthly or weekly meals at the church to monthly or weekly service projects in the community. I would advertise interest groups (men’s basketball, for example) in addition to small groups. Basically, I would give the church as many opportunities to be together, serve together, and study scripture together as I could.
Millennials have the opportunity to influence the church in a positive direction. I’m not saying everything previous generations have done in church is bad, but I do think it would help to focus more on discipleship, community, and service. I hope and pray that the growing number of millennial church leaders will hold to their millennial values and use them to shape the church.
Here are links to the articles I read about millennials and church. I accessed all of these on December 9, 2019.
[i] “New Census Bureau Statistics Show How Young Adults Today Compare With Previous Generations in Neighborhoods Nationwide.” United States Census Bureau, 4 December 2014, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-219.html. Date accessed 9 December 2019.
[ii] “U.S. Births Fell To A 32-Year Low In 2018; CDC Says Birthrate Is In Record Slump.” NPR, 15 May 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/05/15/723518379/u-s-births-fell-to-a-32-year-low-in-2018-cdc-says-birthrate-is-at-record-level. Date accessed 9 December 2019.
[iii] “Guest Column: Young People Will Come Back to Church, Right?” Barna, 21 October 2019, https://www.barna.com/young-people/. Date accessed 9 December 2019.