4 Simple Ways to Engage Millennials

“As millennials, the way we see the world often makes it difficult for us to meaningfully connect with the local church.”

Impacting millennials in church is one of the hot topics of the day. To give us insight into how to do this, I asked a longtime friend, fellow staff member and one of the sharpest young leaders I know for help. Morgan Tomberlin is 24 years old and serves as director of volunteers at Stevens Creek Church. Her insight and practical honesty is helping shape our team. I believe it will help yours, too. To hear more from Morgan you can follow her lifestyle site Everyday Wholeness.

As I sat in a church service with two friends a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking, “The people on this stage who are trying to tell me something … they don’t even know me. They have no idea about the way I see the world, or the way I live my life, my priorities or interests.” As I listened to the music and to the sermon, the feeling of disconnection I’ve experienced for quite a while became clear. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t because they don’t actually know me. In fact, I work alongside them. I’m on staff at this church. I’ve worn many hats here and I consider the staff and leadership to be dear, dear friends to me. But still, the disconnection persists.

I began to wonder if my friends’ experiences were similar. Knowing that I am deeply rooted in this church community, I can only imagine that they had an even more profound sense of disconnection. After asking a few questions, I realized that this was true. One of them characterized it this way: “Every [millennial] I know who likes the church and wants to be a part of it feels like they can’t because of some of the beliefs they have.”

As millennials, the way we see the world often makes it difficult for us to meaningfully connect with the local church.

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What I love about church leaders is that they are driven by an honest desire to serve people and reach those who are far from God. And what I often notice is that those same well-meaning church leaders are creating barriers for millennials without even realizing it. The good news is, we can change this. It just takes some intentionality. Here are four simple things church leaders need to do in order to engage millennials:

1. Listen to perspectives that are different than yours.

The millennial generation has had more exposure to different cultures, perspectives and points of view than most who came before us. We have the world at our fingertips. This has created in us an assumption that there are more than even two sides to every story or idea.

What causes the disconnect:

Speaking from the posture of a lecture, telling us what you think we need to know rather than having a two-way conversation with us.

This is a quick way to disconnect from millennials, who will not simply “take your word for it” that what you’re saying is true. We do not want you to shrink from speaking about your authentic beliefs and perspectives, but we need you to acknowledge that we might think and live differently.

What you can do:

Make a habit of listening to perspectives that are different than yours, and then acknowledge them when you have to address “prickly” topics like politics or science.

This will inform your speaking, your preaching, your service planning and you personal leadership. Watch more than one news channel, read books by authors who are not Christian, follow people on Twitter who express points of view that oppose yours. We do not expect you to change your beliefs to agree with ours, but we do expect you to acknowledge that we may not fit the mold of “Christian” that you’re used to.

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We also live in a digital age where it’s easy to engage in a conversation with those who attend your church. Don’t shy away from this. Don’t just use social media to further your agenda, use it to listen to us and talk with us about things you feel are important.

2. Be authentic.

Just because we might think differently than you does not mean that we want you to pretend to be like us if you are not. One byproduct of the noisy entertainment-driven world we’ve grown up in is that we can spot a phony from a mile away. We are magnetically attracted to people whom we see as truly authentic.

What causes the disconnect:

Pretending to be an expert on non-religious things.

Millennials expect pastors and leaders in the church to be experts in who Christ is and what it means to have a relationship with God. We trust you on this—we want to learn from you, so focus on this. Construct services and campaigns around the basics of our faith, and don’t shy away from history and tradition. We love spirituality and art and symbolism, and the church is full of that. Keep it honest by staying in your lane.

What you can do:

Be willing to admit that there are things you don’t understand, and don’t try to sell us on your opinions about matters unrelated to faith.

We believe you are authentic when you do not pretend to be an expert when you’re not one (especially as it relates to politics, foreign policy or science). Be willing to admit that there are things you may not fully know or understand. And be willing to admit when you’ve learned something new.