“Don’t believe all the stereotypes you hear about millennials. We don’t have to be the generation that leaves the church.”
Hi, I’m Brandon, and I’m a millennial. I am one of those “entitled,” “snowflake” babies born between 1980 and 2000.
Being a millennial comes with many unfair stereotypes:
- We are lazy.
- We want trophies just for participating.
- We can’t find stable jobs or move out of our parents’ basements.
While some of the stereotypes are true for some millennials, I know a lot of millennials who break the trend.
But there is one stereotype about millennials that is scary because it’s true: Millennials are leaving the church in droves.
So while I cannot pretend to speak for all millennials, I can tell you what my millennial friends and I want to see in your church.
1. Put millennials on stage.
When we go to church and see a bunch of gray-haired guys on stage and a bunch gray-haired people in the crowd, we wonder if we fit in.
Find ways to get younger people on stage. And let a millennial pastor preach every once in awhile. If you don’t have a millennial on staff (or at least as an elder or high-capacity volunteer), that may be part of the problem.
Show us that your church isn’t just an old-person club, but a place that we can serve and use our gifts, too. I know from experience how hard it is for millennials to break into ministry. We are starving for someone to give us a chance.
Just look at the churches that are reaching millennials and tell me if any of them don’t have young people on stage.
2. Be real with us.
We crave authenticity. Don’t pretend like everything in life is rosy when you follow Jesus. If you do, we will know you’re fake.
You aren’t fooling anyone. We all know you aren’t perfect. We loathe imposters, and many of us are skeptical because church leaders can seem fake.
So quit talking to us like we are naive, and quit skipping around sensitive subjects. Be uncomfortably vulnerable with us about your shortcomings and struggles in your faith. Tell us how you continue to wrestle with your imperfections while trying to follow Christ.
We want the ugly truth about the messy issues in life, even when it stings.
3. Embrace technology.
Stop pretending like it’s 1985 and we don’t all have smartphones in our pockets. Technology has dated many practices of the church.
Stop asking everyone to fill out a physical communication card with a dull pencil when you can just ask us to send you a text, email or fill out a quick form on your website. Don’t ask us for our “home phone number.” Does anyone still have a landline? Just ask for a phone number and assume it’s a cell phone.
Also, just so you know, most millennials don’t carry cash. Many of us can hardly remember the last time we saw a checkbook. We use debit cards (or even our phones) and pay bills online. So it’s awkward when you pass an offering plate and don’t give us an option to give online.
I could list a hundred more examples. If nothing else, start here: Update your church website and make it the central hub for all church information, registration and giving.
4. Use visuals.
Like it or not, we are a visual generation. It’s harder than ever for a preacher to hold our attention. But we are drawn to pictures and video. Please use them.
If you are talking about a location in the Bible, show us a picture of the area. If you are preaching about an abstract concept, find a way a concrete way to demonstrate it. Take advantage of the excellent video illustrations at your disposal. Even just painting word pictures and telling stories helps.
In every sermon, ask yourself, “How can I both show and tell?” (I have an entire chapter on this in my book Preach and Deliver).
Use visual elements and imagery to help us see what you say. Not only will you hold our attention, but you will help us understand in the way that we have been conditioned by our culture to learn.
Preaching isn’t dead to millennials, but it needs to adapt to our culture.
5. Be clear.
We like things that are clear and simple. This goes for everything: Your preaching, your theology, your programming, your mission statement … even the church signs.
We don’t like 12-point sermons. Stick with one big point. We don’t like signs we have to stop to read; just point us in the right direction.
And please, stop reading every church announcement from the stage. Highlight a thing or two that’s coming up and point us to where we can get more information.
Also, understand that simplicity does not mean stupidity. It takes more intelligence to make the complex simple. Cut the clutter.
Don’t believe all the stereotypes you hear about millennials. We don’t have to be the generation that leaves the church.
But if you want to reach us, some things in your church will have to change. These five things alone won’t do all the work for you. But if you want your church to reach millennials, this is a start to creating an environment that will help.
Otherwise, your church might keep fishing with the wrong bait.
Brandon Hilgemann is a pastor, the founder of ProPreacher.com (where this article was originally published) and the author of Preaching Nuts & Bolts: Conquer Sermon Prep, Save Time, and Write Better Messages.