Our church was largely populated by senior saints when I became the pastor four and a half years ago. When my wife and I joined, both in our late 20s, we were two of only three or four Millennials who were active members. And, on the surface, our church did not seem like a likely candidate to reach Millennials. The Millennial or “Y” Generation started sometime in the early 1980s up until sometime in the early 2000s, which means it’s a largely twenty-something, thirty-and-under crowd. That’s why I’m so grateful that, for the past three years, we have seen almost all of our growth come from the Millennial generation, and now about 30% of our church’s regular attendance and membership is composed of Millennials.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the past week have been talking about an article about why Millennials are leaving the church, and of the writing of responses there has been no end. I’m sorry to add to the hullabaloo (but obviously not sorry enough to say nothing). Why are Millennials coming to church? Well, I’m not researcher, or an expert. I’m a pastor who is trying to learn (sometimes failingly) to reach our community of all ages and ethnicities, Millennials included. Here some of my thoughts:
1. The Millennial stereotype doesn’t tell the whole story
One of the things about “the Millennial conversation” that annoys me is the broad-brushing that people do. They don’t account for geographic, ethnic, and individual differences. I understand that “on the whole” the Millennial generation has a lot of intra-generational similarity. But people are people, they are formed by a culture, an ethnic background, a geographic “place”, a family, and a God-given personality. Knowing trends and patterns is helpful; pigeon-holing a whole group is not. It is better to grow in relationship with your neighbor, a specific person, and to love them.
2. Millennials have come to our church for sound teaching
We’ve had a decent number of Millennial-aged folks come to our church already knowing Jesus, and we’ve also had a good number come and meet Jesus. In either case, what has drawn them and kept them has been sound teaching based on sound doctrine which is explicitly and unapologetically biblical. Christianity-lite isn’t our secret sauce. It’s the opposite. It’s truth, mixed strongly with grace and love.
3. Millennials have come to our church for discipleship relationships
Related closely to #2, Millennials in our church are hungry for true relationships based on truth. They want to grow, to be nurtured, discipled, mentored, “poured into”. I am currently meeting regularly with five guys, all between the ages of 23 and 27, all Millennials — and all hungry for truth and relationship mixed together. They don’t just want to be preached at. They want to be conversed with, known, and loved.
4. Millennials are just like everyone else
In the most important ways, Millennials are the same as the rest of humanity. They were created in God’s image, have fallen from his intentions because of sin, and desperately need Jesus. People are people. Yes, there are profound differences and specific uniquenesses for diverse groups according to age, culture, and ethnicity. But fundamentally our identity as human beings, and much more significantly, as Christ’s new humanity, gives us more in common together than the differences that keep us apart.
God has been good to our church, and the Millennial-aged folks are bringing a renewed excitement for the mission of God in our generation. Truth be told, there isn’t a secret sauce, just like there isn’t a secret sauce to anything in life. But if there were, the secret sauce would be a long-simmering mixture of faithfulness, relationship, and truth mixed together with grace and love found in Christ.