Ask The Preacher's Wife: How Can My Church Connect With Millennials? Six Things You Should Consider!
First, thank you so much for the gracious complement. I’m continually amazed to see how God works through this blog. It’s truly mind-blowing and humbling! I’m also amazed (and excited) that you’ve chosen to ask me this question.
Sighs…I knew marrying my husband would come in handy some day!
I must admit that for as long as I can remember, the age old question in the church has been, “How Do Women Become Church Mothers?” However, questions about millennials have become the new hot topic in the black church across denominational lines.
You are correct, as a First Lady and young adult, I’ve been able to understand church growth in a different way, because my husband engages me in certain conversations about our church.
Note: I am not a Pastor for a reason, and I don’t have the level of pastoral patience that my husband has. Therefore he strategically engages me in limited conversations about church, because I don’t play games over him….I will snatch a whole wig! God is still working on me.
However, to be honest, we have never had any conversations in an attempt to target young adults or anyone else for that matter.
Close your mouth Pastor! Yes, I’m serious, and No, it’s not because we automatically attract millennials due to our age.
As I continually marvel at the work God does through my husband in ministry, I am amazed at one simple fact; my husband LOVES people.
He loves older adults. He loves middle aged adults. He loves young adults. He loves teenagers. He loves children. He loves babies.
I do too.
We have always been PEOPLE people, but at church, we are intentional about showing GENUINE love to everyone regardless of age, socioeconomic status, gender identification, sexual orientation, educational status, ability level, and/or noticeable shortcomings.
Love God. Love People! That’s the mandate.
But, in an attempt to answer your question in detail, I’ve comprised a list of things I think would be beneficial as you attempt to connect with the young adult community and answer the new age old question “How Can Churches Connect with Millennials?”. I know there have been books, articles and scholarly research written to address this issue, and I’ve not read any of them. You may not like me after this, but I pray you still love me with the love of Christ!
Note: I was born and raised in the church, I am a millennial and I’m NEVER leaving, so keep that in mind as you continue. I also use the terms millennial and young adult interchangeably.
One: We Are Not A Monolith
The first thing to remember is that all millennials are not the same. I am 36 years old. I was born in 1982. I did not have a cellphone until I was about 16, and it came with pre-paid minutes. And when those minutes ran out, I would pretend to call people and have pretend conversations with those people as I rode the bus to and from school (judge yourself readers).
My point is this, all millennials do not have the same experiences. Despite research studies by folk who are not millennials, we don’t all have the same values, and all of us aren’t “lazy”, “preoccupied” with selfies, and solely focused on ourselves.
The oldest millennial is 37 years old, and the youngest is 22. We are adults. Many of us have been formally educated, have careers, and children. Our experiences and perspectives about life, faith and church are varied.
Therefore, it’s important that in the same way you treat others based on their individual experiences, you treat millennials in the same manner.
Two: Don’t Neglect The Current Millennials In Your Church
I know the push to attract young adults is heavy. However, if you have young adults in your congregation, don’t overlook them.
I’ll get to forming genuine connections next, but here is an opportunity to really understand what young adults are looking for in terms of their church experience.
I’m sure as a pastor, you talk about Relational Discipleship; the interpersonal connections, which help lead folk to Christ. Therefore, the young adults in your congregation know the community, know the people in the community and will be able to help you create meaningful opportunities to connect. They will also be the ones to invite their peers to church, and lead them to Christ.
However, if the young adults in your church only participate in the pew ministry, they are probably not invested in the church, nor are they interested in inviting their peers. We’ll talk about this later too.
Three: Form Genuine Connections
I know fake!
I can identify fake people, fake smiles, fake friends, fake Gucci and fake hair! Therefore, I can immediately determine when folk are not genuinely interested in getting to know me, despite their insistence that they are.
I don’t believe this is ONLY applicable to millennials, because as humans, we all desire a sense of authentic connectedness to others. However, I do believe that my peers and I are less likely to stick around counterfeiters, especially not in church. Why?
In the word’s of Sweet Brown, Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!
It was the older generation that taught us the importance of using our time wisely. Therefore, we don’t have the time or energy to be surrounded by people with disingenuous energy.
We’re too busy trying to pay back these student loans. Therefore, we just don’t have the mental or emotional energy to navigate tense interpersonal situations within the context of church politics.
Love God. Love People. Genuinely.
Four: Speaking Of Church Politics
Let’s be honest! The church has not always been kind to folk. While age is not a prerequisite to church hurt, we’ve seen how Big Momma was treated when she got pregnant out of wedlock. We saw how Mike was treated when he finally “came out”, and we’ve seen the lack of movement in social and political spheres when the church’s voice was absent.
Unfortunately, folk in my age group are not willing to be involved in places and spaces where our pain is not properly addressed, and real issues that impact us are not discussed. Who would?
I firmly believe that most folk misuse the term “church hurt”. Church hurt is actually people hurt; or the damage that comes when dealing with imperfect people juxtaposed against an erroneous perception that this imperfection has something to do with God.
God has never and will never hurt folk.
People hurt people.
However, in many churches, because folk are not given opportunities to address real life issues and receive real life answers rooted in sound biblical teaching, they are more likely to leave feeling angry, bitter and resentful.
I am not saying that the church should ever water down the word of God. However, when the church (people) allow political, personal, and cultural agendas to interfere with the treatment of people, that’s problematic, especially to millennials.
Five: You Don’t Need To Wear Chucks and Skinny Jeans To Attract Millennials
Pastor, PLEASE resist the urge to wear skinny jeans and Converse Chuck Taylor’s in an attempt to attract millennials. Please!
I know you think everybody is doing it!
I know you want to ditch the wood lectern and replace it with plexiglass and begin to use a Janet Jackson headset microphone. I know you’ve thought about getting colored spotlights and dimming the lights for an hour prior to worship in an attempt to encourage the type of Hillsong worship service experience. Just skip it! And for the love of all things decent, please don’t sponsor a gospel rap concert (unless the millenials in your church have requested one).
Note: I’ve actually heard folk suggest all of these. Like FOR REAL, for real!
Don’t be like Nike! Just DON’T Do It!
If you wouldn’t wear skinny jeans on any other occasion, don’t try it now. And if you’re used to whooping at the close of a sermon, don’t move to a lecture-style of preaching, if the purpose is not to help folk better understand the sermon’s context, but rather, a sole attempt to reach young adults. It will come across as disingenuous.
Besides, I know ya’ll Baptist’s like a good whoop and those Easter-colored suits (just a little stereotypical denominational humor…because yes, the Methodists like singing hymns).
Not only are genuine connections important, but a genuine worship experience in a judgement free environment is what millennials desire.
I’ll admit, I’m a church girl. I love hymns, and I love the rich history and tradition of my denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, I’ve seen (and personally experienced) folk have powerful worship experiences, regardless of denomination, worship style, and tradition.
Preach and teach The Gospel. Period!
And no, I’m not talking about emulating Joel Osteen and only talking about the pleasing parts of The Gospel (I said what I said). You don’t have to avoid certain topics, attempt to sugar coat certain subjects or make jokes to lead folk to Christ.
However, it’s important that after you build genuine connections, you are able to teach folk how to live like Christ, and that means having to answer challenging questions like “Is Watching Pornography Wrong?”, “Is It OK If My Boyfriend And I Have Different Faiths?”, “What Does The Bible Say About Same Sex Marriage?”, and “Can I Be Suicidal And Still Love God?”
Preach and teach it the way the hymn-writer described it… “Teach the Gospel simple, full and free.” When you preach and teach the unadulterated Word of God, God will do what God promised; God will “draw ALL men, [women, trans men and women, gay and straight folk, and everyone else in between] unto me”.
Hold my mule while I shout!
Note: I’m gonna take some heat here, but it needs to be said. If God has called you to preach and teach, go to seminary. Millennials are one of the most educated groups in the United States, and we have gone to school to master our respective fields of study. Why shouldn’t pastors do the same? I’ll never forget the time I heard a Pastor say “Jesus was the BOMB in Gilead”. Nope…not listening! Also, be mindful about the seminary you attend, because you can very well be taught a systematically oppressing version of the Gospel.
Six: Place Millennials In Leadership Positions
I mentioned this earlier, if the millennials in your church are disconnected, not engaged, and are simply enjoying the Pew Ministry, they are less likely to invite their peers to church. And again, it has very little to do with worship style and song selection.
Here’s the thing; churches are not the only organizations struggling to reach young adults. I’ve been a member of several professional organizations who, like some churches, are slowly dying because of lack of involvement (and direction) from millennials.
Those churches and organizations that succeed, do so because they make a concerted effort to listen to the needs of those young adults they wish to attract, and place young adults in positions of leadership where they can have real decision-making capabilities.
I’m rolling my eyes as I think about the many forums and panel sessions I’ve witnessed throughout my life, of millennials passing the mic to “voice their concerns” (and if we can be honest, sometimes just out right whining and complaining), with no real plan for action.
As a macro level social worker, specializing in community organization and practice, my professional expertise helps me understand that these types of open-ended panel sessions to address “problems” are ineffective and do not yield positive results.
First, I’m sure you have read about the plight of millennials in the church (regardless of it’s accuracy). Therefore, you have some knowledge about the issues millennials may face. So, with that, just skip to some action.
Are the young adults involved in the leadership at your church? I’m not simply talking about giving them the opportunity to organize the annual Rib Dinner. While helping to organize events is important, how many millennials have decision making power?
Are there millennials in your cabinet? Have you appointed young adults to serve on the Deacon board, or on any major church component, outside of ministries which already target millennials? If the answer is no, I need you to evaluate the reasons why.
No, I’m not saying that an unqualified millennial should lead the finance team simply because of their age. However, because we know that the oldest millennial is 37, and may very well have a degree and over a decade of experience in accounting, you should absolutely consider that millennial over Brother Jenkins, who has no specialized training, and who inherited the position of church treasurer in 1952.
Note: I believe very much in inter-generational leadership with clear succession planning. Therefore, no one should ever be ousted from a position. However, it’s important to do skill assessments for all church leaders, regardless of their age.
When millennials feel as if their needs are not just talked about, and are given opportunities to be involved in the inner workings of church administration (with the understanding that as the pastor, you have the final say), they are more likely to feel valued and respected, and will be the first in line to tell their peers about THEIR church.
Well Passa (this is what some of the young adults affectionately call my husband), I hope these six points might help you in your understanding of us millennials.
I’m sure my perspective does not represent every millennial perspective on the subject. Also, please keep in mind that there are just some millennials who aren’t interested, or who have lost interest, in Jesus, the bible, your youth bowling night and your church.
However, I’m prayerful this will provide some insignt, as you continue to do the work of leading folk to Christ.
Peace and Blessings,