The millennial generation is a very hot topic in the church when it comes to who we focus on reaching most. Although we want to reach them, we must ask ourselves, do we even know them?
If you’re a church leader, you already know the importance of reaching the next generation. It is not about programs, policy, or numbers; it is a necessity to pass on the Gospel of Jesus Christ for years to come. This is how we will see the church grow and thrive!
Millennials are not just kids anymore. They are graduate students, working professionals, and even parents in young families. This generation grew up without technology at their fingertips but remembers when digital technology, like smartphones and personal computers, began to take over.
This generation is highly unique and extraordinarily different in mentality from generations before them. They are more racially and ethnically diverse, they are more educated, and are a bit slower in forming their own households.
When it comes to church, Millennials differ entirely. While many of them grew up attending church with their Baby Boomer parents (49% of which attend weekly religious services), many have since stopped attending church as they entered into their adulthood. Only about 32% of millennials regularly attend religious services as of 2019.
This quote, written by a millennial who left the church in early adulthood, summarizes what this generation is seeking from the church.
“What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned. The world is cruel. We battle with fear and hurt on a daily basis. We tread water, desperate for the answer to life. We want something that will finally give us the answer. We want something we’d suffer torture for. We want something more real than a thesis in our heads.”
Millennials want the real thing
They want answers
They want purpose
They want… Jesus
3 Topics Millennials Want Churches to Address
1. Why Christianity Matters
This topic may have just stopped you right in your tracks. If you’re reading this, the answer to this question may be obvious to you.
Christianity matters because Jesus bought us new life. It matters because we get to experience heaven on earth, true abundant life, and a new way of being human. We get to bring hope, joy, and peace to others through the work that Jesus did on our behalf.
Christianity matters because Jesus changes everything!
But this question is not as easily answered for someone who has a skewed picture of Christianity from the start.
As much as we tote around the saying “it’s not about religion, it’s about relationship”, it is hard for millennials, especially those who have left the church, to see the difference between the two.
Millennials are no longer content to attend church because they have to anymore. Now that they are older, independent, and shaping their own lives, there must be a compelling reason for them to include any sort of religion into their lives.
This generation wants to know how Christianity would actually add value to their lives.
We must not be mistaken though; our job is not to sell Christianity to them like some sort of “fix-all” product. Our job is to show them that Christianity is not about morals or rules, it is about knowing the one true God who desires to walk alongside us.
It isn’t just about getting to heaven someday, it is about the transformative work of the cross to shape our lives here and now. Jesus made a way for us to experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
Millennials want to see how believing in Jesus will actually impact their lives, not just become a religion they subscribe to.
2. Navigating Mental Illness & Addiction
Jesus truly changes everything, but that change doesn’t always manifest itself overnight.
Since 2013, the percentage of millennials with depression increased by 47% with 4.4% of the population with the disorder. Keep in mind, these numbers represent those with diagnosed depression. In reality, that number is a lot higher since many still suffer in silence.
Along with this alarmingly rising number of those with depression, deaths of despair are also on the rise. These deaths are categorized as deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
Unfortunately, mental illnesses (especially bipolar depression and PTSD) seem to go hand-in-hand with suicidal ideation, substance use, and risky behaviors. Due to this, there has been an increase in deaths related to suicide, especially drug overdose. Deaths of despair accounted for the deaths of about 36,000 American millennials in 2017 alone.
These are the things the millennial not only wants to be addressed in the church but desperately needs to be addressed.
Millennials want to know how Christianity can actually impact their lives, so they surely want to know how it can help them navigate mental illness, addiction, and the ever-present fog these things have blanketed on their generation.
Addressing this topic is not as simple as quoting Paul’s encouragement to “be anxious for nothing” found in Philippians 4:6-7. The best way the church can speak to these topics is to preach, and then walk alongside those who are suffering.
The Psalmist David is someone who knew what it meant to suffer from despair and anxiety. His songs and psalms give us a glimpse into the heart of a man who understood sorrow, loss, fear, and deep anxiety. When we read his words, we can find comfort in knowing we are not alone in our anguish.
An even greater example is the one we find in Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” But the chapter does not end there. It goes on to say “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried”
The God of the Bible is not one who lived in the world and left it without facing the very trials we face. He faced true sorrow, true suffering, true pain, and true grief.
He can fully empathize with our every weakness. Furthermore, He has carried those griefs and sorrows on our behalf. Because of Jesus, we no longer have to carry the weight of our sorrow.
When this truth becomes a true reality in your life mental illness and addiction are thwarted. Still yet, we need help along the journey of battling our sorrow and addictions. Luckily, the church has stepped up and implemented ways to heal and recover in a context that is rooted in Biblical truth.
Celebrate Recovery is a faith-based, 12-step program that joins the recovery process with the word of God. They recognize Jesus as their “Higher Power” and use the Bible’s teachings to guide people through their hurts, habits, and hangups.
This program allows people to experience true freedom from all sorts of addictions, mental illnesses, and every other hurt that has hindered their life.
The reality of who Jesus is, biblical recovery tools, and honest conversations are what will truly set the millennial generation from the mental health epidemic that has a grip on them.
3. Service outside of the 4 walls
Compared to generations before it, millennials are one of the most generous and charitable generations thus far. This generation cares highly about causes that matter and is a lot smarter with spending their time and money.
70 percent of millennials volunteer regularly and 77 percent of them are more likely to volunteer if they are able to implement their specific skill set. They also primarily volunteer when they believe in specific causes.
Millennials are also highly philanthropic and don’t just mindlessly spend their money. They look into social responsibility and the reputation of the organizations before supporting them.
This generation is not lazy or simple-minded; they are highly-informed and value giving back. This begs the question: how is the church giving back?
Just as with the companies they support, millennials will surely look to see if your church is living out your values and actively engaging in making the world a better place. They want to see what the church is doing outside of the 4 walls.
Millennials want to know that the church is actually making a difference in the world around them, especially in their local communities. While philanthropy involves financial generosity, volunteerism is also extremely important. Remember, millennials give both of their time and their financial resources. They are probably wondering if your church is doing the same.
Providing opportunities for the community to give back can have two major pros:
1. The act of giving itself, and
2. The invitation for previously uninvolved people to get involved with the church.
Most people would agree that churches are charitable, but for someone to actually see the reasoning behind why they are charitable can make all the difference.
We give because God first gave to us
We are generous because Jesus is generous
We help others because God helps us
Reaching millennials doesn’t happen by putting on a great show. We reach this next generation by meeting them where they are. We reach them by talking about the things they want to talk about and valuing the things they value.
There are so many more topics that millennials want to see addressed in churches. And we want to help!
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