By Jacqueline J. Holness
Once heralded as the largest generation in U.S. history, hence their name, Baby Boomers are expected to take second place to Millennials as of this year. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials, who are ages 18 to 34 as of 2015, are expected to swell to 75.3 million, while Baby Boomers, who are ages 51 to 69 as of 2015, will have 74.9 million. As a result, Millennials are expected to shape politics, the economy, technology, and every facet of American life for at least the next 40 years.
Many organizations have responded by collecting data about Millennials for several years in order to engage this large generation. As a part of the Barna Millennials Project, Barna Group interviewed 27,140 Millennials in 206 studies over the last 10 years. According to its article “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,” 3 of 10 Millennials believe that church is not at all important while 4 of 10 Millennials are ambivalent.
In the 2012 Millennials Value Study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, “Millennials report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood. By far, the group seeing the highest increase in membership due to this movement is the religiously unaffiliated.”
Finally “half of Millennials said a church or other house of worship has no influence on their life,” according to a LifeWay Research 2009 study.
Due to these unfavorable statistics, several churches have devised ways to attract Millennials. Jim Helman, pastor of Downtown Phoenix Church in Phoenix, Arizona, created Pop Up Church worship services. Essentially Helman and members pop up at various locations, whether it be a “coffee shop, park or even a jazz club,” and host a church service. Helman, who was a worship pastor for more than 30 years prior to being the pastor of his current church, said “Those who attend regularly can follow the church through its website and app.”
A former North York, Pennsylvania, night club has become the home of actionchurch. The church attracts Millennials “partly because of their social media presence and the actionchurch app, which has recordings of past sermons,” according to the church’s pastor, Don Record. The church also features bands and plans to get a house band in the future.
Pastor Chris Stephens of Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, changed its traditional church service to one incorporating laser lights and smoke machines and noted this style is “real aggressive.” “The Millennials are the least churched generation, but we have them coming. Honestly the Millennials want it raw and real,” Stephens said.
Time, Energy, & Passions
There are other ways to attract Millennials. One way is to hire a Millennial in church leadership, according to Chris Martin, social media facilitator at LifeWay Christian Resources. “It just makes sense. People of all ages, not just youth, usually make better connections with their peers than someone much older or younger than them,” Martin wrote in his blog post “3 Reasons Why Your Church Should Hire a Millennial” (millennialevangelical.com).
Another way is to get Millennials involved in the church service, said Millennial Diana Kerr. “My husband and I switched churches a few years ago because no one really cared about the musical talents he wanted to offer in church, and neither of us felt like we were valuable or wanted. Millennials may not have a lot of money to contribute to the church, but they have time, energy, and passions.”
Millennnials also prefer churches that are not too big or not too small, according to the 2014 Barna Group article “Designing Worship Spaces with Millennials in Mind.” These “Goldilocks” spaces appeal to Millennials because they are “big enough to retain some anonymity as a visitor” but “small enough to feel part of a community.”
With ample research available about Millennials and examples of what is working for some churches, all churches should make sure they are not ignoring the next largest generation, or they may find fewer people in their pews.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).