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The statistics are staggering. The older a child gets today, the greater his or her chances are of disappearing from the church. The church must intentionally plan to reverse this trend.

I was a part of a church plant built around a desire to reach people who may not have previously been interested in church. We were amazed at the number of young people we reached. Defying statistics.

I’ve now updated this post, because we are currently in a growing, revitalized established church and — amazingly — our fastest growing group is the millennial generation. Again, defying statistics.

It must be more than structure or age of church — or even style of worship.

Along the way, we’ve learned a few things — and these are the things which regardless of type of church have remained true. 

Here are 7 thoughts for the church to reach millennials:

Love them – Young people today seem to crave genuine, no strings attached, healthy love from other adults — and they want it to be unconditional love — through the good times of their life and the times they mess up. And, they want us to love first, without qualifications added.

Be biblically true – Millennials don’t want fluff or sugar-coating. They want an authentic, honest approach to the Bible. Whether they believe all of it yet or not, they want the people who teach to teach what they believe — and then be willing to discuss it with them as they explore.

Be culturally aware and relevant – This generation has been exposed to the problems, challenges, and changes in the world. And, changes are coming fast. They are more socially conscious than in years past. They want the church to be addressing the needs they see in the world around them.

Give them a place to plug-in – They want to make a difference. They want to be a part of change. They want you to support them in their pursuits. They want to serve somewhere they believe is doing good work and makes a positive impact on the world — and they may even want to help lead the effort.

Value their ideas and input – You have to allow Millennials to do things their way — often with technology — within groups of friends — sometimes unscripted. A church which is bent on protecting the past over creating the future turns young people away from the church.

Be genuine/transparent with them – The overused word is authentic, but this generation wants to learn from the mistakes of those older than them. Pretending as if we’ve always been wonderful doesn’t help them deal with the issues they are dealing with today. They need living examples of battling life’s temptations, struggles, and fears.

Guide them – I love this about them — they are wisdom-seekers. They want help making life’s decisions, but they want it done in a way that helps them understand wise choices, but gives them freedom to choose their own path. Young people today crave older adults who will walk with them through the obstacles they face on a daily basis; while extending love, grace and support.

What would you add to my list? How is your church reaching Millennials?

Again, notice I didn’t say anything about music. It’s a bonus if you give them worship styles they enjoy, but I’m not convinced it’s as much a necessity if the others on this list are kept.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Duncan M. says:

    Ron, I believe that millennials, unlike older generations, need to feel that their presence worth something. They need to play a specific role, otherwise they get bored. Moreover, they need to feel that their presence can actually make a change. At the same time, just like you said, it is important to guide them to put all their energy to good use.

  • Alex says:

    Very good post Ron. Two things I can add:
    1. The seem to enjoy small groups vs. mega churches. They love to connect with others and feel part of a community.
    2. They want to be recognized and awarded for their efforts – much more than any other previous generations. There are companies now training business owners, managers, etc., on how to supervise and manage Millennials. They do have a view of life rather different – but also powerful.
    3. Oh yeah, one more – they love to pray with fervency and intensity. They don't like "professional prayers" – I'm so glad! 🙂
    thanks again for the list. It helps us keep them in the forefront of our minds.

  • Travis says:

    One of the best things I did this year was lead a young adults small group. I took eight weeks over the summer and we talked about topics that were causing debate on social media as well as sex and dating.

    I was amazed at the maturity level of the group. They discussed topics with grace and truth that is rarely seen from even older adults. They also brought food every night, and cleaned up after themselves. I was very proud of them.

  • I'd encourage any church leader to go to and read Satan's Blog. Month after month I've posted a blog from Satan about what he wants Christians to do, and when you read the blogs, you'll find that we're doing those things. We're so caught up in traditions that we don't realize how far we've drifted from the true message Christ brought us. We're too focused on all the wrong things.

    According to the New Testament, the very purpose of the church meetings is not to get people to come to church meetings, it's to train the people to carry Christian love into the world and to encourage them in doing so. We've become focused on church attendance rather than on the mission. I do attend church every time, and I'm an elder in our local church, but somehow we've got to break the chains of our traditions.

    More and more we're moving toward a single service on a single day as the only thing the church really focuses on, and if you can't participate at that time on that day, well, tough. We need to learn that every day is the Lord's day–that the New Testament never tells Christians that Sunday is the "Lord's day" any more than Monday or any other day. We need to realize that saving faith is and must be faithful 24/7/365. We need to understand that biblical Christianity involves every Christian being a minister and the professional leaders being the coaches who train them to carry out their ministries.

    People reject fake, and too many of us put on a great show of being fakes. Jesus is not a fake. We need the Christian team gatherings if and only if those team gatherings focus entirely on training us to do our jobs and on encouraging us both when we fail and when we succeed. Heaven is for people who've learned to practice Christian love consistently–that's an important part of what will make it a paradise. God's serious about heaven and about the need to get ready for what's waiting there!

  • kylajoyful says:

    Is it that they are leaving the church, or that their idea of "church" is different from the tradition of the last 100 years? I've noticed that many people are leaving the "church" but not leaving the Christian faith. Church is becoming less about going to a building each week and more about walking in faith with other followers of Jesus. I realize that walking with other believers is the point of church, but I think that people are finding other ways to do that (at least, myself and my friends are).

  • @MyersBaker says:

    One addition- You must reach the adults in their homes. Students will mirror the faith of the adults in their home when they leave the home regardless of what the youth ministry is doing (in most cases).

    • @6drews says:

      I would echo this one. It's also been one of the greatest challenges I've come across in student ministry.

      I found your WHY page regarding parent involvement and really like the thought there. What kind of percentage of parent involvement do you have? What have you found most useful for engaging parents in student ministry?

      • Brandon says:

        We are just beginning to experiment with parent partnerships. In six weeks I will have my first event on Sunday morning tailored for parents. Those parents (or guardians) who have a student on our high school retreat will get an overview of what was taught and how to support the life change we will champion on the retreat. We will have a few more events like this throughout the year. This 9th year of youth ministry for me will feel more like my first, but I am more hopeful about the long-term results than ever.

        "Church + Home" by Mark Holmen has been a helpful tool. This is all experimental, but I believe what Dr. Kenda Dean said at Baylor Chapel this week, "Students mirror the faith that is taking place in the home with amazing accuracy." So, I think it is a worthwhile experiment.

        By the way, we are thrilled with the results since eliminating Sunday morning class last year for high school students. We have an increasing number of students dropping out of youth ministry early and engaging in church leadership before graduation.

        • ronedmondson says:

          Thanks for sharing. I'll be praying for this event. Let us know how it goes.

        • Mike says:

          Praying for the experiment… I think you're right on track regarding long-term results. It's still amazing to me how students can go to an event/camp/conference and we get to see them engaged in these amazing experiences & conversations with God, then they go home and all the parents get is, "Yeah, it was cool…" I love your retreat follow up idea to help parents know and support what God's been doing. Makes me wonder why I haven't been doing more of that!? [facepalm]

  • Mentor and coach them
    Inspire them
    Correct & rebuke them in the time of necessity