Faith Works 7-5-14
Ten Ways the Church has lost Millennials
What's a "Millennial"? And please note I'm only using the quotes once.
Millennials are the generation, or "demographic cohort" born in the years from 1982 to 2004. That means today they're about 32 to teenagers, basically. Young adults, in many churches.
Except, of course, they're not in many churches, so we don't have many to ask if they like being called "young adults" (the answer, by the way, is no).
They're the latest generation to be bringing their kids to T-ball and Cub Scout day camp and beginning gymnastics or dance lessons. They are the parents of the small children that aren't in our nurseries, in other words.
Folks, I'm marching quickly into my fifties, and have no particular insight into Millennials, other than through having a few official roles that have me dealing with them as parents. Millennials who have not yet married, which is most of them, and who don't have kids, and that's many of them, are probably a bit different, but I know just enough of them to have come up with the following.
It began as a series of tweets, which is what you do when you come up with a set of thoughts that can be expressed in 140 characters or less, and turned into a "list" which is much beloved by fans of Buzzfeed, and here I'm turning it into a "listicle." If this paragraph makes NO sense to you at all, you're probably not a Millennial.
If you are part of a church leadership team wondering why you don't have Millennials, this listicle is meant to help you understand why, even if it doesn't quite tell you what to do about it . . . because that's going to be unique to your congregation and setting. Anyhow, I'm giving you here my original tweets, and a comment or two to flesh them out.
10 Ways the Church has lost #Millennials: 1) We do not sound optimistic. Negativity doesn't equal authenticity. (Seriously, youth used to complain that our hymns all sounded like downers, but now they point out we tend, liberal or conservative, to mostly preach and teach in the key of bummer. Brighten up, point to hope! That's what they're looking for, because they come with the cynicism already baked in.)
2) We still stink at personal invitations. Group appeals don't appeal to 'em, BUT ask them anything. (We love our flyers and handouts and, um, uh, announcements in the newspaper. Which Millennials also don't read. Let's not go there. But ask them personally to do something big, and they will very seriously consider it. You have to ask. Them.)
3) We still look @ people in static, long arc sorts of ways. Identity/job/roles for them are fluid. (We're still wrestling with the whole "Sunday school teacher is a life sentence" thing. Millennials work, don't doubt it, but they tend to work in manic, intense bursts, and move on to something else. They'll come back, but after some other activity. One thing over and over, not so much.)
4) They're highly visual, & Church still tends to be an extremely verbal/text-dense environment. (Hello, videos. But it's more than watching stuff on your phone, it's the whole contrast of print literacy versus visual literacy. They see references and allusions we older folks miss, as well as backgrounds and foregrounds, but a solid page of print loses interest at a glance. It's a visual culture today, that reads in service to the images, not vice versa.)
5) In terms of social policy, they're more libertarian; Churches tend to sort liberal/conservative. (This can start all kinds of arguments, I know, but the bottom line is: don't assume on one issue's opinion that you know their whole profile. I guarantee, you don't. Their political spectrum is not two-dimensional.)
6) Lots of small bites (think tapas) not big buffets. Church is still in love with all-you-can-eat. (No, this is not a cheap shot at weight and nutrition, but it's parallel in terms of state of mind.)
7) Irony. We don't get it. Millennials see world through irony-framed specs. It's how they learn. (What I said.)
8) Social media. Much Church leadership hates it. M's don't love it, they just live in it. (Seriously, I am continuously amazed by how much most of my peer group loathes and dislikes social media. Look at it this way: you like the beach, not the mountains, but if all the people you need to talk to are in the mountains, can you please go visit?)
9) No, they don't speak Church. Mocking them for lack of exposure or knowledge isn't attractive.
And finally, with no comment needed here, either -- 10th way Church has lost #Millennials: We still don't talk enough about Jesus. Being in relationship to someone you can't see? They get that.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how your church reaches Millennials at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.