Millennials are one of the largest demographic groups in America, yet they are one of the hardest groups for pastors to reach. Barna Group has done some interesting research into what millennials like and dislike about church. Their findings reveal some of the values millennials hold and how pastors can tap into that to engage this audience.
A Yearning for Authenticity
In the Barna survey, 66% of respondents felt that churchgoers are hypocritical. This reveals a deep longing for authenticity among millennials. To best reach this generation, pastors should be giving honest, authentic sermons. More importantly, their actions need to reflect their words. Millennials will see a pastor as hypocritical if he does not live out his own teachings.
Another important takeaway from the survey is that 44% of all respondents – regardless of religion – said they feel church is like an exclusive club. This response implies a feeling of being “left out.” It seems millennials are looking to make meaningful connections at church, but are not always finding them.
Pastors should strive to make their sermons more inclusive. Rather than preaching for the members they know, they can write their sermons as if they’re addressing a newcomer. Include universal themes rather than specific anecdotes. This will not only help newcomers make a connection with the service, but may even improve the experience for regular members.
A Service-Oriented Message
When asked to choose an image that describes Christianity, 34% of Christian millennials chose an image of a person reaching out to help a man. The experts at Barna analyzed this choice and concluded that millennials actively involved in a church are interested in community outreach.
Community outreach and social justice are two Christian teachings that can have great appeal to millennials. Church leaders can tap into this to attract millennial members. In addition to a church’s service activities, pastors should be preaching a service-oriented message at the pulpit.
Relevance to Daily Life
According to Barna survey data, 54% of all millennials found that church is relevant to their lives. Additionally, 65% said that church is “a place to find answers to live a meaningful life.” It’s clear that pastors need to demonstrate how their preaching is relevant to members’ day-to-day lives and overall purpose in life.
This can be hard to achieve. After all, your members are multi-generational and come from a variety of backgrounds. The key is to adapt timeless scriptural messages for our modern times. Think about ways that the Gospel message could apply today in specific situations your congregation might encounter.
Among millennials who don’t attend church, a large majority see Christians as judgmental. With this knowledge, pastors should be on the lookout for a negative tone in their sermons. This applies not only to the tone of voice but also word choice. It’s hard to achieve the perfect balance. Pastors strive to preach the truth about the sinfulness of human nature, but it’s equally important to emphasize God’s love and mercy.
Closeness with God
According to the survey, the number one reason millennials think church is important is “to be closer to God.” The respondents who thought it wasn’t important had the exact opposite reason, stating that they “find God elsewhere.”
It seems the key factor for reaching millennials is providing this connection with God. That isn’t an easy task, and there is no one way to accomplish this. The best thing pastors can do is to start by strengthening their own connection to God. If a church leader has that firm foundation, it will show in everything that they do and preach. When millennials connect with God through the pastor’s words, they will keep coming back to church.
About the Author:
Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida, churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company, ChurchPlaza.