“I’m a millennial; but I can only speak from my experience because I’m not really a typical millennial.”
That’s how I introduced myself on a recent conference call about millennials and the church. There was a great team gathered of professors, millennials in ministry, and other folks passionate about getting millennials into the church. I was so excited to learn together, as well as to offer my unique voice.
And then almost every millennial on the call introduced themselves and effectively said, “I’m not a typical millennial.”
I’ve thought about our introductions over and over again. Almost every young adult I get to know includes some form of “I’m not a typical millennial” in their introduction. While I and so many others do fit the characterizations of millennials, we don’t want to be clumped together. We want our uniqueness recognized. We want to be authentic. That’s what being a millennial is all about.
How do we get millennials into the church? What programs do we need to start? What music style do we need? How do millennials hear sermons differently?
Some research finds that millennials are reconnecting to the liturgies, rituals and hymns of the historical church. Other research finds that millennials flock to churches using music that sounds like the radio in 2016. Some studies show that preachers need to dress down and be more relatable. Other studies point out large concentrations of millennials attending churches where the pastor uses a robe or puts on a suit and tie.
Although I’m not a typical millennial, my experience is if your church is being authentic, if you are being who God created you to be, if you’re letting others be themselves, and if you’re not faking it, then I want to spend time and explore faith in your community.
If you run a big campaign and to “attract millennials” and you advertise at me, I’m not all that interested.
A few weeks back I attended a conference about the future of Methodist worship and the presenter shared some pointed statistics. Conservative churches that strongly claim their traditional faith are growing. Liberal churches that strongly claim their progressive values are growing. Traditional churches who are passionate and clear about doing worship really well are growing. Contemporary churches who eave new technology and music to make new worship experiences are growing.
Churches who name and claim their identity honestly and fully are the ones which are engaging millennials. Health and growth do not come as a result of the right program or music style or outfit. Engagement with the next generation occurs when people are being real and allowing space for others to be real. A place where we are talking about our struggles. A space to live out our passions. A church where we leave space for individuals to bring themselves and help form the greater community.
It is easy to try and change who we are to attract more young people into the church. Doing the hard work of living into who God has called each person and church to be, and creating space for others to live their faith authentically is how churches are engaging millennials in worship and faith.
That’s just my experience and I’m not a typical millennial.