I am a Christian, a father, a husband, a tech guy, a wrestling coach, and a wannabe grill master.
I am also a millennial.
We almost gave up (searching for a church) a few times. I’m glad we didn't, but it easily could have happened.
I was born in 1989, which puts me smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation.
Being a millennial, I hear all the complaints. I hear how we don't work hard, too many of us have man buns, and we live at home with our parents way too long.
Yes, each of those complaints may be true in some cases. At the same time, though, I know a lot of millennials who this doesn’t apply to, and it certainly does not apply to me.
Yet for some reason, churches are struggling to get my age group to show up on Sundays.
Instead of talking about a few ways to get me to come to your church, I am going to talk about the real-life story of me finding a church in the Bible belt.
My wife and I both grew up in central Illinois, going to the church that our parents went to. Eventually in college, we went to where all our friends went, and by the time we got married, we were both pretty involved in our church and had developed community there, so we stayed.
We never had to find a place to go.
It was always just … there.
After our son was born, though, I was offered a job that required us to move to Tennessee. So we picked up our lives and moved more than 400 miles south.
After getting settled in upon moving, we thought the best thing to do was to try out the church that was closest to us.
We wanted a small- to medium sized church like the one that we grew up in, so we looked on Google Maps and found a place close to us. From there, we were able to get to their website, found out the times and loaded up one Sunday morning and headed to church.
Those we met that first Sunday were friendly enough, the music was pretty good, the message was a little outside of what we were used to, but we thought it seemed nice and being five minutes from our house, could be a huge benefit.
We met a few people, had some conversation and went home.
The next Sunday we returned, sat next to the same people and they didn’t remember us.
They didn’t just not remember our names (which is perfectly fine), but they didn’t even remember sitting next to us the week before or any of the conversation after.
It was a pretty awkward feeling. Ultimately, we never went back.
After that, we started doing more research. We started asking for recommendations from our community, and looking through websites, listening to podcasts, and watching livestreams. I would also do a social media search on Facebook and Instagram.
If I'm being real honest, it was not so great.
I would pull up podcasts that sounded terrible or livestreams that had a loud hum or hiss in the background. These things are superficial at best, but it's hard to make it through a 45-minute podcast/livestream when it sounds bad.
To put it in tech terms, my user experience started way before I would walk through the doors of your church for the first time.
Personally, I want to find out as much as I can about you online first. I want to know what your church looks like on a Sunday morning. Are your congregants dressed up, or are they in jeans and a T-shirt? Where do I park, and where do I go in? I want to look at your online presence and get a understanding of your culture, at least to some degree.
Despite the daunting online search, each Sunday we visited a different church.
On one Sunday, we were running late … on a first visit to a church. If you have ever walked up to two sets of double doors and they were all locked except one, you know that the last door you pull will be the unlocked one. Well, that was the scenario.
We were 10 minutes late. What made it worse was that the greeters were standing on the other side of those doors, watching us.
At this point in our journey, we actually considered to stop looking for a church that we’d call home. It had been months of looking, and it just wasn’t going well. At that moment, there was not a place that we felt like we could call home.
Finally, after reaching out to a pastor friend back home, who had some connections in our new community, we found two options that checked out online. The first we went to for a while, and made some great friends, while we currently attend the second.
Neither of these churches were perfect. They both have problems, but they were at least authentic, and we knew what we were getting into, when we walked in.
The church we currently attend is a church where the congregation as a whole tends to show up late. The pastor once said to me as we sat in the chairs of the empty sanctuary, five minutes before service, that “our church is like a great second half football team, we never seem to show up when we are supposed to, but we are always there when it counts.”
I guess when it is all said and done, we almost gave up a few times. I’m glad we didn't, but it easily could have happened.
Each of these two churches that we decided to go to in the end, both had a lot of the same types of things. They both had good music, good people, good pastors, and we felt genuinely welcomed in both.
If this story has shown you anything, I hope that you take time and go through the process of being new somewhere. Look at your online presence, listen to your podcasts or livestreams, and put yourself in the shoes of a millennial family, one that is looking to come worship on a Sunday morning.