Here’s a suggestion on how Christ-following ministries (read: churches) may engage and involve the elusive age demographic, universally dubbed “millennials.”
Stop using the word.
Doing so will be difficult, but dropping the term is as essential to church growth among people of a certain age, as abandoning a denominational title is to The Kingdom at large.
Like Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or whomever, the term “millennial” evokes preconceived images and expectations, ones that interfere with the actual need: Expressing the gospel of Jesus to individuals who are increasingly indifferent to His significance.
It’s not that Jesus is insignificant.
There is a sense that He is important.
He is less important, however, than other pressing issues: friends, relationships, school stress, health concerns, fear of the future, self-identity, appearance.
If you catch yourself saying, “But those aren’t the issues of millennials,” you’re missing and proving the point. For the church of Christ to matter to that age group, it’s essential to recognize and address the broader issues that younger people face – which really aren’t much different from those faced by those older than them – and then reexamine the methods of expressing to them, how following Jesus is the answer to those daily issues.
From here, discuss the following:
What are your methods of delivering the message of Jesus to younger people, in your sphere of influence? How do you employ those younger people in helping deliver that message? More importantly, do your methods of communicating the gospel employ devices that younger people recognize and use daily?
The answers to those three questions provide the best insight and practical solutions to presenting the 2,000-year-old completed work of the cross to generations now and to come, to whom the message of the cross – right now – is foolishness.
If millennials are a specific age demographic on which to concentrate, that demographic will age and become something else, just as did their predecessors – the Baby Boomers, Yuppies, and Jesus Freaks.
This whole idea of labeling people and ascertaining how to “reach” them, has been a great detriment to evangelizing the Gospel of Christ.
We spend such extraordinary amounts of research and ink, trying to reach them, only to where we create further distance by inadvertently creating an “us versus them” mindset. We refer to them, and they say us, and that “them” has gotten wider and smaller over time.
For while we concentrate on “millennials,” who comes behind them who needs a special gospel presentation style? Generation X Y Z? And when we run out of the alphabet, then what? What’s left in the soup?
I trust you understand: Let’s stop concentrating on reaching “millennials.”
Let’s focus on reaching people younger than you, the same way we would any other “unreached people” group: By addressing their needs.
The question then becomes, “Well, if they’re not millen … what’s left? How do we identify these people and their needs?” Before tagging the people, look at your current congregation, and determine how to engage them in ministry, perhaps tried-and-true methods.
Reflecting on the ministry of Jesus, how He recruited, and the original disciples, here are five such methods:
1. Address their health
2. Employ their gifts, talents
3. Invite their voice
4. Speak their language
5. Feed their hunger
Now, how do those criteria apply to that generation, born just before and in this millennium? And, (for sake of conversation, since we’re not using the M-Word, think for a moment to share characteristics unique to these people. Hint: Two words … digital devices.
Therefore, if we were to label them, for sake of conversation, let’s refer to them as The Digitals – defined as people who frequently use mobile technology and devices for communication engagement.
Generations born now, and many of their parents, have never known life without computer technology. That technology affects where and how they communicate, and how they process information. It affects human interaction, but does not diminish human needs. Moreover, technology positively and negatively affects those five areas of human engagement above. Recognizing these factors is where Christ’s gospel of two-millennia, intersects with the lifestyles of this millennium.
Look for these ten concepts, as you review some practical steps to take:
1. Recruit and add individuals who are digitally adept to your ministry teams. Look at your social media pages – personal or church. Do you see congregants who spend a lot of time posting wisely, writing thoughtfully or just using content? Consider asking them to manage a part of your ministry: scheduling posts of church news, or editing sermon notes for a blog.
2. Develop relationships with local high schools, colleges or trade schools, to help fill holes in your media or tech ministry. Students may need internships or community service requirements to fulfill. Make a place for them. Assign them to a seasoned congregant, who can help them learn Scripture, as the congregant in turn learns new communication skills.
3. Redesign your curriculum to use more methods and materials that students use in the classroom at school during the week. Today’s children are being taught to use digital technology before going to school, and learn inductive and critical thinking skills five days a week. Their language is STEM, Siri, Alexa, Google Docs, online journals. Find Scripture-based, interactive curriculum that parallels. Students will be more engaged in church classes, and more likely to get involved with those studies during the week, that can be accessed on their devices.
4. Integrate the adult curriculum as well, by encouraging Sunday School teachers to provide and uplift notes and summaries online. Adults who are tech savvy, sincere about the gospels, and those who are church-hopping, will benefit greatly by being able to study on the fly, and feel more comfortable when attending. Expand the idea of “reaching young families,” beyond your youth pastor or department. Your congregation likely has young public school teachers and adults in the workforce, who receive continuous education through technological training trends. Pick their brains. You may find some new volunteers.
5. Be culturally aware as a lifestyle. Tastes and language change – musically, artistically, socially. The gospel doesn’t. Rather than employing gimmicks, events or techniques as a means to merely draw people, keep listening and reading alternative avenues of expression to determine how to connect the gospel.
6. Where it is possible, recognize these shifts as alternative forms of worship expression. Think less about finding the right style of songs for a specific demographic, and establish a way to include a cross section of musical styles as background or postlude music. Let the songs reflect various generations. Talk with musicians in high school or student ministries, who may play instruments at school or home. Help them use their skills as special music offerings.
7. Poll the congregation about what songs are on their playlists, challenge them to listen for God or spiritual allusions in their lyrics, then discuss with them about psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When connecting with area schools, discover what songs are being sung or played by choirs or orchestras. Are there teachable moments where “church” songs are being presented in public forums, without knowing or threat? Many people are musically evangelized through pop, blues, rap or country, and don’t even realize it.
8. Repurpose your sermons. The digital age feeds a short attention span. Powerful messages delivered in their entirety, have great impact. Yet, many are forgotten, shortly after the service. Even when posted on YouTube, Vimeo or audible media, fewer people have time – or patience – to listen to an entire discourse. Consider editing the messages into smaller segments that can be viewed or heard while on a commuter’s train ride, a walk in the mall, or waiting between classes. That can be short, social media posts during the week. Continuous feeding in small bytes may be more beneficial than an entire meal.
9. Always tell your congregation about your technology accessibility. Every week. For example, do you have online giving? Remind them in the service, and do demonstrations. Are your sermons online? Develop hashtags to link back. Project them on screen. Remind people at the end of the message of the continuing options to learn or study. Don’t invest in these tools, if you’re not going to use them.
10. Develop relationships, by proactively addressing spiritual and mental health concerns. Individuals that often reject church, do so because they do not recognize a connection between the gospels and what they endure daily. This is increasingly true of current generations, especially students. With technology has come unprecedented stress, leaving young people physically, mentally and spiritually vulnerable. While alcohol, sexual relations and drug use remain issues to be addressed, the intensity of such matters has been replaced by pressures from standardized testing, school shootings, gender identity, and unexpected deaths. How much more does the gospel offer solutions to such stress?
Despite technological advances, people still ache for relationships. That was the story when Jesus trod the earth. He addressed their physical and emotional needs. Paul sent letters to be read to teach the churches how to live through Christ. Those factors remain.
Students want to serve. Young people want to be taught. Donors want to be asked. Those hurting want answers. Prayerfully, this list will provide some.
More people want to know God, and are open to the message of the gospel than we church people may think.
Our responsibility is to go to Samaria, rather than pigeon-holing Samaritans. It’s been that way for more than a millennium.