What Millennials Really Want from Church

I am a millennial and I grew up in church. I lived church. Some of my earliest memories involve Sunday School lessons and nursery friend playdates. Some of my oldest friends to this day I made in church over 20 years ago. I have a ton of “behind the scenes” memories of the inner workings of a church. I have been many different denominations. I have attended churches of every size. I have eaten more potluck Wednesday night meals than you have eaten hamburgers.

My husband’s story also involves church. He grew up faithfully attending a congregation with his family nearly every Sunday. He knows the same hymns I do. We were taught many of the same Sunday School lessons. He knows the reverence for the sermon and respect for the pastor. He learned the importance of the fellowship of the body of Christ. But somehow, he sat through all of it, and missed it. My sweet husband explains that he came to know Christ the summer that we met. He says that he didn’t have any understanding of what it really meant to love Jesus and follow Him despite all of the hours that he spent in the building.

The more I talk with others our age, the more I hear stories with the same theme. In the last few months I have heard account after account of individuals who grew up in church and feel as though they missed it. They sat through countless church services and know the traditions, but they do not know Jesus.

This is why millennials are leaving the church.

It’s not because the church doesn’t have a cool worship band, or fancy lights or stage. It isn’t because the pastor hasn’t updated his look to sport skinny jeans, a beard and tattoo. It isn’t because the church doesn’t have a Starbucks or eco-friendly restrooms… Even though this is what some might say attract people from my generation.

If you want to attract a millennial, you need to be authentic.

We have been advertised to our entire lives. We know when we are being “sold” on something. We can tell when you’re trying. We can tell when you’re desperate. At the end of the day, it isn’t about anything you could do to your building or your service that will draw us in…

It is the authentic love of Jesus and His people that will make us come back.

What pushes us away? We are repulsed by dry traditions and lack of intimacy with the Father.

We don’t want to go to Church to be reminded of everything we aren’t supposed to do or believe. We want to go to ask the tough questions and seek Jesus in the answers. We want to connect with others who are just as passionate about pursuing Jesus and loving those He calls us to love as we are.

We feel disconnected in services that teach about morality from people we know are morally flawed. We don’t need lessons on morality. We want to hear the PURE GOSPEL and stories of how to live like Jesus. The closer we are to Him, the more our lives will reflect the character of Jesus Christ. We need fewer lessons on how to polish the outside of the glass and more teaching on how to be filled with the love of Jesus! We will have a hard time listening to these messages if we know the pastor doesn’t live it.

We feel remarkably responsible for the state of the world, and feel like it is our duty to do something …anything… to make a difference. We are passionate about compassion. We are givers. We want to invest into ministries that make the world and the people in it healthier and bring them closer to Jesus.

We are Truth seekers. He came that we might know Him and by knowing Him know the Father. Right? If you can point us to Jesus – to His personhood – to His reachable presence, we will follow you. But if you want to paint a veil of religion that makes us go through traditions and ceremonies to reach God – then we’re out.

After all, we are just as happy sitting on couches in living rooms planning on how we will reach the world for Jesus than sitting in stuffy loveless services. The mission isn’t to gather the good people. The mission of the Church is to love people like Jesus did. With a love that heals, delivers and sets people free. Our outrageous love for them should be transforming, not condemning.

We desperately want Jesus. We want Him to be real in our lives and our relationships. We want to feel His love burn in our hearts to the point that we cannot help but give it away. We want to put our hands in His scars not because we don’t believe it is Him, but because we just cannot believe that He would come near to someone like us. Your own stories aren’t going to be good enough for us. We want to experience His love for ourselves, and we want to come to church to connect with others who feel the same way.

If you want a millennial to come to your church service, you only need one thing – Jesus. If He isn’t on the guest list, then we’re not interested in coming either.

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  • Shellie says:

    If you want to change your life for real…. I’m 37 and this has been my whole life! It’s beautiful, it’s wonderful!

  • Mary says:

    This is why I am so happy I have the church home I do. It is so real, so raw. It doesn’t sell you Jesus and it doesn’t pretend everyone is okay just the way they are. They show his true love through the many missions and the many activities they do. They even show his love with how they greet each other every Sunday. It’s a home. It’s God’s home. And anyone who attends it can tell. Jesus is alive and vivid in my church home and I am SO grateful for that.

  • linda says:

    I like where you are going, but you sort of contradict yourself. We dont want “dry tradition” but also dont want this silly crap the church trys to sell us to try to get us in. Do we have to find a happy medium? I find the old traditions make me feel closer to God and to Jesus. If we have been drug to church against our will as a child and teen, of course we missed it. But stop as an adult and really steep yourself in those traditions, and a new reverence emerges. Feel how our Christian brothers years ago held those same traditions and loved the same God. Jesus has not changed, why do we feel the need to change how we worship him. If it is so we enjoy the service more and draw a crowd, then we have missed the point. I want to feel solemn and at peace at church, and give my attention to God. I do, however, seriously enjoy a good pot luck dinner. (I didnt mean for that to sound like bashing. I love your writing. It always hits home and frequently brings me to tears.)

  • Amber says:

    Amen and amen! I grew up very similarly to what you described and after being gone “to the big city” for several years, DH and I are back in our hometown. While I originally thought it would be the easiest part of moving back, it has been a journey to find all the things we are craving spiritually. You hit the nail on the head. This generation is craving something real. In a pretty superficial world, we need to be real with those feeding our spiritual needs. To those still searching for that place, keep looking! Those genuine, Jesus-loving people are out there. To the church, we must remember to BE the church and seek out the lost, not wait until they come to us. Thank you for putting a voice to our search!

  • Chantelle says:

    I have been following your posts for quite some time and I just wanted to say that this one really hit me HARD. It’s like you found the words I’ve been searching for and wrote them all out. Thank you so much for writing these words and for the vulnerability you bring forth in each post. I really admire your boldness and find myself connecting to you even though we are miles apart. Your love for Christ is evident in the words you right and I feel so blessed that you continue to share them.

    – Chantelle

  • Emily says:

    “If He’s not on the guest list, then we’re not interested in coming either.” Well put! :) thanks for always posting such encouragement!

  • Rebekah says:

    I agree 100%. My story is the same as yours. I grew up in church, accepted Jesus when I was 6, have loved Him with all my heart for over 2 decades and yet now that I’m grown and married with 2 kids of my own after 5 years of searching I cannot find a church family I feel comfortable with my kids growing up in because none of the many churches we have tried to become involved in have come close to demonstrating Jesus’ love or pointing people to Him. It is very sad to see what the American church culture has become. Thank you for speaking so honestly about it.

  • Yes. So much yes! Definitely sharing this one!

  • Hannah says:

    Yes. Just yes. This is so well said – definitely the heart cry of our generation. We need a place where we can figure out what it looks like to live like Jesus in this messy world; where other people are trying to figure that out too. Not a place where everyone hides behind religion to pretend like they’re not desperate for Truth and Love. If we let Him come in, I think a lot more people would be in church!

  • Dave Dangerfield says:

    I really appreciate these thoughts-I am a 61 year old pastor wanting to help my congregation be relative to our greater community-thanks for the thoughts! Blessings!

  • Kelly says:

    I think you absolutely nailed it. Our 20s/30s (“millennials”) small group talks about this a lot as one of the things we most want to change about our church. Less announcements and fluff during service, less anecdotes in the sermon, and more gospel, more Scripture, more Jesus. We also talk a lot about wanting to be able to truly share our hearts with each other. Very well written!

  • Augusta says:

    Enter Sideris Church of Seattle, WA. We ask people to Consider Jesus. Simple.

  • Lucille says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart. That was well said and as a millennial myself, I agree. :)

  • Courtney says:

    I have to say I respectfully disagree. I think the problem with our generation is that we try to make everything all about US and what WE want, when it really isn’t about us at all. It’s about receiving the undeserved, redemptive grace of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins <- this is the one true Gospel. Whether or not it seems like the church is just going through the motions, it is doing the impossible, in spite of us. I believe church is not about what WE want to feel or hear. It's not about what WE can do for God, but what God has already done for all of us, and that's what I think we've forgotten.


  • I think you said this so very perfectly. I really think you should submit this to the Huffington Post under their religion section. I’m a HuffPost blogger and can give you an email address if you’d like to submit it.

    We grew up Catholic but left the church feeling frustrated that they always seemed to put religion over Relationship and we were saddened by the way they handled transgressions from the priests regarding violating children. One of those priests was in our church, but nothing happened to him other than being transferred to another church.

    When we had our own children, my husband and I wanted them to grow up in a church, but it wasn’t until we were “lucky” enough to find a nondenominational church in our area through a Mom and Me program I started attending with our first baby. The church we attend now focuses on building personal relationships with Jesus, exactly like you are talking about, and my husband and I have each grown exponentially in our faith, even though we both grew up in the church. In fact, Church of the Open Door, where we attend, was just named one of the top 100 fastest growing churches in the US by Outreach Magazine. They focus on building healthy relationships with God and within the church because “healthy things grow.”
    Sorry this comment got so long. I only meant to say…
    I think you are absolutely right.

  • Sarah says:

    Amen! So very well said!!!

  • Kels says:

    Becky, thank you for sharing your light and love!
    How easy it is to get so caught up in the traditions and culture that we miss the main message – we miss Jesus. I LOVED what someone posted here about remembering that we have to BE the church. You are a great example of that. I felt encouraged to share some things about my church. Our leadership is constantly changing. Someone that is in charge of the entire congregation one week can be called to be a leader of the Nursery the next. I feel like this helps us look to JESUS – not to the one preaching because they are only messengers. No one is paid monetarily for their service, only in love, and the His Spirit! Our main focus is on strengthening families and we do that through the words of Jesus Christ. One of the biggest hallmarks is our welfare services (NBC recently did a story on this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow6mnAowINw ). Our 15 million members are diverse, we are open to any and EVERYone that wants to join us, and our 83 thousand missionaries are constantly spreading the good news of this gospel so we can strengthen individuals and families. THAT is where it’s at – Jesus ministered to the ONE. I wanted to share this for anyone looking for those specific characteristics in a church (you can learn more at lds.org). Our members are not perfect, but His Gospel is- as you know! I am eternally grateful for strong Christian churches in this crazy world and thank you for sharing His Gospel through social media. There needs to be more of that going around!

  • Bethany says:

    I love the “dry traditions” too, Linda. Walking into a church that looks, smells, sounds and feels holy takes me to a place of prayer easily. That experience is walking into the sacred from the profane. The rest is up to me. He is there, do I show up to worship him?

  • Theodore A. Jones says:

    “We are Truth seekers”, really?
    ” For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” ROM. 2:13 Paul is not referencing the OT code of law. He is referencing the law that was added because of the Lord’s ascenion. See Heb. 7:12. If this law had not been added salvation is not possible

  • Lynne Gentry says:

    Thought provoking. Nowhere is it harder to love like Jesus than to love the person sitting next to you on the pew, to love the pastor who is not perfect, or the Sunday school teacher struggling with her own issues. How can that kind of love ever be accomplished if everyone bails?

  • ChrisR says:

    Several things:(for the most part I like the article)
    1) Your relationship to Jesus is personal, no other person or process or thing is responsible for the lack of your submitting to the Holy Spirit or seeking Him. You cant blame a human exercised process(church service) for your failure.
    2) Your parents or a mentor are to be the secondary source for your spiritual feeding, besides your direct interaction with the Holy Spirit and Gods Word.
    3) I agree that authenticity by The Church is needed, but we can all each have a speck of dust in our eye. Don’t judge, church leadership is human also.
    4) Authenticity and integrity is a must. Church leadership is NOT better than the rest, they have faults. The flash, the bang, the WOW has to go. What draws them keeps them. Jesus IS enough. Stories of more transformation because of the cross is needed.
    5) The church and mentors/parents need to stop saying “because I said so.” We need to justify or explain the WHY in our obedience.
    6) Church on Sunday to me is a report back on my last 6 days of my personal experience with Christ while ministering to my family and my world where Christ has called me to serve, not my primary feeding source.

  • Kiah says:

    I too am a church girl. This subject is so close to my heart. I too have been a part of different denominations and seen different methods.
    I am realizing as I get older that I crave a community of beleivers who are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Those who make friends with the hurting, he homeless, the lost and sinners. Who serve selflessly. Who sacrifice their time. Who invest in people. Who follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance even when it doesn’t make sense. Who are real and raw and imperfect but love Jesus and his people so very much.
    I want Jesus lifted up in every aspect in the church. In the message, the music, in Sunday school, bible studies and home groups. This should all be the catalyst that fuels is to go and be the church to the world. To love and give and be the light in the darkness.

  • Anne says:

    This is excellent. Thank you for writing it! Love these lines:
    “It is the authentic love of Jesus and His people that will make us come back.

    What pushes us away? We are repulsed by dry traditions and lack of intimacy with the Father.”
    God bless you,

  • Renee says:

    amen and amen!! very well said.

  • […] What Millennials Really Want From The Church […]

  • Vanessa says:

    I’m a bit confused by this post. There are a lot of churches getting it wrong, and I applaud you for attempting to take a stand against these errors. However, I was hoping you could answer a few questions I have.

    1) What does it mean to you to “live like Jesus”?
    2) Which church rituals seem to “veil” Jesus to you?
    3) What does it mean to you to “experience Jesus’s love for yourself”?
    4) What do you mean by being “more authentic”?

    I would love to discuss these questions with you if you’re willing. Feel free to email me :)

  • […] What Millennials Really Want From The Church-I really enjoyed reading this post and found it very true for me. […]

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  • Scott says:

    As a shepherd of a “traditional church” I love your desire to be simply about Jesus and let everything spring forward from that authenticity. Believe it or not even traditional churches aspire to that – or at least did at one time. We need revitalization that sometimes only comes when younger people bring their energy and passion. You won’t ever know what influence you can have with the traditionals until you genuinely try.
    Your article seems to suggest that if we will create the kind of church you want then you will join us. Perhaps you should create that church yourselves. You gather a group of like minded, innovative, experiential Christians and create the body of believers who will demonstrate Christ tangibly to the world. You need not wait for the 50-60 year olds to establish it then hand it to you – Just do it. There is room enough for creative, service oriented Christians to establish a unique body of believers in any city in America. Show the world that Christianity isn’t merely about belief, tradition, stories, and liturgy. Use all the disappointment that so eloquently detail and harness it to lead yours and the next generation into a more responsive Christian fellowship.

  • Jaclyn says:

    I just want Jesus. Is that so hard? I really needed this!! Thank you!!! Maybe you could start a satellite church because all of us who read this are all on the same page and some of us desperately searching to find what your described…;-) Just a thought!!! Haha

  • […] This article nails it on the head. It’s all about authenticity. […]

  • […] WHAT MILLENNIALS REALLY WANT FROM CHURCH What pushes us away? We are repulsed by dry traditions and lack of intimacy with the Father. […]

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