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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