The Millennial generation is marked as people born between 1982 and 2000. They’re the late teenagers and early 30-somethings of today. To some, the term, “Millennial” is a derogatory term denoting laziness, participation trophies, entitlement and obliviousness to the challenges of the real world.
Countless blogs and articles have been written about how Millennials are fleeing the church in droves, denying Christianity and will be the demise of the local church upon their impending slide into cultural homogeny.
Many cry out against the church for not attracting Millennials and point to statistics, showing the lack of their presence in a number of our churches as an indication of Christianity’s need to sound the alarm.
So will the Millennial generation be the one to watch the church die – safely hidden behind coffee shop windows?
Our church is in a university town. We are blessed to have a front row seat to this generation and how their unique upbringing and attributes shape their worldview. We have coffee together, worship together, serve together, and from them, we have learned a great deal about our future.
These aren’t the Millennials you’ll see on TV or plastered in headlines. For Christian Millennials, the revolution will not be televised, but it is still a revolution. Will the Millennial generation kill the church in America? Far from it. I would like to offer a few reasons why Millennials just may save it.
Millennials and Truth
We get lied to a lot. The rise of opportunistic media outlets has created a marketing tornado where everything from new politics to new shampoo can bring ultimate and fulfilling happiness.
When TV was new (Boomers), we were glued to the screen with open minds, drinking in everything they told us. It’s on TV, so it must be true.
When the internet was new (Gen-Xers), we were glued to the screen with open minds, drinking in everything it sold us. It’s on the internet, so it must be true.
We embraced everything new technology told us and sold us so much that it began to mold us.
The Millennial generation has grown up with countless channels and access to immediate global information as givens. They aren’t as quick to be told and sold because, in many ways, all the voices have become white noise. Rather than being molded around the Information Age, Millennials have molded the Information Age around them.
News no longer comes through a carefully marketed and over-slanted TV channel; it comes from a feed – a few select sources the individual trusts and wants to hear from. The Millennial generation hears a thousand voices, but listens to only a few.
And what are they listening for? Real. Substance. Perspective. They want the truth.
The same sources that cite an exodus of Millennials from the church are also beginning to record a new trend. It’s not just that Millennials are no longer checking the Christian box because they’re American or because it is the socially advantageous default answer. It is not popular for Millennials to be Christians. However, the rise of the “Nones” (those who mark “none” as religious affiliation) is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not necessarily that there are less Christian Millennials. It’s that Millennials are more honest about their faith. “Nones” is the new default.
For those who do identify as Christian, it is not because it’s the popular thing to do; it’s because they are following Christ and aren’t ashamed to let people know it. The Millennials I see aren’t Christians just because their parents were. Many Millennial Christians I talk with have undergone a “reconversion” of sorts. Meaning they grew up in the church under Americanized Christianity, but once running into the buzz-saw of the real world, they began to ask real questions of the Scriptures and find real answers. The Gospel is new and fresh to them in a way it wasn’t when they were younger. The Gospel many were served at a younger age was platitudes and moralism that burned out once moralism became relative and platitudes were found to be without weight.
Many of them left “the faith,” but they didn’t leave God. They actually felt like they never truly understood Him. As the church has focused on the Word and the Gospel, Millennials have returned to find not the shifting sand they once knew, but the solid rock of the Gospel that gives them security in the storm.
Millennials and Stability
There is a reason the tiny-house movement is a thing. There is a reason corporate coffee is giving way to local roasteries. Instant coffee at home in the morning is being replaced by in-home tedious brewing methods, and a trip to the backyard garden for vegetables is just as likely as a trip to the mass-market grocery store. Millennials value organic. They value local. They care much more about where and how something was “resourced” than what its packaging looks like.
Millennials are more interested in depth than width.
For Millennials, national stability is seen through the filter of 9/11, and job security is shadowed under the 2008 financial crisis. What has been modeled for this generation is not stick to it and advance, but no matter how much loyalty you give, nothing is for sure. Studies have shown that Millennials are much more risk-averse than previous generations. They care less about money and, in many cases, are much more frugal than their parents.
As a result, stability is seen not on the national or financial level but the local and communal. The dollar and advancing careers are not paramount, but the enjoyment of work and the workplace is. If nothing is certain in the job-field, you might as well enjoy what you’re doing and do what you love. Careers are not about stuff, but impact.
This is what makes Millennials unique in the local church. For decades, the paradigm has been “big church at all costs.” The flashiest, most entertaining, most attractive message was the one that filled the seats. It was pragmatic. It was watered down. It was a cheaply-built house.
Christian Millennials, in large part, are seeing through the flash-bang of the Americanized church and are being drawn by something else. Today’s college worship band is less likely to idolize Chris Tomlin, and more likely to seek after Martin Luther and Isaac Watts. Shared liturgy is replacing pragmatic entertainment, and Christian Millennials care much more about what is inside their Bibles than what the outside looks like.
Millennials are soaking up the Gospel even when it offends. They are not looking to be pampered; they are looking to be trained. They don’t want the newest faith fad; they want the deepest and most-tried truths. Everything is constantly in motion in the world of a Millennial. They see the Gospel as the one thing that is unchanging – even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it’s less flashy. Even if it might cost them. At least it’s true. They know everything else crumbles.
Millennials and Community
The greatest thing the local church can offer Millennials is not a pizza bash and a concert. Millennials value the community of older believers in the local church.
Millennials are constantly connected to each other. They don’t need another opportunity to gather with other Millennials. They want the opportunity to be with older believers. If Christianity is real and the endurance of the faith is possible, they want to know the paths that are surest, the woods that are most dangerous and value the wisdom of a saint who has gone before.
As the world has shrunk, the desire for community has grown. The voices Millennials are selectively listening to aren’t the newest – they’re the most honest.
You want to host a relationship conference? Don’t highlight the latest trends on love and dating advice from a good-looking 25-year-old. Give the couple in their 60s or 70s who radiantly display the Gospel in their marriage the mic. Watch the Millennials soak it up.
The church is not at a disadvantage with Christian Millennials. Rather, the church can offer this generation something they get nowhere else – a diverse community of saints. The path of righteousness is narrow, and few find it. Millennials are seeking it and will stick to it once shown where it is.
Is this true about every Millennial? No. Like any generation, they are in large part the result of the world they inherited and the way they were raised (it wasn’t the kids who handed out the participation trophies).
No generation is perfect (Boomers – remember the sexual revolution? GenXers – remember JNCO jeans?). But as Gospel truth is handed down from generation to generation, we should have bright hopes for the Gospel in the hands of this one. Even more, we should have bright hopes for the church led by this generation.
Only God can build His church and the gates of hell will not stand against it. The church doesn’t need saving – Jesus took care of that. It just needs some reorientation. God, in His grace, is leading the church in this generation toward the true north of the Gospel.
Let us rally around our Millennial brothers and sisters, show them the way and thank our great God that His patience is longsuffering and His love endures throughout all generations.