Why Aren’t Millennials Attending Your Church?

The American church is obsessed with reaching millennials. Well, at least we are obsessed with talking about it. I’m not entirely convinced we really want to reach them, or that we even know what “reaching” them would entail.

WHY AREN'T MILLENNIALS ATTENDING YOUR CHURCH?That aside, I’ve got a good clear reason why millennials aren’t attending your church. No, no, it’s not an exhaustive reason. There are other reasons. There are other good reasons. But I’ve got a reason very few people are talking about. And we’re not talking about it because 1) it’s basically too late to do anything about it, and 2) we’re to blame and we have a hard time accepting responsibility for our failures when its easier to blame a whole population for their lackadaisical spirituality.

Do you want to know (one of the reasons) why millennials aren’t attending your church? Here goes…

Millennials aren’t attending your church because they’ve never had to attend your church.

Think about it. From the time my generation was born, we were thrown in the nursery with other babies. Then we went to children’s ministries with other children to be entertained while our parents when to “big church.” Then we had middle school ministry. Then we had youth group. Then we went away to college and we found a church with a stellar college ministry.

It wasn’t until we graduated college that we were actually expected to be a part of the intergenerational community called “church.” We’d been segregated by age for the first 22 years. And you not only allowed this, you encouraged it.

And now you’re wondering why we don’t want to go to church. Now you’re wondering how to reach us to make us a part of the church?

I’m sorry, but you never really valued us being part of a church before. But now that we’re making money, now that you’re seeing statistics that cause you fear, now that you want us to help you reach the other 80 million of us, now you want us around?

I’m not saying this cynically. I’m not saying that you were opposed to our* presence. But I’m saying that you created structures and systems of “doing church” that taught us that our presence in the communal gatherings were relatively irrelevant. We learned from your structures, not necessarily your example.

Millennials who grew up in churched families sometimes don’t feel like they belong in church because they have never participated in church on a week-to-week basis. We’ve never believed (because we’ve never been taught) that our weekly presence, despite age, matters to the vitality and mission of the church.

So, it may be too late to fix this problem for older millennials. But if you want to begin fixing this situation for future generations, then look for valuable ways in which children, teenagers and college students can participate in the church both on Sunday mornings and otherwise. Teach them that their presence matters, not merely so we can reach our attendance goals, but because their voice matters to the mission of God in the world.

In fact, if you start doing this for younger people in church, I think you might be surprised how we millennials might learn from watching what happens.

*I refer to myself as a millennial here, but in all honesty, I’m right on the cusp. Born in 1980, I’m half Gen-Xer, half millennial. I have sympathies and a worldview associated with both generations.


Originally Published at Ministry Matters.

Tom Fuerst blogs at Tom1st.com. You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

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14 Comments on "Why Aren’t Millennials Attending Your Church?"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Richard Hicks
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The current standard model of church is: 1. Not that old. 2. Worn out. 3. Needs changing to including lots of other human relationship gathering possibilities. The current model is that a cleric is spotlighted for one hour each Sunday morning in one location requiring the attendance of dutiful folks to support her/him. This standard model is now sub-standard in its performance and is dying. To this model we need to add non-church building gatherings such as home-based gatherings, pub-based gatherings, marketplace-based gatherings, jail and prison-based gatherings, etc. Instead of one fully ordained elder seeking at least 100 folks in… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
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Nice work there!

james
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In deed!!!!!!!

james
Guest
The “children’s” programs in big churches seem to have been much more geared to “get the kids and their disruption out of the sanctuary” and into the fellowship hall”–so to speak. Smaller congregations could not do that–maybe with the exception of a “grandma” type who would keep babies so that their Dads and Moms could be in church. In the big churches, a “social gospel” was used to entertain the kids–like how to cross the street properly. UMC curriculum just–for many years–shied away from a Crucified and Risen Savior–because “shed blood” was just flat a less than (yucky!!) proper thing… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
James, that was quite an informative post but I’m very curious from where you’ve obtained the notions which you’ve described as what “the big churches” do. I’ve never been involved in a “big” church or wanted to, myself. It seems to me incongruent with the UMC model, but once we attended the UMC’s flagship Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, just outside Kansas City, which is, believe it or not, a UMC megachurch which prominently features the UMC brand. I was curious how that could be but it seems to work for them. Rather than it being one of… Read more »
james
Guest
Thanks Mr. Shuler. It would not be news to you that I say I am from a conservative bent. And actually, my parents mostly sent me as oppose to going with me. Our family, though, attended together and worshiped together. Lots of families forfeit a blessing when that does not happen–or so it seems to me. Wes’s post was appreciated as well. It is difficult to blend a service–and most small churches probably do that to a degree. Having “praise and worshipers” all up and down the age spectrum is great as well. Does relevant mean that we skip the… Read more »
Wes Andrews
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Mark, no compromising on Jesus in our community. He is our hope, his sacrifice on the cross is our redemption, and his resurrection is what empowers us to proclaim the Good News to everyone. He is lifted up each week in our teaching, but also in the sacrament of communion.

Part of what makes churches irrelevant is placing anything else above Jesus. It might be traditions, adherence to sifting sand cultural values, poor teaching and leadership, lack of vision, being distracted, etc.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

“Part of what makes churches irrelevant is placing anything else above Jesus. It might be traditions, adherence to sifting sand cultural values, poor teaching and leadership, lack of vision, being distracted, etc.”

I certainly agree. Those seeking to advance right-wing political intrigue in the UMC are definitely displaying their adherence to sifting sand cultural values.

Wes Andrews
Guest
IMHO, making worship meaningful to multi-generations is challenging based on the life-stage of a church. And based on that life-stage that worship may or may not be appealing to young singles, young families, children and youth. Each church community tends to become settled in a certain era of worship-style and it is very difficult for churches to “evolve” when it comes to worship. Some churches provide a “contemporary” service, but still it can be very hard to manage multiple styles. The leadership of the Pastor truly matters, but he or she must be encouragers and team players as well. If… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
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Besides my envy of the Episcopals for their having moved on from 1980s kulturkampf unlike the UMC, the practice of weekly communion is yet another area in which I covet what they have. And they use a simple cup from which everyone imbibes after discreet wipes – no place for the germphobic, but, that aspect of today’s mercenary culture is incongruent with a true experience of “One Bread, One body.”

Paul W.
Guest
The author’s position is right on target in regard to those who grew up in the church at the very tail-end of the Baby Boomers through about 10 year ago. Starting in the 70’s, both mainline and evangelical churches came up with the concept of Children’s Church and other youth activities (i.e., child and youth program that were started with the good intentions of being “more relevant” for the kids and youth than “having them sit and be bored” in the main worship service). In addition to the impact of having a generation of youth that grew up not feeling… Read more »
Tom1st
Guest

All right on target there, Paul.

Interestingly enough, it’s the Millennials who are calling out for a restoration of some of those more traditional elements in the church (liturgies, creed readings, etc.) while the Boomers and Gen-Xers wanted something more pragmatic/relevant/cool.

It seems like the distance maybe made the heart grow fonder? Or we’re just like every other generation and we want to reject what our parents valued.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Paul, you make some very good points about worship service practices vis-a-vis children. I don’t find anything particular in there to which I disagree except perhaps the concept that “…children learn how to behave in church…” strikes me as ominous, with regard to my Spidey sense vis-a-vis indicators of domestic violence in families. As long as such is imparted nonviolently though it seems appropriate.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
An interesting read. As time passes and each generation turns to dust what remains is up to those who follow. For as long as Protestantism has been around (to abbreviate the history) people were expected to be members of a church to have any social staus worth having. This continued throughout the early 1950s, and then dropped precipitously, slowly at first, and then with a wallop in the last twenty years or so. These days many perceive membership or being active in a church is at best a harmless eccentricity like, say, handfishing for catfish or collecting butterflies, but at… Read more »
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