What Small-Group Pastors Can Learn from Millennials

Creative and Spirit-Empowered Small Group Outreach

What should we do about millennials?

It seems everyone’s talking about those born after 1980 these days. We’ve read the reports about them leaving the church, and we look around our own pews and see few people representing this generation. Small-group pastors are left wondering, How do we reach them? It’s easy to become disheartened.

But there’s hope as well. For instance, the Black church is retaining millennials exceedingly well. And we’re seeing more and more millennial leaders in the church, especially in small-group ministry. The truth? Not all millennials are leaving. Many love the church, and they’re invested in the future of the church. Even more, they’re willing to shed blood and tears to help make the church better. To put it simply: This generation is rising up, and we need to listen.

So I interviewed several millennial church leaders to get their advice on two important factors facing small-group ministry: what we need to know about working with millennial leaders, and what we need to know about millennials to successfully reach them through small groups.

One thing I wish other church leaders knew about being a millennial church leader:

I’m not out to destroy the church. I love the church; if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here doing what I do. While I may see things differently and do things differently, I respect the traditions and the people that have come before me. The church has been reforming throughout its wonderful history, and I see myself (and all of us) as part of that continual reformation. I don’t simply want electric guitars and smoke machines in the Sunday service (I may not want that at all); I want our church to make a global impact—that’s how I understand what it means to live the Christian life.—Ryan Schaible

We often feel a great tension between managing our work and managing our families. We have seen church leaders from previous generations burn out or cause significant strife within their families in order to serve God. We want to avoid those mistakes. However, many church staff persons still retain the mindset that there’s nothing wrong with an 80-hour work week as long as you’re serving the Lord.—Sam O’Neal

Millennial stereotypes exist for a reason, but like many stereotypes, they’re often a caricature or reality. If you assume that millennials are entitled, disrespectful, and lazy, and that they job hop and live at home until the age of 30, you probably haven’t gotten to know many millennials. I own a home and haven’t lived in my parents’ home since the age of 22. I have invested my money wisely. I have worked in the same department at the same church for over six years. I’ve been married for ten years. Yes, I do chafe under structure and authority, and yes, I have strong opinions. But I have also learned that I don’t know it all and don’t have all of the answers.—Will Johnston

We relate to others through our own stories. What may appear to you to be an obsession with ourselves (selfies, endless tweets and statuses about our personal lives, etc.) is actually an attempt to connect with others. While you may perceive it to be a lack of personal filtering and TMI (“too much information”), we think of it as a way to demonstrate vulnerability. We tell our stories to those we lead to convey that we too are broken and in need of personal and spiritual growth. In spite of all of this, we feel guilty and wonder if we’ve said too much, if what we’ve shared will disqualify us from leadership, or if one day some dumb tweet will come back to haunt us. Still, the most rewarding moments of relational success we have are the ones that flow out of genuine authenticity. We see the breakthroughs that come from hearing and telling an honest personal story.—Richard Clark  

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