Many studies have been conducted and much has been written exploring the trend of Millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) leaving the church. Recent surveys by the Barna Group, for instance, show that between high school and turning 30, 43 percent of Millennials who were once active in their faith have stopped attending church regularly. Additionally, more than 50 percent of these young adults with a Christian background say they are less active in church compared to when they were 15.
Furthermore, a 2012 Pew study found that one-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third of adults under 30—are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
Lifeway Research President Ed Stetzer wrote about reaching Millennial “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated young adults) in response to this Pew data:
“I see an opportunity for churches to clearly state what a Christian is, as others are no longer claiming that title as frequently. Furthermore, teaching believers to live on mission in their contexts, rather than just to bring their friends to church, is how we will reach the Nones.”
Ed Bahler, CEO of Aspen Group, wrote about how healthy growing churches of the future must learn to connect with and engage “far-unchurched” and “near-unchurched” Millennials. “These Millennials have grown up with a plethora of options and opinions,” he says. “It will be up to the church to equip their congregations to engage Millennials in fresh, purposeful ways that connect uniquely with them and their struggles.”
In an effort to help to help church leaders find practical solutions for reaching Millennials and making space for them in the church, Aspen Group co-commissioned a Barna research project through the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN). At a recent Aspen Pastors Lunch, Clint Jenkin, vice president of research for Barna Group, and Aspen architect Derek DeGroot shared some initial findings from this soon-to-be-released study on Millennials and church architecture.
Here are three key aspects of the findings to consider as your church explores how to reach Millennials:
1. Be Natural
Unlike previous generations, Millennials grew up indoors. They spent less time in their youth exploring nature and, as a result, have a great respect for the outdoors. They like the feeling of nature all around them—things that are natural. It could be natural light from large windows or natural textures on the walls and floors. It could also be large murals depicting nature or even nature itself—things like live plants.
2. Make Sense
As part of the research, Barna Group conducted two focus groups of 18- to 30-year-olds from Chicago and Atlanta. The groups, comprised of non-Christians, former churchgoers and those still very active in church, toured traditional and contemporary churches, parks and coffee shops and shared what they liked about each space, what they did not like, where they thought they would best connect with others, where they would best connect with God, and where they would best experience a time of reflection.
On their tours, Millennials appreciated those spaces that provided visual clarity. They knew what the space was for and what they should do in it. For example, when Millennials walked into cathedrals they intuitively sat down to take in the space. No one told them to do that; the space itself offered visual cues for what to do.
3. Offer Rest
From high ceilings that evoke loftiness and grandeur, to windows that depict Bible stories, to a cross-shaped footprint, traditional churches were designed to point people toward God. Each element offers an opportunity to find rest and solitude, opening an opportunity to connect with God. Millennials from the Barna/CKN study said they connected more with these spaces. Unlike today’s churches that focus on creating space to host activities that point people to God, Millennials want a place of rest from the constant clamor in culture. They resonated with the churches that offered corners and alcoves of quietness.
How about your church? What changes should you be considering to create space that feels like home to Millennials? How can your church bring the outside in, or what things could you do outside? How about visual clarity? Do visitors know immediately the purpose of the space and what they’re supposed to do in it? And finally, does your church provide space for your congregants to be, or is it solely focused on being a place of action—of doing?
If you’d like to see and hear more about Millennials and church architecture, watch this video from Aspen Group’s Pastors Lunch.