Is it realistic to expect one of the largest institutions in human history, the Christian church, to woo a generation of young people that are sometimes averse to the idea of institutionalism?
Easy? Certainly not.
Reaching unbelieving Millennials is going to require local churches to study the culture. Just as an American missionary to Kenya would be wise to study Kenyan culture and ideals in an effort to effectively share the gospel, the local church, largely made up of non-Millennials, would be wise to study Millennial culture and ideals in an effort to do the same.
The local church is usually not going to stumble into reaching Millennials effectively. Local church leadership is most likely to effectively reach people that are like them, so unless you’ve got a pastoral staff made up of a bunch of Millennials, it is likely going to take some effort to understand and connect with these young people.
The easiest way to reach Millennials is no secret. It’s really the same method used to reach other generations and cultures: understanding their values. The question is, however, “What do Millennials value?” Millennials value a wide variety of things, but here are just a few that may factor into reaching those Millennials who do not yet have a relationship with Christ. None of the values listed below are unique to Millennials by any means, but it is reasonable to think that the cultural makeup would lead to a particular affinity for the following ideals:
1) Honest Humility
A love for honest, humble Christians is certainly not unique to the Millennial generation. Who wouldn’t love a Christian who is up-front about his sinfulness? However, when it comes to a generation like the Millennials, many of whom grew up amidst a cultural Christianity that formed a façade of personal holiness, regular acknowledgment of shortcomings can be a breath of fresh air.
The church will reach Millennials when the God’s truth is embodied in humble love more than constant condemnation.
Growing up as digital natives in the land of the Internet where anyone can be whoever they want to be whenever they want to be, unbelieving Millennials are likely to lend a listening ear to the Christian who is open and honest about his own sins. Humility trumps hypocrisy. The Christian who confesses his his own sins before convicting the Millennial of his is likely more winsome and effective than the “turn or burn” corner preacher when it comes to reaching a rather tolerant generation.
2) True Friendship
Social media is undoubtedly a double-edged sword when it comes to true friendship. After a recent “friend purge,” I cut my Facebook friends list down to a healthy 579. Of those 579 friends, I regularly interact with about two dozen of them. The median number of Facebook friends among Millennials is 250, and though this number is less than half of my 579, I’d be willing guess that most Facebook users don’t interact with more than half of their friend-base on a regular basis, regardless of total number of friends. What does this mean?
Millennials’ propensity of having large online friend-bases likely says more about the nature of social media than it does the nature of Millennial relationships. I have been active on various social media outlets since 2001 (I was 10/11 years old), and I’ve seen the value of “online” friends drop, but not real-life friends.
If the local church is going to reach non-Christian Millennials, it is going to have to be willing to invest in true friendships with them. “Event Evangelism” cannot be abandoned—there is certainly something to be said for church Super Bowl parties and Fall Festivals—but the church must understand Millennials enough to know that young people are more likely to be attending your evangelistic events in hopes of making friends or in response to a friend’s invitation rather than experiencing the event itself.
Millennials long to be connected to others, and the local church is a perfect place for such connection to take place, but real friendships are often more motivating for Millennials than fun activities. Lead your local church to love the unchurched Millennials as true friends, approaching them with an honest humility more often than a façade of piety.
3) Unconditional Love
It could be argued that unconditional love is a necessary aspect of true friendship, and I would be inclined to agree, but the unconditional love that needs to be shown by the local church to the world, Millennials or not, extends far beyond making long-lasting friendships.
In a country that is becoming increasingly tolerant of various social and relational lifestyles, the American Evangelical must both stand for the biblical definition of sin and love those who find such moral standards absurd. Millennials are leading the way on matters such as gay marriage, and while the Church mustn’t give in to cultural definitions of morality, we must love those with whom we disagree.
A local church that is willing to call out the sin of the Millennial homosexual but is not willing to discipline the unrepentant Boomer glutton will likely have much difficulty attracting a generation marked by a disdain for hypocrisy and an ethic of tolerance.
Reaching Millennials is difficult, but it’s not impossible. The above actions aren’t silver bullets to winning millions of young people to Christ, but they’re simple steps to sharing the gospel with the unbelieving Millennial.
The church will reach Millennials when God’s truth is embodied in humble love more than constant condemnation.