We have a “Millennial” problem in the church. Statistics and attendance are showing that Millennials are leaving or not connecting to the church at higher rates than ever before. Meanwhile, churches across the country are trying to find the best new tactics for reaching young people.
So what can churches do to reach this Millennial generation? Is it a new program or service? Is it adding some cool moving lights or starting new social media accounts? Maybe it’s just copying what the biggest church in town is doing?
Here’s the issue.
In an effort to reach Millennials, many churches violate the foundation that will make them effective. That foundation is authenticity.
Some call the young generation of 18-34 year olds “Millennials.” I just call them the authenticity generation. From an early age, this generation has been constantly bombarded by messages and marketing from businesses, organizations, politicians and churches.
Here’s the superpower that this generation was born with: they can sniff out whether you’re being authentic or not. They know when you’re just trying to sell something to them, get something from them, or be someone that they aren’t. This superpower is what draws them to certain organizations or people, and what turns them away from others. The current political landscape in 2016 is a testament to this power of authenticity.
So what does this mean for the church?
If we’re going to effectively reach Millennials, we have to move beyond gimmicks and tactics. It means we have to take a hard look at the very heart behind the unique calling God has placed on us as leaders and churches.
Where are churches and leaders going wrong in reaching Millennials?
They chase “cool”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with cool lights, louder music, marketing campaigns or any other methods that churches can use. The problem is that churches try to add gimmicks and methods in an attempt to attract a younger audience, when those methods don’t fit who they authentically are. You can’t just copy something that’s working in another culture or church and assume that it’s going to work the same way for your unique culture.
Let’s be honest. Your church does not need to be on Snapchat if you’re average attender is 65 years old, and the person running your Snapchat isn’t much younger. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.
They seek the perception of perfection
Everybody knows that no one is perfect. So why do we spend so much time trying to give the perception that we are? While we may seek the respect and adoration of our audience through giving off this perception of perfection, we actually miss out on real opportunities to connect and relate to them.
They try to be something they’re not
Is there a disconnect between what your website says you are and what you actually are? Are you communicating to your guests that you are a young/hip/diverse church, only to have them arrive and find something completely different?
The authenticity generation wants you to be you. If you’re not what you want to be, pray bold prayers and make bold changes to become who God is calling you to be.
They try to make it just a program
It’s far easier to start a new program for Millennials than it is to make bold changes as a whole church to reach the next generation. Many churches try to outsource their outreach for Millennials through some add-on program or service, and keep everything else the same. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with targeting a certain demographic with a program or event. I would caution you that this method can trick you into believing that you’ve solved the problem. The reality is that you may have only delayed the inevitable fact of making some hard decisions and changes that will make you more effective for reaching the next generation and beyond.
If you’re not content with how your church is reaching Millennials, it might be time to figure out why. Then, and only then, can you begin to wrestle with changes you may need to make.
Authentic leaders build authentic churches
Leaders. We’re more drawn to your imperfections and scars than your perceived perfection.
Millennials are searching for something from your church. It’s not excellence. It’s not coolness. It’s not perfection. It’s authenticity.
Embrace the calling we all have in ministry of being a church full of imperfect people, chasing after a perfect God. Authenticity always wins.