Understanding and Reaching Millennials
The Millennial Generation
I’ve worked in next generation ministries my entire adult life. Today, I mainly work with millennial youth and kids’ leaders. Recently, I’ve noticed some older adults seem to have a negative view of millennials, an opinion I don’t subscribe to. Instead, I see millennials as a generation full of passion, compassion and hunger to serve.
It’s our responsibility as the Church to reach the millennial generation. To do this, we must understand this generation. Dr. Leonard Sweet coined the phrase “EPIC Generation” when describing the millennials. I would like to use his acronym EPIC (though mine worded a little differently) to share four fundamental characteristics of millennials and four shifts the church should consider making to better reach them: Experiential | Participatory | Informational | Community.
Experiential: Millennials are more into the style of life than the stuff of life. According to a Harris Poll, 78 percent of millennials would rather pay for an experience than to purchase material things. Millennials love to learn from experiences. They are not looking for an expert on the stage with a lecture; they’re looking for a guide on the side with an experience.
Because millennials are experiential in nature, the church needs to shift from just providing a traditional Sunday service structure to creating a community outside the sanctuary. Millennials are looking for mentors who will guide and partner with them to help them experience ministry and spiritual maturity.
Participatory: Millennials have been conditioned to participate in the outcome of almost everything in their life—what they eat, where the family goes on vacation, or who stays on reality TV shows. Growing up as a Gen X’er, my parents never asked me what I wanted to eat or where to go on vacation. I was considered lucky to eat and enjoy their vacation. Millennials tend to support things they believe in. They will buy in on what they weigh in on.
Because millennials are participatory, the church needs to shift from filling volunteer positions to offering purposeful ministry. Millennials want to be a part of something big, something they feel is making a difference. When ministering to millennials, we must start with the question, “Why?” Give them the purpose and allow them to participate.
Informational (image-driven): Millennials have grown up in a world filled with information. I grew up with one TV screen while millennials have grown up with three or more TVs. They’re the most formally educated generation in history—and with more information comes more questions.
Because millennials are exposed to so much information, the church needs to shift from resisting technology to embracing technology. Millennials reject the attitude that says, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” They desire to be change agents for the future, not caregivers of the past.
Community (connected): Millennials love being connected. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is very real to them. They highly value community, so relationships always trump programs. The more the church can provide opportunities for them to serve and lead in the context of community, the more effective we’ll be at reaching and leading the next generation.
Because millennials highly value community, the church needs to shift from being a congregation to being a family. We must learn to live life with them both inside and outside the church walls.
Finally, we must never forget that every new generation is an unreached generation.