Millennials and the church: Is there hope for reaching them?

Millennial Makeover I just finished reading Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics. The authors, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, contend that Millennials will reshape American politics, possibly as early as this election in 2008. Millenials are the newest generation, born 1982-2003, and were given their generational name by the book, Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, published in 2000.

I was so captivated by Millennial Makeover, that I ordered 4 books by Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising, and the experts in the field of generational studies. I’ll pull together some thoughts on all these books as I read through them, but let me tell you why I have this new, urgent interest in this newest generation. Read this paragraph and I think you’ll understand:

Overall, only 12 percent of Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic or don’t identify with any particular religious tradition. This number is up by just four percentage points since 1987. But age differences in lack of religious belief or affiliation are striking. Within the oldest American generations, the last remaining members of the GI and Silent Generations, just five percent are secular or unaffiliated. That number rises to about one in ten among Baby Boomers to 15 percent of Gen-Xers, and nearly one in five (19%) among Millennials — almost four times the percentage of nonbelievers as existed within the GI and Silent Generations. — Millennial Makeover, p89.

One out of five Millennials — almost 20% — claim no religious affiliation or belief. We have our work cut out for us, we of the church clan. But, it will have to be a different kind of work than we have ever done before. I’m creating a new category (Millennials) and will post thoughts about Millennials and the church in the days ahead.

I am very interested in what you and your church are doing to reach this generation that is now 5-to-26 years of age. Are existing churches going to reach Millennials? Will it take completely new forms of church, like the emerging church scene, to engage this generation? What do you think? What solutions do you see? Or, do you think we’ll continue to lose ground with each new generation?

11 thoughts on “Millennials and the church: Is there hope for reaching them?”

  1. Heard something interesting from one of Tony Campolo’s podcast. He talks the growning number of “a-relgious” rather than athesist. Those who have grown up in athesist, agnostic or otherwise non-religious. It was a very interesting discussion.

  2. I’ll try to answer your questions, and then I’d appreciate it if you’d please answer one of mine.

    The ugliness and deceptiveness of the new media cause me to fear for the young. Sociologists of religion long ago described the role played by television in the falling away from the Christian churches of so many Baby Boomers. Today, a much more powerful, interactive multimedium—this one—vies for the attentions of this new generation.

    The Internet is an ideology all its own. It does not have an ideology; it is one. Its ideology is marked by the concerns of adolescent Americans—of all ages, and all nations! Sex, beard-pulling, unearned cynicism and a preening scientism hold pride of place on the Net.

    Because the new youth are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet; because it is immediate; because it is interactive; because it has the capacity to summon seemingly encyclopedic counsel; and above all because it is anonymous, the Internet is the natural first stop for any young person with deep religious perplexities. Bad move. Very bad move.

    Present company excepted, as it were, would you want a young Christian to look to this chattering profane Babel to explore why Mom and Dad and Pastor and TV Preacher are such self-righteous hypocrites? Because that’s the kind of religious question that teenagers often have, and cyberspace is full of answers to such questions. Silly, confused, sophomoric answers.

    Does it make sense to you to challenge a cadre of young Christians to undergo some basic training in apologetics and then weigh in on the Internet, God’s blog squad, to defend the faith on their own turf, and to deepen their own faith in doing so? Could this work? If so, how?

  3. A great book you might consider reading is “Unchristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.

    It paints a great picture and helps us to see some of what needs to change.

    In answer to your question – Absolutely there is Hope. and Yes Absolutely the “church” will need to change for them to see it.

    We must deal with the reality of the statement “God, I like your Jesus but I don’t like your peopel because they look nothing like your Jesus.”

    Have you ever wondered why the most holy person to ever walk the face of the earth was attracted to the most unholy and the most unholy were attracted to him?

    If the “church” is the embodiment of Christ – why are we attractive to the “holy” and why are the unholy not interested in us?

    Shouldn’t the body of Christ be so like Christ that we attract what he attracted?

    He loved to hang with sinners and sinners loved to hang with him.

  4. — Dee, thanks. Campolo is always good. I’ll try to find the podcast.
    — Hugh, interesting question. I’m not sure apologetics is the answer, maybe part of the answer. I think Millennials need the opportunity to discover what faith is about. I’m not sure what I mean by that, but much less direct than apologetics. Of course, we still need to be prepared to give an answer. As to the internet — it’s not all bad. We’re having this discussion on it, so it does have its uses as well as abuses.
    — Darrell, I do have unChristian, plus Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not The Church. Both very interesting reading. I agree, there is hope. But we in churches need to do something different, which I see from your site you guys are doing. I’ll be back to check it out in the future.

    Thanks to you all for your comments and let’s keep this conversation going. — Chuck

  5. Check Confessions of Seminarian Tagline: A Reformed Perspective On Ancient Truth From an Emerging Generation. It is a good example of Christians using the internet to reach the millenials. I found out about the blog from another blog I read De-Conversion a blog for athesist, agnostics, and skeptics.

    In 1998 Southwestern Baptist Seminary unveiled new curriculum for a new millennilum. The proposed new curriculum included a purposed course of study focusing on using new media (ie internet and digital media) in ministy. It is now 10 years later not only did the program never happen the communications program was canned because it was deemed unecessary for ministry.

    This fall LifeWay scheduled a conference for reaching Millennials. It was cancelled due to lack of interest. Less than 50 people signed up for the conference — 6 were from our church.

    As a Gen-Xer, at times I have problems relating to Millennials. Yes, they need instruction on Apolgetics but many need instruction on what it means to live as a Christian.

  6. I blogged about this a while back.

    As someone who is 25 and active in both the secular marketplace and the church, I think it’s pretty obvious that the mainstream church-as-usual model is having little impact on the mood and interests of the Internet-savvy hipster crowd. Until the Christian leadership out there realizes that Millennials expect the church to provide high-tech, self-directed information & community tools rather than just a weekly “come into our box and let us put on a show for you” experience, we’ll continue to see young people get bored out of their minds and go off to post videos on YouTube.

  7. TV and Rock ‘n’ Roll weren’t all bad either, but there went the Boomers. Right out the door.

  8. Yeah, Jared, indeed you were blogging about it. And perceptively and fluently too. Thanks. I’ve left some brief remarks on your string.

  9. I may not know how to reach all Millennials but we are able to reach one. Last night one of our college students made a public profession of faith. He was first invited to one of the college parties and started attending our church.

  10. Yes, it is great, Dee, and marvelous in my eyes too. And “however we go about connecting with Millennials”, let’s do it by going to them, and connecting with them where they are—and not by waiting for them to come to us, on Sundays.

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