Resources & Insights
Five Reasons Millennials Like Mainline Churches
One of the most consistent presumptions that I encounter when I work with congregations of all sizes is that Millennials don’t like mainline churches. What I believe is really behind these comments is a deep fear that our local churches don’t have anything to offer my generation.
The truth is that Millennials desire and are actively seeking intergenerational and welcoming communities of faith. I know firsthand through experiencing ministries across mainline traditions that our congregations have a lot to offer younger people.
Here are five reasons why we are distinctly called to minister with Millennials:
1. We Share Our Faith Authentically
The word authentic is a term that has been hijacked by our consumer culture to describe everything from guacamole to toilet bowel cleaners and everything in between. It is a term that has lost a lot of its impact as we have become immune to its true meaning.
Authenticity is something that forms within us when we are centered with God and with our neighbors. Authenticity requires vulnerability with God and with each other.
We millennials are a generation seeking authenticity. In other words, local churches should not pretend to be something that they aren’t. For example, If your church is small then don’t pretend to be big. Authentically embracing who you are as a community of faith will draw others to you.
2. We Are Rooted in Traditions
Please disregard everything you have been told that your traditional church has nothing to offer young people. God has equipped you to minister to us through the traditions you share and the relationships you offer.
In a world that changes every five minutes, my generation understands that for something to last hundreds of years it must be pretty special. Furthermore, traditional has gone from meaning “old” to meaning “mystical.”
As we Millennials grew up we met a young wizard named Harry Potter who escaped a locked closet under the stairs to come of age in a giant gothic castle where he was shaped by professors and mentors much older than he. For we Millennials this shaped our minds that gothic spaces are places of great intrigue and even opportunity.
The Harry Potter Effect as I call it gives hope to the mainline church as it illustrates why Millennials are seeking traditional expressions of faith.
Embrace and showcase your traditions through creative and meaningful worship. Invoke a sense of the sacred in worship through candles, hymns, and don’t try to overly modernize your worship space.
3. We Give Generously
The clearest conclusion about the Millennial generation is that we are generous in our giving to and support of impactful nonprofits. Mainline faith traditions are well positioned to engage Millennials because of our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all God’s children through missions and service.
The most generous generation in history is the perfect match for the most generous churches in the world.
This is one area of ministry where it is okay to not be humble. Be bold in your marketing about your commitment to missions and the impact your actions have made in the lives of others. Invite young people in your congregation to lead your church in its mission and service.
4. We Live Purposefully
In the words of a former campus ministry student of mine, our thoughtful theology gives us the opportunity to develop a distinct purpose for our lives. Our group had spent the day exploring Yosemite National Park only to discover it was too crowded to actually see much of anything. We took a back road away from the crowd and discovered an incredible mountain vista where we prayed.
This student shared that her experience with our mainline campus ministry was like that of her day at Yosemite. Her point was that most people who travel just go to the most famous spot of a park or destination to take a selfie and therefore miss the richness of what is off the main path. She believed that most students at her school were joining campus ministries that narrowed their perspectives instead of helping them discover their distinct purposes.
Make mentorship a core function of your ministry whether your church has one young adult to guide or hundreds. Mentorship leads to meaningful relationships and spiritual growth for the mentor and the mentee.
5. We Are Grace Based
Our theological emphasis on grace has always been especially inspiring and is more important than ever in this time of division. The grace God has for us and the grace we have for each other is something we are called to share widely.
Mainline traditions emphasis grace in distinct and transformative ways. Our belief in God’s commitment to perpetual love and forgiveness for us all is something truly distinct and comforting.
Practice a life of grace inside and outside the walls of your church. Seize this opportunity to model grace for our divided society and for my generation. Embracing grace will distinguish your church as a nurturing intergenerational community of faith.
This concept I developed is a helpful definition of the traits of thriving congregations.
Churches that thrive are offering impactful intergenerational ministry. They recognize we have as much to learn from the communities we serve as our communities have to learn from us.
I hope this is a helpful guide for our churches in envisioning God's dreams for us.
Kindness is the New Evangelism
So much of the narrative in our culture today can be summarized as just plain mean. From the way customers behave at the corner restaurant to the dialogue of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, there is no shortage of people being nasty.
As Christians at our best, we spend our energy decrying the cruelty of all those around us. At our worst, we fall victim to the same cruelty within the walls of our congregations. What if, instead, our response to society’s fixation on bad behavior was to model a different way?
We have traditionally thought of evangelism as an invitation to those outside the church to experience God’s love by joining us inside the church. Instead, what if simple acts of kindness to those beyond the walls of our churches became our new approach to evangelism?
The power of basic kindness
I did not realize the power of basic kindness until the students I shepherded in a campus ministry at the University of California, Irvine, came up with a distinct outreach plan. Instead of having a table lined up next to all the other church groups at the student involvement fair, we decided to offer random acts of kindness to students roaming the campus between classes.
Thanks to my spouse’s occupation at a grocery store, I was able to buy a whole bunch of chocolate chip cookies for a fair price. We wrapped each cookie in a napkin and included a small card inviting students to our weekly dinner. If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, stand in the middle of a busy college campus corridor with a whole bunch of cookies!
What we learned about kindness
We experienced three types of reactions from the students. One was instant glee that there were cookies and that they were free. The second was to politely decline the cookie initially but return within approximately 30 seconds to inquire if they really were free. The third was to completely refuse the cookie out of disbelief that we were giving away cookies without a gimmick.
These responses taught us something about kindness. Kindness is simple but challenging. Kindness is global. (So are cookies!) Kindness is Christian. Kindness is contagious. But some people will never believe that something desirable is free.
The varied reactions to our random acts of kindness created many opportunities for our student leaders to begin conversations with those who received cookies. Our kindness to everyone in our midst frequently made people ask us who we were before we could volunteer the information. We discovered that kindness not only attracted positive attention to our ministry, it also helped us stand out from the crowd within the Christian community on our campus.
How can kindness be a form of evangelism in your context?
The most effective uses of kindness are highly visible and interpersonal. Here are some starter ideas for a variety of contexts:
1. Facility-use evangelism
Your church likely hosts outside community gatherings, from Scouts to recovery support groups. Pick a couple weeks a year to leave snacks and other fun things in a visible spot in the meeting rooms of these community groups. Make sure to include bright and simple literature about your church that highlights your desire to welcome them into a deeper connection.
2. Sermon series
You can’t go wrong with a sermon series on kindness. This is a great way to get your congregation thinking about how they can live out their faith by simply being kind.
3. Define kindness as central to your mission and values
You can work with your congregational leadership to define kindness as a part of your congregation’s mission and core values. This will establish a distinct culture for your ministry.
4. Offer kindness to those in crisis
Watch your local news to see where kindness is urgently needed in your community. Perhaps the staff of a bank that was robbed would appreciate encouraging notes.
Of course, we are ending with cookies. If all else fails, pass out free cookies to strangers of any age. From neighborhood sporting events to senior centers to college campuses, you will make someone’s day meaningful and memorable. All those you reach will come to associate your church with kindness (and cookies). That’s evangelism at its sweetest.
Becoming a Church Without Walls
Read Becoming a Church Without Walls
on the Lewis Center for Church Leadership website.
(from April 2020 when the Covid Pandemic so quickly changed the Church)
For my whole life, I have dreamed about a church without walls. Well here we are! Most churches sadly cannot meet within their buildings now. Yet, God is calling us to offer meaningful ministry in this moment.
The spirit and love of God is not locked behind the doors of the buildings we’ve closed for the safety and well-being of others. The spirit of God is with us as we become a church without walls.
One of the best ways to respond to these trying times is to take this opportunity to advance a new way of being church. This time of forced reliance on digital connections is an incredible opportunity to reach those reluctant to visit a church in person because of past experiences or hurts and to reach the many people searching for spiritual support and direction in this crisis.
How can you be a church without walls for those previously connected with your in-person ministry and for those you will met for the first time along this journey? Here are some ideas.
1. Intergenerational discipleship and faith formation
The church is called to be the space where people of different generations mix at a time when it doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere else. This distinct calling doesn’t end because of our current limitations. It grows. At this moment, intergenerational ministry is more important than ever. For inspiration, consider the many young people actively caring for the seniors they love in this time of crisis, providing them needed items and making sure they stay at home.
There is so much we can do to connect our intergenerational church families and communities. In addition to book and Bible studies, you can offer fun adventures in Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts with the shared screen features. Google has 3D tours of many of the world’s greatest sights and museums as well as National Parks. Think of it as a digital intergenerational road trip for church families. This is also a great opportunity for youth and young adults to offer guidance to seniors on how to utilize all these communication tools that are so vital for all of us to prevent social isolation.
2. Prayer check-ins
In addition to weekly online worship, offer an interactive videocall for sharing prayer concerns. This is an opportunity to build connections and share uplifting devotionals. How can you invite those who desire spiritual community in this moment but have not been part of your church in the past? Post the links to these prayer times to Facebook and your church website as well as emailing them to current members.
For those who lead worship, hosting worship from our homes is a great opportunity to share more of ourselves. Find a corner of your home that has meaningful pictures and items that you can use as illustrations in your message and use this space as your studio. And don’t limit your use of livestream just to worship. The organist at one church I work with is offering wonderful concerts from the church during the week. Another church is offering digital Sunday School. We all have gifts to share with others during these difficult times.
If your church has a livestream system in place in your sanctuary, you might consider sharing your space and technology with neighboring churches struggling to stay connected. This may be an opportunity to share worship with congregations of other traditions and faiths who need tools to stay connected.
4. Walking devotionals
In this time of social distancing, outdoor activities which keep people at an appropriate distance are encouraged. If you are like me, you are probably wandering around cul-de-sacs and side streets. Being in nature is good for our souls. So, this is a wonderful opportunity to put together a simple set of prayers for your congregation to have with them on their walks. Create a simple liturgy that guides walkers in prayer for their neighbors, lifting up the distinct needs of each household they pass. Perhaps these prayer walks will open our eyes to safe ways to help our neighbors during this pandemic.
5. Social media
This is an opportunity to reclaim social media as a tool of loving connection in a time of profound isolation. Once considered an optional space for sharing ideas and experiences, social media is now the dominant way to stay connected. We can’t surrender this important forum to despair and polarization. This is a great time to encourage your congregation to share all the livestreams and posts from your church with their larger social media networks to reach others in need of connection and encouragement.
My husband is a grocery store manager. When we sat down to dinner the other night, we were humbled to realize that his and my work had both changed rapidly while also becoming all the more important.
The spirit and love of God is not locked behind the doors of the buildings we’ve closed for the safety and well-being of others. The spirit of God is with us as we become a church without walls seeking to be the light of Christ in the world in a new way.