This sponsored post was prepared by Jon Nielson, author of Faith That Lasts.
That generation we call the “millennials” – individuals born between 1980 and 2000 – has been the subject of millions of words written in the recent years…particularly words written by Christians. How do we reach this generation? What are they looking for in churches? Why do so many of them, even those raised in Christian homes, seem disillusioned and frustrated with the local church? My newest book with CLC Publications, Faith That Lasts, speaks on this matter, pulling from the perspective of students who have maintained their faith. Let me throw a few of my recent observations about ministry to millennials into the mix:
- They really do care about content more than style.
My peers, and the college students and young adults I pastor and lead, are much less concerned with the musical style, fashion sense, and perceived “coolness” of any particular local church than they are with the content of the preaching and the seriousness and warmth of the worship and community. Thom Rainer, for example, makes a more narrow, yet similar, point about millennials and their preferences regarding church music styles in this little article: http://thomrainer.com/2014/04/worship-style-attracts-millennials/. Content, now more than ever for Christian young adults, really does trump style.
- They are activists – in good ways and potentially dangerous ways.
Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in California, calls this characteristic of the millennial generation the “Bono Factor.” In other words, it’s the simple fact that they are always asking, of any given church, ministry, or individual Christian: “What are you doing to help somebody else?” It’s this trait that can be dangerous; many well-intentioned young people have fled orthodox and theologically faithful churches that they perceive as stale and inward-focused to join churches that focus less on biblical teaching, but much more on serving the community.
- They have a “fake” detector that works within seconds.
There’s a word that our students use seemingly constantly: “authenticity.” If I’ve learned one thing in a few years of ministry to college students and young adults, it’s that they actually have a lot of grace and patience toward their spiritual leaders. But, the minute they sniff out a lack of authenticity…you’re toast. Any sense that you are posturing to gain approval from them, trying to be something you’re not, or putting forward a message about Jesus that you are not living out yourself, and the “fake” label is placed (and not easily erased). The best way you can minister the gospel of Jesus Christ to millennials is to passionately love Jesus and seek him yourself.
- They can evade generalizations…just like any other generational grouping!
We do face a danger, of course, when we attempt to group all individuals in a certain generation together using sweeping generalizations. That danger is that we miss, first, the diversity of every generation; people are vastly different, and each person is unique. The bigger danger of generational generalizations, though, is not only missing the diversity of people, but missing the unchanging and consistent nature of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ – from generation to generation. We can change our methods; we must always trust the power of the gospel.
In the final chapters of Faith That Lasts, I spend some time thinking through how we as the church can thoughtfully, winsomely, and faithfully minister the gospel to the millennial generation. My prayer is that this would be one more helpful step as we participate in the great gospel work to which we have been called, for the glory of our Lord and Savior.