I once had an older peer tell me that all Millennials want in a church is entertainment. As a Millennial, I was a bit taken aback by this statement and spent a good deal of time processing it. This was not the first time I had heard this from an older peer, and I had to ask myself: Is all I want is entertainment? Is that all I set myself on when I go to church each Sunday? For myself, the answer was no; but then I had to relay the question to my generation as a whole.
As a general note, I will say that there are likely those in the Millennial generation who seek entertainment, or the “good stuff, not the hard stuff” when it comes to church culture. However, I also want to point out that there have been plenty of churches who focus on entertainment and solely on “the good stuff” before the Millennial generation began. So while there are likely those in my generation who seek that in a church, it is also likely that there are groups of people who have sought that in other generations for quite some time.
So why does the Millennial group get this much flack from churches today? Personally, I think it is a combination of misunderstood actions and assumptions. It’s true, we go check out a church and then don’t go back if it doesn’t meet our needs; however, when someone doesn’t come back, I think many church leaders and/or community members have assumed that those who are younger and do not stay is because they aren’t being entertained enough due to the association of how much my generation grew up during the tech, cell phone, and video game boom – which has lead to the belief that many of us consistently need or want something to do. Despite this, there are couple key factors that I believe church and community leaders aren’t seeing or asking about.
For one, there seems to be a different desire for what Millennials are seeking in the church. We don’t want to just settle in ANY community; we’re not necessarily looking for a church home that matches the church affiliation we grew up in; and there isn’t a desire to agree with everything that a pastor preaches on. The big thing that matters for us is authenticity. This has to be found in both the church community and the church leaders.
For some, this requires the building of a deeper relationship but what we want to see is how real are you going to be with us on the forefront. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but if we step into a church that only believes Millennials will want entertainment, are you going to be willing to try and build a relationship with us? Most churches I’ve gone to are very friendly when I first walk in, but there’s a lot more to that initial layer of hello’s and how are you’s. In fact, it can be pretty obvious how you really feel based on your body language or how you choose to phrase things. When you act one way and feel another, it can be obvious and therefore we don’t want to stay because it’s clear we make you uncomfortable.
On top of this, there is a bigger desire to discuss deeper topics to further spiritual growth. I’ll be honest, part of the reason I get tired of church sometimes is because I feel like I’m hearing the same stories or the same sermons over and over again; or I feel like the sermon is getting ready to hit this big point where I’m going to be like “Oh snap, I really need to get myself together”, and then it doesn’t. Yes, it’s great to have reminders (as humans, we often need it), and I certainly don’t expect there to be a deep discussion of faith every Sunday, but if I’m leaving most Sundays without something of substance to chew on, what do I do? Continue focusing on that devotional that’s so easily applicable every day of every year? Sorry, that doesn’t do a lot for me either. Some of you may say: “But Whitney, that’s what Bible studies are for!” Sure, Bible studies can be great to really delve into that deeper focus I’m talking about, but churches shouldn’t be relying solely on Bible studies to do that for their community either.
Lastly, there appears to be a fear in a lot of churches. It’s the normal fear of gaining new church leaders, as it can often cause a major shift in a church. Plenty of churches now have leaders that are of older and wiser age, and lately, I’ve been noticing the difficulty of young leaders coming into the picture. There are so many teens, and so many that are just out of college, who have a desire to take part in the church in a leadership format and certainly have the potential to do so, but are then shut down. Some of the arguments I hear are:
- “Well, we just can’t pay them.”
- “We don’t think they’re ready for that kind of responsibility yet.”
- “Oh, they need to go and experience other churches first.”
- “They need to grow more spiritually first.”
So, hold up. You’re going to hold them back for the reasons above? One, most of us understand that we can’t be paid in a church setting. Secondly, if we need more experience or need more growth, then work with us on that – mentor us. Help us learn what we need to in order to become a good leader. We can understand if we’re not quite ready yet but don’t expect someone else to be the mentor because that “someone else” might not really be there. If this continues to be the mindset for church, the church will eventually fall out of existence because they were unable to continue the growth that is so necessary for any of us.
I leave you with a passage from Romans, as I hope you may keep it as reminder for yourself, whether you are young or old. We are all part of a community, and while we do function differently, we need to be able to work together.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more high than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these member do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the the others.”
-Romans 12:3-5 (NIV)