Recent Comments

What Millennials Want

There has been much talk on the internet about what millennials want in churches. The Christian pollster George Barna has done a recent study that is very interesting. A Google search will also reveal many more articles and opinions on this issue.

I think this is a good question to ask, as this generation is likely now the most unchurched generation in American history. Barna notes that 48% of young people are now “Post-christian”. I had a former student whose church realized they were missing this generation, and were looking to make some changes in their church to help address the issue. He wanted to know to know if I had any suggestions on reaching millennials. So, I asked several worship classes about what their generation was looking for in their churches. I boiled their answers down to three.

Millennials want to be connected. Interpersonal relationships are very important to them, even if it is via technology. Futurist Leonard Sweet suggests that the post-modern church should strive to be connected to each other. This is one of the core values that he recommends for worship in churches with his acronym EPIC: experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connected. This generation wants to be in community with one another. A student writes in his paper “millennials desire a genuine encounter with God through community.”

Millennials have a great deal of sensitivity to what is phony. While many in this generation have a higher degree of hope in the future than the previous generation, they can be somewhat cynical about people they perceive to be inauthentic. One of my students recently wrote this in a paper:

Originally the trend in worship was, “Go contemporary or die.” However, this has led to fluffy, consumeristic, shallow, production based worship services that have left a sour taste in the mouths of millennial…. In fact, “genuine” could be the theme for millennial worship.

One of the things that I see excites students who are considering ministry at a church is when they see a church that is intentional. Clear mission statements and churches who are known by their purpose. This generation is hopeful, and wants to support causes who they feel are really making a difference in the world. Frank Powell notes:

Millennials will not invest in a church that refuses to dream big because they see example after example of an infinitely powerful God doing amazing things through normal people. You might think they are naive, but most Millennials don’t believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to start non-profits, plant churches, or lead businesses.


The biggest mistake churches make in reaching millennials is by trying too hard to be cool and trying to be something that they are not. While I don’t agree with all of what she says, Rachel Held Evans writes an interesting article in the Washington Post about this topic.

Churches should make note of the observations above and try to implement them in sincere and genuine ways. Maria Martin summarizes these well:

Yes, there are things that you can to do make us want to join you. You can be authentic. You can be welcoming. You can challenge us to think deeper and ask hard questions. You can empower us to lead. You can encourage healthy community. You can try to relate to us as individuals. You can genuinely value us.

So, let’s stop trying to save Christianity by marketing to millennials by rebranding the church and start loving people as Christ loved and being the church to one another.

photo Brett Jordan/Flickr

21 comments to What Millennials Want

  • Caleb Owens

    I agree with the categories presented, especially the desire to have authenticity. When A church seems “showy” or performance-based, it becomes a place where I don’t want to frequent. I personally wish to be genuine in my worship, so that is a must for a church. Community is an important aspect as well, as many people today are very social-minded. A strong network of believers is an advantage in the life of a Christian.

  • Michael Hoskinson

    For me, I love the idea of intentionality. When I was looking at different churches in the area at the beginning of the semester, I could tell what their focus was and what they valued in one visit. It is easy to see the differences between a church that is just worried about their members and a church that is focused on spreading the gospel. Often I think churches just want to look cool but are not actually doing anything for the kingdom. If the millennials are true believers, they will be able to spot out the intentions of a church.

  • Laura Grace Isaacs

    As a millennial, I see all of these in the churches that millennial tend to choose. I see a strong focus, however toward community. If millennials don’t feel that they are connected to a strong community of believers, we tend to distance ourselves from the church. I’ve seen many in my generation reject the church simply because “they didn’t feel like they belonged”.

  • Rachel E Williams

    I think it’s interesting to see the difference between our generation and the one before ours, and I’m starting to see that more and more often. There si a great difference between my parents and I in style and philosophies of worship, so I understand why churches feel that they need to be different or change just to be open to a wider audience. The danger in trying to attract a specific generation/crowd is that you could drive away the generation that isn’t being specifically reached, and I think that’s one thing worship leaders and pastors need to be aware of and careful about.

    All three of these points are correct though, and making sure a church is strong in these areas is important to being able to connect and reach out to the entire church body.

  • Kristen Henck

    Wow this is awesome! There is so much truth in what has been said. Churches need to stop trying to be cool and on the edge of the next big thing, but rather they need to go back to the basics…the very very early basics that Jesus taught in His ministry. Talking to people. Showing people that they matter and that God does have a big plan for their lives, and that they are not just sliding under the radar. I love that statement, “‘Genuine’ could be the theme for millennial worship.” Because honestly I think that is really what matters and what they are looking for in a church.

  • Wren June

    I can personally attest to these. At my church back home, there is no push to satisfy any of these categories, and it breaks my heart. To be intentional about sharing the love and gospel of Christ is vital to fulfilling our ultimate calling of being disciples. To be personal and relational within the church is something that is also needed because we are supposed to be the body of Christ. If one part of the body is disconnected from another part of the body, how then can we function as a successful church? Unfortunately, churches are losing their integrity of authenticity more and more and the idea that we just want to “see our numbers rise” is not a good argument to make. Seeing our numbers rise wont save lost souls. Reaching out to the community and serving them without the expectation of attendance? That’s true service. Thank you, this was definitely something to think about.

  • Melissa Martin

    I think the last few lines of this post summarize what it all boils down to. It is certainly important to ensure that our worship services are not driving away the lost and leaving them with the wrong idea. However, church is not about a marketing strategy, and evangelism is not about developing the perfect formula for pleasing the intended audience. Our focus should be on Christ and His example to us. He loved others genuinely, practiced humility, and discipled those around Him relentlessly. This should be our goal in ministry, and should underline everything we do – whether that be creating programs that reach out to a particular generation or planning the details of a worship service.

  • Alexandria Pavlantos

    Honestly, I love the idea of the church being pushed to become more genuine and authentic. You’re right when you say that the millennials see and recognize when something fake is presented to them. I agree with what Laura Grace said- Millennials want to be connected to others, and church is ideal for that! The church just needs to communicate that better and present themselves in a way that isn’t trying so hard. People recognize when other people genuinely care and want to help.

  • Brooke Griffith

    It is interesting how many churches are trying to cater to this generation, but completely missing it. Churches are trying to reach millennials by appealing to the younger generation. It is not worth it to try and put a show on for people. It is true that this generation wants community, authenticity and intentionality. As I have been looking for a church, I have specifically been looking for the top three points listed above. From one visit, it is very easy to see the focus behind the church. I love when the church is proclaiming the truths found in scripture, being authentic, being bold, and loving others. It is all about the gospel of Jesus. This generation wants authenticity, when the church is seeking to glorify Christ in everything.

  • Alek O'Connor

    I definitely agree with these conclusions. I think that people in my generation want to be part of something bigger than themselves so when a church is doing nothing to reach out and be proactive about evangelism it will make them not want to attend. I also definitely agree that we desire authenticity. I frequently find myself getting distracted by worship if it is too showy or too worried about appearance. It is just and unnecessary thing for churches to deal with. If someone is going to be in the spotlight for a church then they should be completely sincere about loving God and loving people, they shouldn’t be worried if they look hipster enough while they are on stage.

  • Macy McClain

    This post is spot on! I especially love the part about being intentional. About a year ago, there was a keynote speaker that spoke of statistics of people who don’t have the Gospel at the 2014 Missions Conference. I wasn’t able to listen to the whole message, but it really made me think about what’s happening in our society today. I recently had a conversation with my dad about different worship service styles. My father was very clear in the fact that he wanted ONLY hymns. I did not persuade him, because he’s older and my relationship probably would’ve been tarnished beyond repair. There are so many churches today that have other things to distract from worship services. Coffee shops, movie theaters, these are a few things in mega-churches. Every time anyone walks in to my home church, they are greeted with a smile and the love of Christ that should be present in ALL churches. We all need to stand as churches for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

  • Mikayla Bush

    I wholeheartedly agree with these conclusions, especially the desire for authenticity. Personally, it has been the times of open communication and conversations where people were real about their struggles that have had the greatest impact on me and helped me grow spiritually and be able to worship God fully as I am reminded of just how much I need him in light of my own sin. I think the recent trend is for leaders to feel as though they have to mask any hurt or struggle and be at the top of their game every time they step on the platform. For millennials like myself, this is a huge turn off and we are able to see right through the facade. It can be very distracting and a huge hindrance to our worship and the worship of those around us when we are constantly trying to remain happy and be cool. Personally, I value someone who is real and can do great ministry through the hard times as well as the good times and hope to instill this type of openness in my own ministry teams.

  • Erin Mathews

    I most definitely agree with these statements. I definitely see my desire for authenticity within a church. Being able to be authentic and transparent with those you worship alongside is extremely good for community building. I certainly appreciate those who feel that they can be real with me, and I feel more comfortable around those who I can be real with. I think that authenticity in worship is extremely important. I definitely feel less prone to worship when I feel that the worship leader is not being real for me, or that they are simply putting on a show.

  • Joe Bennett

    One of the things that scares me most about “genuine” worship is that I think some of my millennial friends and I expect everyone’s genuine to look exactly the same as ours. Therefore to us, genuine worship may means either that everyone should show up wearing khakis or slacks (if that’s what they genuinely wear), or everyone should show up wearing boots, fleeces, scraggly beards, and comfortable tight jeans. We all too often look to ourselves as the summum bonum of what intentional, authentic community looks like (which unintentionally creates factions within the church) rather than looking to Jesus together as our head and example of intentional, authentic community.

  • Josiah Kenniv

    These conclusions are very well thought out and I agree with most all of them. I think the millennial generation has always been longing for authenticity. When we as Christians are authentic people we draw this generation in to the church because we are real, and striving to be more like Jesus who was the most authentic of us all.

  • Kevin Maillefer

    I think this is an extremely good summary of what the millennial generation desires in a church. However, I would also say that it may not just be the millennial’s. I think authenticity, community, and intentionality is something that we all desire. What changes is the way in which we fulfill that longing. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a church model is wrong, because if you can’t find personal community, authenticity, and intentionally with God, how will you find it in a church? And, a lack of genuine faith beyond emotions and experiences may be the largest struggle facing the millennial generation.

  • Brittney Mitchell

    So when i first glanced at this article my initial thoughts were, “Oh here we go with the flannels and glasses talk”. What i realized as i read this is how much this community, authenticity, and intentionality is what i thought church has always been. That was when i realized i am forever branded a millennial. So now i am wondering why churches are feeling the need to try so hard to bring in younger people. Is there a better way to do that that doesn’t involve posing? What is the inspiration for this post? How can we a millennial believers be a part of this process?

    • Roger

      Brittney-great questions. Here are some answers:

      What is the inspiration for the post? It was a reaction to the attempts of the church to reach millennials with the “if we build it and make it ‘hip’ enough, they will come” mentality. While I don’t doubt that many of these attempts are sincere, they are flawed in that they are viewed by your generation as “posing”, which is trying to be something that they are not.

      Is there a better way other than posing…? Yes, I think being authentic is the key. Much of my generation is ok with plastic Christianity. Yours is not, and I think that is healthy. Let’s get real. Let’s be the church: warts, wrinkles and all. And yes, we need you millennials to be a part of the process. We need you to not give up on the church, but be a part of reformation of the church into what it was intended to be in the first place before we sanitized and Americanized it. You are right, the church has supposed to have been about community, authenticity, and intentionality. You guys can help us return to where we need to be!

  • Oh wow. So so true. It is a sad fact when we lose sight of the goal and pursue creativity over the Creator Himself.

    I really love particularly your thoughts about authenticity and being genuine. Really great.

  • Josiah Smith

    I couldn’t help but ask myself why “millennials” have such a craving desire for your three points mentioned above. You bring to light a glaring disconnect between two generations that, in my opinion, is separated by one key distinction: legalism. I see legalism as the root of all three observations concerning what “millennials” look for in a church. In reality, to want a sense of community, authenticity, or even intentionality is to want the very characteristics a healthy church should be exhibiting in the first place. Millennial hearts have grown weary of oppressive legalism, and have turned away from resulting unauthentic efforts to reach the “cool.” The solution? Put aside the temptation to “keep up with the times,” and replace it with the desire to live authentic lives/churches the way Christ intended.