5 Reasons There Are No Millennials in Your Church

by Chris Martin May 4, 2015

As fewer and fewer Millennials (or maybe just white Millennials) attend a local church with regularity, pastors frantically read books and blogs about how to keep young people in the pews. Few pastors and churches are attracting Millennials in droves, and most pastors are simply frustrated by the fact that they can’t seem to get young people to walk through the doors, take off their coats, and stay a while.

I’m not a pastor. I’m not a missiologist. There are probably plenty of people reading this blog post that are a whole lot smarter than me and more qualified to write regularly about reaching people and getting people in church. I’m not an expert, but based on my conversations and interactions with a number of my peers, I’ve gathered a general idea for what keeps young people from the church (outside of the whole homosexuality debate and other similar issues).

Here are five (of many) reasons why there may be no Millennials in your church:

1. There are no Millennials in your leadership.

I’m not saying you need a 23-year-old senior pastor, but if you hope to attract young people to your church, you’ve got to pay attention to who is in your leadership and who the church thinks it is being led by. This same principle applies to pursuing a multiethnic church. You can’t expect your church to be diverse if your leadership is made up of a bunch of 40-something white men. Diversifying leadership (both generationally and ethnically) goes a long way toward reaching a more diverse group of people.

Your church demographic is going to reflect your leadership demographic. If your church leaders never grab someone from younger generations to help lead, your church will die with its leaders.

2. You reject the idea of contextualization.

If you aren’t respecting the context and culture in which your 20-somethings live, don’t be confused when you don’t reach them.

I know the old “contextualization” conversation has been a controversy forever. Ed Stetzer published a good piece recently on contextualization that I think is helpful when it comes to this discussion.

Here’s the deal: If you sing obscure hymns in your three-piece suit on Sunday morning and bemoan the idea of contextualization, you’re actually missing the point, because you’re actually contextualizing. You're contextualiztin just as much as the guy who wears Vans and hangs out at the skatepark; you’re just contextualizing to another era.

Everyone celebrates contextualization when a missionary in China does it, but for some reason, people have concerns when people do it here in our own communities.

Stetzer writes:

Contextualization, then, is simply about sharing the Gospel well. Those who deliberately practice the process of contextualization desire to have an element of intentionality in their Gospel sharing; they desire to share the Gospel in way that is most relevant to the culture they are addressing.

If you aren’t respecting the context and culture in which your 20-somethings live, don’t be confused when you don’t reach them.

3. “Sunday School” literally feels like school on Sundays.

This seems sort of common sensical, but unfortunately, I think this may be one of the greatest hindrances to Millennial involvement in local churches. If the community in your church feels forced and sterile, your young people are going to do everything they can to find friendship elsewhere.

Make the extra effort to see Sunday mornings as small group, community time rather than “school.” No one likes school except nerds like me.

Sit in circles, not rows. Love each other. Be the family the church is called to be, and do that on Sunday mornings.

4. Your idea of a “social media presence” is finally getting that Myspace page finished.

Thom Rainer is right: "your church needs a social media director, even if the person is volunteering." Why? Because you’re more likely to reach young people if you participate in their culture more than you criticize it.

Why does social media matter? Here’s why: Social media is a marketplace. A town center. A shopping mall. Social media is a world in-and-of itself that is simply connected to the physical world.

If your church isn’t in the social media world, you’re absent from one of the most populated areas of our existence today. Period.

Stop whining about how people spend so much time on Twitter and Facebook, and get there.

5. Your political preferences are clearer than your gospel proclamations.

This is most important. The general principle is this: if your pulpit is a political platform more than it is a gospel platform, you’re not only losing Millennials, you’re missing the point of church!

Advocating for the unborn, religious liberty, and the sanctity of marriage are all good, important things. I’m not opposed to Christian activity in the political sphere at all, but if your political preferences are clearer than your teachings on the nature and character of God, you need course correction.

The other part of this you must consider is that many Millennials aren’t going to line up neatly with the current trajectory of the Religious Right/Moral Majority, and whether that’s right or wrong is kind of beside the point. We should learn to be able to love and lead the Democrat Millennial as well as we do the Republican Boomer. This is easy when you unite around the Cross.

Keeping Christ the center of our sermons allows us to unite despite our differences.

Keeping Christ the center of our sermons isn’t just some kitschy schtick. Keeping Christ the center of our sermons allows us to unite despite our differences.

In the end, reaching Millennials is about understanding them and being willing to participate in their world. It takes conscious decisions; you’re not going to accidentally attract them (unless you’re a Millennial pastor). It’s worth the work.