There is a lot of handwringing in the church over millennials: a generation that started being born in roughly 1982 and then for the next twenty years. Why are we losing the millennials? What can we do to get the millennials back? What style of worship is going to attract the millennials?
Tons of digital and actual ink has been spilled over this issue. Not a week goes by that I don't see an article where someone tries to tackle this problem and I'm apparently joining the ever-growing throng. I don't have many credentials of which to speak. I am a millennial (one of the earlier ones) and I have spent my entire life in the church. So there is that.
The main issue that I have observed in the myriad of articles, chapters in books that I read in seminary, and whatnot is that most of these commenters view millennials as this monolithic block of people. We are a prize to be claimed or lost. Frankly, that kind of discussion is a bit dehumanizing. So if your church has a strategy to "win over the millennials," most of us are going to sniff that out from a mile away and probably not join up.
While it is true that we, as a generation, have tendencies, viewpoints, and behaviors shared by the majority, we see ourselves primarily as individuals. We like to believe that each of us has a unique voice. That is why social network has exploded the way that it has. We are looking for ways to express ourselves on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and whatever else. Even those of us who crave to fit in do not want to be seen as this homogenous block.
I have read numerous books in seminary in which it was painfully obvious that the author was intimately familiar with statistics about millennials, but not flesh and blood people filled with nuance and contradiction. Stats are good with coming up with general ideas, but churches are not meant to reach general ideas. We are to reach out to hearts, minds, and souls of individuals.
Some of us are darting towards higher church, some like more modern worship, some (like me) yearn for some beautiful combination of the two. And that's just worship. Many of us are more concerned with social justice, the healthiness of the community, whether the church is a place that has room for questions, and a sincerity of faith. If you think that engineering a worship experience is the total key in bringing us through your doors, then that sends the message that you think we're kind of shallow. We need vibrant, genuine communities more than we want flashing lights and cool music.
So if churches are serious about wanting to extend welcome to millennials, my encouragement is this: get to know the millennials in your community. Some are in your church. Many are outside. Listen to what we have to say. Get to know them, their thoughts, their hopes, and their dreams.
After listening, bring those you can in to figure out how to organically implement these ideas. Changes won't and shouldn't happen overnight. And most millennials do not expect that. We just want to know our actual voices are heard.
Again, we're individuals. So another millennial might say something completely different. But those are my two cents. We are not something to be won or lost. We are individual men and women and, I believe most of us, are just looking for true community.