Remember the scene in the classic Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone, where a young Wart pulls the sword out of the stone and becomes the rightful king of England? The light shines from heaven. A solemn song comes out of the sky.
It’s a powerful moment.
It’s about to be recreated next year, though with surely less fanfare.
But we’ll soon have a new king of the generational hill.
It has been nearly 30 years since Neil Strauss and William Howe first coined the term Millennial in public discourse through their book Generations.
It seems churches have been fascinated with the generation ever since. In the 1990s, we redefined children’s ministry to engage them (and draw in their parents). Then we rewrote the book on youth ministry. When they hit young adulthood, we started tweaking our worship services.
A coworker of mine often asks this question, “What’s the difference between cows and Millennials? You can’t milk a cow this long.”
All Hail the New King
But in all seriousness, next year will mark a new milestone in our journey with Millennials. According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers for the first time in 2019.
That’s big news.
For all of our task forces to study reaching them, books created about engaging them, and time spent pouring over demographic trends during the last three decades, Millennials have always been the soon-to-be kings of the hill, the emerging generation we need to reach.
But Millennials are emerging no longer. They’re here.
Starting next year, Millennials will be the dominant generation numerically throughout the country. (By the way, you’ve likely noticed that history skipped one generation. Gen Xers, born from 1965 to 1981, will likely pass on without ever being the largest American generation.)
With size will come even more influence. Millennials have already been in the process of redefining the urban experience, exploding the housing market, and changing politics. All of this is just the beginning of what the next few decades will bring.
Millennials Are Changing Everything
And, let’s not forget, Millennials are changing—and have changed—how churches engage their communities as well. In the three decades since we discovered this generation, we’ve made countless adjustments to our ministries in the name of reaching them more effectively.
But let’s face it: We still have work to do. No, we don’t have to “cater to Millennials.” They don’t want that. You don’t want that. To woo Millennials, we don’t have to become the church with the loudest music, the funniest pastor, or the best smoke machine.
Millennials can do without all of that.
How Churches Can Better Engage Millennials
But as Millennials become the dominant numerical generation in our communities, we need to make sure we’re putting in the effort to speak their language.
Here are four ways churches can do that.
1. Look for ways to engage Millennials in leadership of our churches
The oldest Millennials turn 36 this year. Most churches have someone in leadership that’s a Millennial. If you don’t, do something about it. You have a responsibility to disciple the next generation of church leaders. Involving Millennials in your church’s leadership discussion will undoubtedly change the conversation and help your church understand blind spots. Make sure you’re involving Millennials in all aspects of your church’s leadership—not just your youth ministry. You won’t find an area of your church where Millennials can’t make a significant leadership contribution.
2. Let’s go “all in” on mobile
To better engage Millennials, you have to go where they are. And the vast majority of them are spending more time on their mobile devices than older generations. Almost 98 percent of them have smartphones. A quarter of Millennials look at their phones a hundred times a day!
Increasingly, if you’re not providing a high-quality mobile experience, you’ll miss opportunities to engage Millennials in what your church is doing. Unlike older generations that have a bit more patience with mobile apps, Millennials (particularly younger ones) have lived their entire adult lives with companies like Amazon and eBay providing top-notch mobile experiences. They’re far more likely to dismiss bad technology and move on to organizations that better understand the platform.
3. Serve our communities with abandon
Millennials aren’t content to just give money and let the church serve the community for them. “Millennials seek opportunities to engage in meaningful work with people they love,” William Vanderbloemen writes. Millennials aren’t looking to join a social club when they unite themselves with your church. They want to impact the world around them. Before they want to get involved in your church, many want to see your church as a vehicle for them to make a difference in the broader world. But again, they don’t just want to get involved through their checkbooks. They want to put their sweat into it as well.
4. Build bridges between generations
Only 63 percent of Millennials had a mother and father married to one another for most of their childhood. That’s far less than other recent generations. They’re more likely than other generations to crave intergenerational relationships. Millennials don’t want a one-generational church. They’re looking for ways to bridge generational gaps.
Our churches should be involved in ways to help. Purposely put young and old alike in church groups together. Encourage ministries that partner older married couples with younger ones. Enlist the support of younger attendees to mentor older ones on using technology in the church.
Honestly, these aren’t really “Millennial” suggestions at all. Every generation in our communities will benefit from involving younger leaders, providing more effective mobile tools, increasing our commitment to service, and building intergenerational bridges.
So let’s dive in. The Millennials are waiting.