Reaching Millennials: Throw Out the Rule Book, Already!

Occasionally I will speak to a pastor or church leader who contacts Burlap who is completely and totally irritated and on the verge of becoming irate. Someone or a group of people (sometimes a leadership board or committee) in the church keeps telling them something to the effect, “We have to reach young people [millennials] if we want to be a thriving church again.” Just yesterday I spoke to an executive pastor of a medium size church in New Jersey who said, “Why can’t we just be a church of older people?  What’s wrong with that?  We aren’t going to throw away the rulebook and start over!”

I didn’t know there was a rulebook.  Ha!  I mean, for real, a rulebook?  Okay, I get what this guy was saying but if you have a rulebook that dictates how you “do” church I suppose you’ll always be irritated and on the verge of exploding as rulebooks can suggest there are no gray areas in life and ministry. 

Throw the rulebook out.  Do it.  Stop doing church the way it has always been done and begin a new way that attempts to be more than an affinity group.  

Here are 3 benefits to burying the rulebook on “how to do church:”

1 – You’ll find freedom in experimentation and attempted innovation.  You might even have a little fun along the way.  Rulebooks limit the imagination of your congregants.  Rulebooks keep your leadership framework top down and, therefore, make things feel old and tired.  With freedom in attempted innovation comes the ability to create and the ability to create evokes wonder and surprise.  

2 – You’ll find a renewed vision for new people, such as millennials.  When you toss the rulebook you have to find new ways and practices of faithfully building a community in the way of Jesus.  New or renewed visions transform what has become an institution into a new movement.  Movements bring winds to put the wind back in the sails again.  Wind back in the sails turns heads and warms hearts.  

3 – You’ll discover new things about the people in your community.   Throwing away the rulebook can help you learn things about people’s passion, interests and commitments that you didn’t know existed.  Empowering others through new challenges and opportunities can create a new wave of leadership development you didn’t even know existed.  

You should want to reach millennials not because your church is dying or no longer thriving.  You should want to reach millennials because they are people who need Jesus too.  With that you can’t stop caring for and reaching the older people, I get it.  However, throw away that rulebook that hinders your creativity for sharing the gospel and be fueled again by wonder and surprise.  Rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance not a rulebook.