How to take the first step in reaching millennials


I’ve never been especially athletic, but I started long-distance running in my 20’s. Initially, it was embarrassing. I couldn’t run more than half a mile without stopping and I had aches and pains in the strangest places. But I was depressed and a sucker for punishment, so day after day, week after week, month after month, I got my runs in. A half mile became a mile. One mile turned into two. And by the time I was in my mid-20’s, I ran a marathon: 26.2 miles.  

As a minister, my experience in reaching young adults has been nearly identical to training for a marathon. Think of it this way: most people are capable of reaching the next generation—just like most people are capable of running a marathon. But, like a marathon, most people can’t just run it without training. For the majority, it will take us some work. It will take practice. It will take getting your “runs” in.

If you are a church leader trying to reach millennials, you are training for a marathon. The statistics show that millennials are less interested in church then any previous generation (for a lot of good reasons, frankly), and that, combined with a number of other factors, makes reaching millennials a challenge.

But I love a challenge. And, hopefully, you do too.

For the purposes of this blog, let’s say you’re a small-to-medium size church looking for a ways to draw young adults into your community. So your “finish line” is likely to be a group of a few dozen millennials who are connected to each other and connected to other generations in your church—and growing in their faith. This, like a marathon, is a very do-able goal.

But what most churches do is start with a 15 mile run.

And you know what? You probably can’t run 15 miles (unless you’re ridiculously healthy). If you attempt this goal, you will fail. And that failure will lead to discouragement, doubt, and loss of energy.

What you need are small wins. Remember, a marathon is approximately 30,000 steps. In a row. But you don’t need 30,000 steps. You need to get off the couch.

So here are some ideas for easy wins!

1) Get coffee or dinner with a young adult or young adult couple, preferably every week.
You have millennials in your orbit. They’re the grandkids of people in your congregation, couples who got married in your congregation and then never came back, and youth group kids who grew up and stopped attending. Use your database if you have one. Send personal e-mails. Just meet up with people. And don’t have an agenda. Just get to know young adults in your community! If you can do this every week, in a year you will know 50+ young adults. You DO NOT need them all to attend your church. You need to get to know them.

2. Find a young adult “leader” and ask them to have informal gatherings for other young adults.
Happy hours. Pizza nights. Board games. It’s HARD to make friends in your 20’s and 30’s, and many young adults are more concerned with relationships than Sunday morning sermons. The first Christians gathered in homes and ate together. Help the young adults in your community do the same. It’s a low-stakes way of inviting them into the community. Heck, this doesn’t even have to be run by a millennial. If a couple in your community has a heart for young adults, have them host a social event!

3. Have an event for their kids.
We’re at a stage now where millennials are having children. Like previous generations, a lot of them are looking for a place to help give structure to the lives of their kids. Like #2, being a young family is lonely. So serve their kids! Help them connect. Have an art night, a date night, an advice night. If you are helping their kids, you are helping them.

These are just three options that are baby steps to inviting young adults into your community. The key here is small achievable steps that build on one another. Whatever you do, do not start a program right away. Don’t formalize something until you have a core group of people who share your vision of reaching the next generation. Jesus gathered crowds, but his early ministry was focused more on finding the right people to build his team of disciples. That’s when the movement truly began!

There’s a marathon ahead of you, but it’s really just a lot of little steps.