Step 1--Connect Them to God
The United Methodist Church would love to see their pastors and leaders reach Millennials. Tricia Brown names a few ways that churches can connect: embrace the churchiness of church, use technology appropriately, help Millennials grow spiritually, and meet the felt need for community.
For United Methodists these directives are helpful. Depending on where the breaks are made demographically, I’m among the youngest Gen Xers or the oldest Millennials. I have worked with Millennials and Gen Zers for years. I have listened to Mainline Christians in older generations anxiously express their concerns over the disconnects they have witnessed between their congregation and emerging generations. These leaders want to see young people take part in the life of the church. They are willing to brew as much coffee, light as many candles, and set up as many prayer stations as it takes.
But attempts to be cool often miss. Tricia Brown is right to point to the polling data that indicates Millennials actually enjoy the older sanctuaries, with their high arches, vaulted ceilings, stained glass, or quiet simplicity. They are attracted to symbols like the cross and the baptismal font, finding them instructive and evocative, compelling them further into the mystery of faith. Traditional liturgies also provide a kind of comfort that comes from order and well-worn words, a kind of relief from a world of chaos and careless tweeting. The distinctiveness of a church as church can connect by virtue of the naturalness that makes it strange.
Brown also explains that technology helps churches to connect with Millennials, who are digital natives and interact with multiple screens each day. But Brown warns that adopting technology must be done well, and social media tools must be used within the parameters of accepted conventions. Simply stated, if you handle technology with ineptitude or clumsiness, Millennials will expect your church to do the same with their souls.
The last two pieces of advice, based on spiritual growth and community, make perfect sense. Millennials are pragmatic and utilitarian; they want a life that works. Therefore, you must help them to see how the wisdom of Christianity is not only true in the abstract, but in the concrete, directing them to discover how walking with God as a friend will help them become a new creation, a blessing, like Christ. Millennials also intuit they need to do this with others of like mind. They want to be known, as well as to know. Churches provide belonging and common purpose. Millennials don’t only want to know about God, they want to be part of God’s people who are doing God’s work.
Early in her column, Brown writes:
Since you, as church pastors and leaders, know the value that church can and should play in our society as well as our personal lives, it’s imperative to ask, “How can we help this generation be more attracted to church?”
We have looked at Brown’s answers: be the church, use technology well, equip the saints, and foster community. And yes, that may attract Millennials to church.
But the goal is not to attract Millennials to church. Rather, it is to help them grow in the knowledge and love of God as part of the people of God, or the church. Church leaders who want to help Millennials connect to the church will first connect them to God.
And if the primary aim is to connect Millennials to God, then being the church, using technology helpfully, spiritual growth, and vibrant community will follow.