Why meetings hurt
Why your staff meetings may be hurting your ministry to young adults
During seminary I worked for a traditional mainline church who had a vision of reaching young adults. They had a brilliant pastor, young staff, and had just completed a multi-million dollar building expansion. If there was a checklist of helpful qualities to reach millennials, they had a lot of the right boxes.
But young adults and young families didn’t come.
While they had spent a lot of money, and had a lot of meetings, their energy didn’t go into building relationships with millennial-aged people. Their energy went into meeting about reaching millennials. They had meeting after meeting after meeting. Meetings about the building. Meetings about the meeting structures. Meetings about who provided the snacks after church. They had meetings with the same people who came to the same events week in and week out.
They spent more time in meetings than meeting people.
There’s a problematic theme I’ve seen again and again in well-meaning churches around the country: Their committees and meetings actually inhibit their ability to reach younger generations.
This might seem like an odd and dramatic conclusion, but hear me out.
I’m well aware that you need meetings and committees in any organization. They can be an effective way to brief a group of people, brainstorm possibilities, and get buy-in. But for a LOT of churches, meetings can actually sabotage your church’s ability to reach millennials and gen Z.
1. Meetings make you feel like you’ve accomplished something
We’ve all done it. We walked away from a meeting after an hour or two (or more?) and felt oddly satisfied. The meeting felt almost as good as… actually reaching a goal. Did you know this feeling has actually been documented? But before you get excited, this study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that when individuals participated in “positive visualization,” it resulted in lower motivation.
It turns out that imagining a future you want tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already achieved it. You mentally savor the result of your goal without actually accomplishing the goal. As the abstract of the study says, “Positive fantasy allows people to mentally indulge in a desired future.”
This isn’t quite the same as a meeting, but when your goal is to reach millennials, gen Z, or anyone else, meeting about this is not the same as doing it.
A friend of mine recently shared with me that his denomination has had dozens of meetings about the possibility of launching a church for young adults. It’s still just a daydream.
All the while, hundreds of churches in the United States are launching every year geared towards younger generations, and they do so with nothing more than an individual’s ambition and enough money to rent the venue for a week.
So before you have another meeting, ask yourself “what are the quantifiable action steps I can take once this meeting is done?” That meeting is probably not as important as you think it is. What’s important is DOING.
2. Meetings create an echo chamber.
A few years ago I overheard a few middle-aged staff members talking about a video mocking millennials. This one was for an imaginary nonprofit that let you sponsor a lazy young person who was on their “journey of discovery.”
First of all, making fun of other generations isn’t going to help reach them. Secondly, these group of baby-boomers LOVED it. They all kept giggling and laughing and quoting the ways that millennials are so hard to relate to.
Then, noticing me nearby, they tried pulling me into the conversation. I, politely, told them that they wouldn’t find it so funny if I was laughing at a video about old white people who were intimidated by technology. The conversation moved into the next room…
All that being said, because they all agreed on what was funny, they (for a moment) thought that because they thought it was funny, that I would find it funny as well.
The same thing happens in meetings. If you have a bunch of similar people in that meeting, you’re potentially creating an environment where decisions will be made that don’t represent the needs of other generations.
Now some churches have a policy to invite younger people onto committees. But having someone fill a seat is not the same as having them collaborate with decision making. Groups have a strange tendency of pressuring members into decisions that not everyone agrees with. Unlike my pushback with my middle-aged coworkers, a lot of millennials won’t waste their energy expressing their perspective if the group already has its mind made up.
This is why meetings aren’t enough. As a church leader, you need to be hearing the voices of people who might otherwise not speak honestly into a meeting. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was this: “Don’t go into a meeting without first knowing how every individual feels about an issue independently. Especially if you’re including younger voices!”
Meetings aren’t bad in and of themselves, but these two aspects of meetings can create roadblocks before you ever get into the challenging work of ministry to your millennials.
Having meetings is not the same as meeting new people. Period.
If you want to reach the next generation, your “meetings” need to be in coffee shops and over meals with faces you don’t know yet. If you’re seeing the same faces again and again—and talking about new people instead of connecting with them, your meetings are in danger of limiting your ministry.
The buildings can help. The staff meetings can help. The vision can help. But none of this matters if you and your community are not actually meeting new people.
When we look at Jesus’ ministry, he was constantly out in the community, having conversations, meeting new people, healing, and hearing new stories. And if you look closely…we don’t read any stories about Jesus’ committee meetings.
We read about the people he loved on.