SBNR: 4 Essentials in Order to Engage Spiritual Millennials

The most common question Burlap gets asked is, “How do we get more millennials to come here?

It’s a question worried and aging churches across the country ask multiple times every week. Millennials are often noted for their “spiritual but not religious” self-description. The Reverend Linda Mercadante first heard the term in the 1990s and has been researching and writing about this cultural shift for years. “What’s changed is people no longer feel that being religious is important to their social status or to their identity as being a good person,” Mercadante says. “People are almost proud to say they’re SBNR, whereas in the past they probably wouldn’t have been. And there’s not a lot of social support anymore for being religious…More and more, people are claiming to be independent politically; less people are claiming membership in organizations. Churches are part of that.”

Churches from coast to coast know the truth of the polls decrying the absence of millennials from religious institutions. Bold churches consider multiple factors in trying to engage millennials, from marketing tactics to worship styles to changing the days and times of worship services. Many churches, however, seem to be content and comfortable, not willing to get creative to reach new generations.

Brittany Porch, director of mission and education at Broad Street Presbyterian Church, states that “if you’re a church that’s aging, and you want to be relevant to young adults, you truly have to be in relationship with young adults. You’ve got to go to where they are and find how you can meet a need or be in a relationship, but that takes time and that takes a lot of energy.”

Churches become institutions for the sake and hope of passing along practices of faith and important doctrines to the next generation and beyond. As long as churches remember that they exist for those who aren’t yet members, as long as their focus is connecting with the community for the good of that community, sharing the hope and love of Christ, they will be proactive in changing and responding to the challenges of ministering to new generations. Missional does not describe a style or way of doing church. Rather, missional should describe the very heartbeat of every church—being sent into the world as people of grace, hope, and reconciliation. God the Father sends God the Son. God the Son sends God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit sends the church into the world. This is what it means, in part, to be on mission.

When churches program and budget based on who already fills the seats, the mission of God has been compromised. When the church no longer seeks to understand the context of the community and chooses to relocate because of changing demographics in their community, the mission of God has been compromised. When a church makes decisions from a perspective of fear of the other or unknown, the mission of God has been compromised.

Establishing relationships is the road to authenticity. And building real, meaningful relationships is incredibly time consuming. How can your church connect to the millennials in your community by building meaningful relationships – in the community?

The question that keeps churches focused on the missional heartbeat of the gospel is not, “How do we get more millennials to come here?” The question churches need to be asking is, “Where can we go and make new friends?”

  1. Partner with schools.
    Where there are schools, there are millennials. Reach out and talk with school administrators and find out the needs at the schools closest to your church. Host free school supply giveaways, stuffing backpacks full of all new supplies. New clothes, shoes, and sports equipment are also ways to connect to a school.
  2. Partner with local recreation leagues or the YMCA.
    Recreation leagues are always in need of coaches and volunteers to work with kids and their parents. Choose a sport and get involved.
  3. Find a need. Meet a need.
    Get to know the active non-profits in your community. Ask how your church can help them better serve. Provide volunteers for community activities and fundraisers.
  4. Keep your promises.
    When you partner with a school or rec league or non-profit, make sure you fulfill your end of the agreement. Stay in good communication and go the second mile in all efforts.

The question that keeps churches focused on the missional heartbeat of the gospel is not, “How do we get more millennials to come here?” The question churches need to be asking is, “Where can we go and make new friends?”