3 unexpected reasons modern worship attracts younger generations

I was sitting in my new doctor’s office yesterday. The receptionist recognized me from church and, of course, told the doctor. Nothing quite makes you feel uncomfortable sitting on a cold table in a gown like a doctor coming into the room and saying “hello, pastor!” After telling him “Chris” was just fine, the conversation immediately turned to the church. Not health. Church. Within three minutes, I kid you not, he initiates a conversation on how he “can’t stand” the “strange” music “kids these days” like in church.

It’s amazing how often I hear older generations talk this way about worship today. So let’s take a moment and unpack three unexpected reasons millennials and gen Z are attracted to a current worship style. 

1.              Modern worship is less about the sound and more about the act of creating.

Young adults love getting their hands dirty. They’re involved in DIY projects, gardens, side hobbies and businesses, new technologies, cooking strange foods, and even making clothes. There’s been a revival in creative expression. So when it comes to worshipping God, of course they’re expecting to lift up creativity as an act of worship. “Modern” means that someone is spending time and energy to not only learn the art and craft of music and voice but also using their inner spark to express a closeness to God in new and creative ways.  And we like hymns just fine. They’re beautiful. But hymns were once these exact same creative expressions of the music of the day! If you’re going to sing hymns—infuse it with some creative spark.

2.              We’re not attracted to loudness.

As a church with multiple styles of worship, church leaders often hear people complain about how loud the music is in the contemporary services. You might be surprised to know, then, that in our church, the traditional service is 20% louder than the modern service. Our sound technicians have literally measured.

Technical proof aside, millennials aren’t attracted to loud music. No one is waking up on Sunday morning with the thought “I can’t wait to have my ear drums mutilated for the Lord.” In fact, some of the most successful worship styles know how to nurture and lead people through moments of silence.

So what’s the takeaway? Just like a great speaker, intentional use of loudness and silence stirs up feelings in the listener. Younger generations aren’t looking for loud. We’re looking to be moved. Modern worship may not necessarily have the nuanced lyrics of old hymns, but many songs are masterful in evoking emotion.

3.              It’s about God.

A recent Barna study showed that 20% of millennials who have left church did so because “It feels like God is missing from the church.”  These aren’t wayward souls. They experienced a lack of connection to God in our churches. Part of that is because sometimes we love our music more than we love expressing worship to God. It’s not about singing for the sake of singing—it’s literally an act of worship to the Creator of the Universe… and yet what we bring to the table at churches sometimes lacks the awe and wonder that comes with being connected to the divine.

Whether your church sings hymns or contemporary songs, there are a large number of millennials who simply want to feel connected to God. One of my biggest frustrations of many churches is that the congregation doesn’t see singing as a form of worship. This may actually explain why many of the smaller evangelical denominations in the last 10 years haven’t lost as high of a percentage of millennials as have the bigger “mainline" churches. Those who are not considered mainline seem to pride themselves on worship more than the intellectual capacity of their pastors. There’s more of a focus on God than education.

So where does your church stand?

Agree or disagree with these points? Have some experiences to share? Leave a comment below and help us think through the never-ending worship wars.

Church LifeChris Abel