Millennials and Church Membership

Ahh, Millennials… Church leaders are trying their best to figure out how to reach this segment of the population that reached adulthood around the year 2000. Once reached, though, Millennials are still far from commitment. Many Millennials select the parts of church membership in which they’d like to participate while leaving the other parts behind. If young adults want to attend worship, they do; if they would rather sleep in every single Sunday and come late to small group, they do.

In Generation Me, author Jean Twenge reveals that Millennials are self-focused, and, thanks to their Baby Boomer parents, have only ever known self-focus. In Sex and the iWorld, author Dale Kuehne rightly points out that “personal freedom is the highest virtue” of modern culture. Personal freedom and self-focus, as opposed to dutiful service and selfless giving, are the expectations of Millennials. This expectation affects how they view the local church and, in turn, to what extent they will or will not be involved.

Millennials often feel held back by committing fully to a church, sensing that they can be more effective by picking and choosing how and where they will be involved, serve, and give. In What Is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile reveals that young adults often see the local church as a “hindrance.” Instead of fully committing to one local body of believers, a Millennial may worship at one church, attend another church’s small-group ministry, give to a parachurch ministry, and serve at a local food bank that has no affiliation with any other ministry in which they are involved!

This trend may not seem like a problem at first glance, but the New Testament pattern is much different than the nomadic Christian journey that many Millennials are on. The Bible clearly indicates that Christians are to be accountable to other Christians and to church leaders, praying and worshipping with a consistent group of believers (1 Corinthians 5; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:17). Many exhortations made to believers can only be carried out if the particular believer is committed relationally to a local church body. Christians are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2); Christians are to “suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26); Christians are to confess sins to each other (James 5:16); Christians are to “restore” other Christians back into Christian fellowship if “caught in transgression” (Galatians 6:1); Christians are to be “kind” and “forgiving to one another” (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). These exhortations can only be carried out by people who deeply know and love one another and are committed to each other. On belonging to a church, Cyprian famously wrote, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” Cyprian likens a Christian without a church family to a stranger to Christ. If one is not a committed church member, much of the Christian life is simply missed, and spiritual growth is stunted.

So how do we help young adults commit to a local church? Here are a few strategies that church leaders can implement:

  1. Clarify the message. What is the church asking of its members? Millennials are inundated with thousands of marketing messages daily, so the church leadership needs to clarify expectations.
  2. Let them be heard. Millennials often feel that they can’t ask pressing questions or that the church is just an impersonal organization. Open up the floor and let them ask questions. Create ministries or meetings that include a dialogue.
  3. Put them to work. Instead of catering and coddling, give them an assignment. From greeting and ushering to more involved roles, a Millennial’s commitment grows when given a responsibility.

Dr. Matt Kendrick serves as the Minister to Young Couples at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattkendrick100.