How to Effectively Reach and Retain Millennials
By Jocelyn Hu
In my book Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and Churches that Reach Them, we focused on the generation often called "Millennials" today. The first part of the book dealt with the views of the unchurched. However, we didn't just want to write a book about what was wrong. So, the last part of the book dealt with churches that were successfully reaching young adults.
My coauthors and I were very thankful to be named to Leadership Journal's Golden Canon book awards, and many people said they were helped by the resource to have a reasoned (rather than sky-is-falling) look at the generation and it's challenges.
I'm often asked to summarize some thoughts on the book, and did so in a recent conference call, which we've turned into an article here at the blog.
We identified characteristics of churches that were engaging young adults by reaching and keeping them as part of the church. Here are three significant ways in which churches can effectively reach and retain Millennials.
1. Be Contemporary and Culturally Engaged
The first clear pattern among churches that are reaching young adults is that they tend to be more contemporary. They are engaged with culture and are aware of societal trends, helping young adults think through their context with discerning, biblical eyes.
While some in the younger generation are moving toward liturgical churches, the overall trend is young adults being reached by contemporary churches, and though there are always counter trends and exceptions, that's the general rule. I know the fact I list this will bother some, but it's just a statistical reality.
(I should add that "adding a smoke machine," doth not a young adult magnet make, but that is for another post.)
2. Be Authentic
The second feature of churches who are effectively reaching Millennials is authenticity, a characteristic that many of those Millennials felt was not as present in churches of the Baby Boomer era. Young adults often desired a different kind of leadership, one that is more open and transparent. They often preferred preaching from weakness and sharing struggles of life and faith, approaches that pastors were taught not to do in generations past.
Many Millennials are searching for a safe place where pastors, leaders, and others share their own struggles and everyone can share their sinful issues without being ostracized. Authentically sharing without condemnation is a significant point of connection with young adults.
3. Care for the Hurting
Thirdly, churches that are engaging Millennials are often known for caring for the marginalized, the hurting, and the outcasts. These churches are focused on reaching others in need.
Some call it the Bono-ization of our culture, a term coined after humanitarian efforts led by Bono, the lead singer of U2.
Yet, I think this focus among young adults is a good thing and is a rediscovering of the totality of the mission Jesus gave us. Young adults want to serve their neighbor locally, nationally, and globally.
Where Do We Start?
There is no one Millennial. No one can say, "This is what Millennials think" or "All Millennials are this."
One of the best ways to find out how to reach Millennials is to get to know them. Talk with those in their twenties and early thirties. Discover their likes and dislikes. Ask for their input. Actually befriend them.
Long story short, being effective at reaching and keeping Millennials doesn't have much to do with being a "young, cool, hip church." It has more to do with fostering relationships between young adults and older adults who care about them, listen to them, and, as a result, minister together with them.