The Unexpected Things Millennials Want in Church

“What Millennials want out of church” is a pretty difficult question to answer, but a synopsis might be summed up as “a church that’s like (streaming music service) Pandora, that could also act as a spiritual guide and confidant.”

A study just released by church stats experts The Barna Group found that millennials (defined here as those between the ages of 14 and 30) are nothing if not hard to nail down.

The Building Matters

For the current generation of young adults, getting into the parking lot doesn’t mean that actual church attendance will happen. “Visual clarity” is a very big deal to millennials, and the study found that when things got confusing, whether it was where to go to find the sanctuary, or how to take part in rituals in traditional services, visitors would simply leave rather than try to find the answer.

Fortunately, if a church can get millennials through the door, and to stay for the whole service, there’s no need to try to compete with U2’s most recent stadium tour. Young adults aren’t looking for an over-the-top entertainment experience, which, fortunately, should free up some churches from the pressure to create a sound and light experience on par with a Disney production. However, going too low tech is also a distraction, as casual and modern services trump their formal and traditional counterparts.

Being Able to Unplug from Social Media Matters

Oddly enough, head pastors shouldn’t worry about losing young congregants to the endless streams of information on Twitter and Instagram. The majority of young adults actually see church as a place refuge from a constantly-plugged-in existence.

The success of this “digital detox” is often dependent on what might be called the “natural feel” of the building. For the most part, the more natural elements a church an incorporate into the building, the happier young Christians are. Although most churches won’t be able to offer outside venues, like Orange County’s Saddleback Church (which has actually built video-fed, outdoor worship spaces, thanks to warm temperatures and low rainfall), just bringing in plants and natural light increases the happiness quota of millennial.

Having Older Fellow Congregants Matters

Young Christians will be the first ones to tell you that they’re looking for guides through adulthood. Attempts to be as hip and trendy as possible are often a turn off, as adults in the 18-30’s range are often drawn to church out of the desire to connect with those with more life wisdom.

For better or worse, millennial expect the kind of personalized service that Amazon and Pandora offer, with a menu of options catered to their specific needs and desires. Which means that churches are more likely to succeed in passing this wisdom on through volunteers, rather than church staff teaching large classes.

“Customer Service” Matters

What happens before the first visit is key millennial expect incredible customer service. Interaction models championed by Zappos and Amazon in the early aughts are now the way young adults expect their interactions with organizations to happen.

See Also

Which means that what happens on social media, and through digital interactions, is just as important as what happens in the actual service of a young adult’s first visit.

Ed Bahler of the Aspen Group stresses the importance of social media savvy leadership, which must filter down in an increasingly large number of volunteers who are solely focused on social interaction, greeting, customer service and even life coaching for young adults testing the waters of church.

Stopping the Church Failure Trend

According to Bahler, this new information on the church habits of millenials offers a chance to help turn the tide of churches going out of business, and gives cue to what new church plants can do to reach their communities.

“We’re seeing churches fail at an unbelievable rate,” he says. “And we’re seeing churches planted at a rapid rate. It’s a transition from an outdated model to one that’s hopefully working better.”

View Comments (7)
  • I moved away from my home town last year. I tried out several churches in my new city, but every single one I attended – and I tried many – I ended up feeling completely out of place and unwelcome.

    Almost every time I left without a single person speaking to me.

  • Not sure what happened, but it seems my comments in response to Plain Jane have been removed by Relevant Magazine.

    Not sure why, but I’ll try again.

  • Plain Jane says… “I don’t attend church anymore.”

    Within this statement is exposed a very poor understanding of the matter of the church.

    Simply put… No one can “attend church.”

    In a response to me (now removed) Plain Jane brought up the matter that in common parlance — meaning contemporary common usage in language — the word “church” can mean a building.

    This might be true… But so what.

    In common parlance, any speaking of Jesus is thought to be religious… So should we just accept it as such?

    Why is it a problem to say you meet in a hall with other members of the church? Isn’t that the truth of the matter. Or should we agree to make things confusing for everyone by agreeing to say we go to church to meet with the church as the church in the church?

    And we wonder why people looking on are confused.

    Why not just say we (the church… or really, ecclesia) believers in Chriist, meet in this place (name the location where you meet). That’s it… simple, practical, and true according to scripture.

  • Origin of the word church…

    noun: church; plural noun: churches

    1. a building used for public Christian worship… “they came to church with me” . . . synonyms: place of worship, house of God, house of worship; More… cathedral, abbey, chapel, basilica; megachurch; synagogue, mosque; “a village church”; a particular Christian organization, typically one with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines.

    noun: Church; “the Church of England”; synonyms: denomination, ecclesial community; More creed, faith; “the Methodist Church”; the hierarchy of clergy of a Christian organization, especially the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England.

    noun: the Church; institutionalized religion as a political or social force. “the separation of church and state”; verb archaic verb: church; 3rd person present: churches; past tense: churched; past participle: churched; gerund or present participle: churching

    1. take (a woman who has recently given birth) to church for a service of thanksgiving.

    Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma ) ‘Lord’s (house),’ from kurios ‘master or lord.’ Compare with kirk.’ – Google search

    And more…

    “The word “church” began to come into use in the English language in the Middle Ages, some time before the 12th century. The 1395 Wycliffe translation used the word “chirche”. But, the 1525 Tyndale version did not use it. Tyndale translated ekklêsia properly, as “congregacion”. Well, as was mentioned earlier, he used even the word “churche” – two times, in Acts 14:13 and 19:37 which both refer to buildings connected to idol-worship.

    The roots of the word “church” are as follows. It comes via the Middle English chirche, from the Old English cirice. It is said that cirice in its turn came from the first word in the old Greek phrase kuriakê oikia which meant “the Lord’s house”. Thus, it appears that the origin and evolution of the word “church” is as follows:

    Old Greek kuriakê [oikia] (“lord’s [house]”) → Old English cirice → Middle English chirche → “church”…” (http://www.biblepages.net/hg06.htm)

  • So it seems that the origin of the word “church” was kuriakê, meaning “lord’s house.”

    Which seems to mean it’s fine to refer to the building believer’s meet in as the lord’s house.

    Except, what if you don’t meet in a building… What if you meet outside in a park… Or even a mountain top… How can that be the lord’s house if kuriakê meant an actual building?

    And then of course, there’s the fact that scripture tells us that we, individually and corporately, are, and are becoming, the Lord’s house.

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