If You Don’t Know Millennials’ Zero-Tolerance Policy, You’ll Never Reach Them

A church’s “cool factor” isn’t what’s bringing in Millennials.

Being in my church, it’s hard to believe that Christianity supposedly has a hard time keeping and knowing Millennials.

Our entire church is filled with young adults. Millennials open the doors for you. Millennials hand you bulletins and coffee. Millennials usher you into your parking spot. And each week, new millennials are being drawn to our community.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that my church is “doing it right.” But it is accurate to say that my church is doing it differently—and that’s what’s making the difference.

Here’s what I mean.

I’ve been in churches struggling to eek out a weekly attendance. I’ve been in churches with an overwhelming lack of young adults. And in those communities, I can’t help but notice how different they are from my church.

This isn’t purely a difference of style. A church’s “cool factor” isn’t what’s bringing in Millennials.

We have to understand that Millennials have a different makeup than previous generations.

While the older generations grew up in a slower culture—one that wasn’t so infiltrated with the values and marketing techniques of mass media—we (Millennials) are growing up in a different time—one that’s defined by the barrage of advertisements pushing us to be more self-centered.

While the older generations are trying to catch up with this way of culture, we’re trying to move ahead of it.

Meaning, Millennials are well aware of culture and its marketing tactics—and we’re tired of it. A recent study shows that a whopping 84 percent of Millennials are fed up with traditional advertising. It’s what we’ve grown up with. It’s what we understand. But we don’t want more of this noise.

We want different.

That’s a common thread that runs through all generations. We all want to experience something different in church than what we’re used to in culture. But Millennials differ in that they notice the difference more than other generations.

Millennials have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the church acting like the broader culture.

Millennials want different. And so, the key to reaching Millennials then is making sure our character is different than the greater culture. But in what way? What character are we looking to define our church experience?

We are looking for something that’s incredibly difficult to find in our culture of advertisements, media, consumerism and image management.

We are looking for authentic selflessness.1

We easily pick up on when others seek a profit to something. We’ve grown up in the culture that always tries to sell us something. We’ve grown up in the environment that tells us that meaning is found in ourselves. But what we want is the community that tells us and shows us differently—that meaning is found in living for God and for others.1

In other words, we want Jesus—and we are less tolerant of church cultures not living like Jesus. We want a true selflessness to define our church communities. That’s what makes us stay. That’s what we really want.

So then, what does this practically look like?

First off, this does not require Millennials to be more forgiving or accepting. While they should accept the brokenness of individuals, we shouldn’t force them to water down their standards of what the church should look like. As a church, we should aim to meet each other on the highest plain possible.

We start with transforming our own church culture.

Our churches must discover the power of true selflessness—not getting people to simply fill seats or give to a new building project, but rather compel people to lead lives that make a difference everywhere they go. 

We need church to push us outside of ourselves. We don’t need an entity to cater to our vanity or get us to lead more self-absorbed lives.

We need a church culture that enables us to rightly understand how our beliefs allow us to make a difference in the world.

We don’t need a church that tries to sell us on the Gospel. We need a church to tell us the Gospel, and then show it in their service to others.

We need a church that gives us less of “we will offer you this” and more a culture of “this is how we love others.”

And finally, we need a church that trusts our willingness to serve with the Gospel in mind. Trust us to not walk out at the first sign of trouble because we apparently lack commitment. Instead, focus less on keeping us, and more on sending us out.

We are looking for different. We are looking for selflessness, and the more churches place this as a priority in their culture, the more Millennials they’ll see coming through the doors.

And surprisingly, the first step toward this selflessness is to stop talking about attracting Millennials and start loving others instead.

That’s where you’ll find us.

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Neal Samudre
Neal Samudre is the creator of JesusHacks.com, a personal-development website inspiring thousands to live like Jesus and lead a more selfless and impactful life. With his writings on selfless living and making a difference, he has been featured in numerous nationwide publications such as RELEVANT Magazine, The Huffington Post, Catalyst Conference, and many more. To see more of his writings, subscribe to his newsletter or follow him on Twitter @NealSamudre.
  • Kathy

    God bless you.

  • jeffscottkennedy

    Oh gee. Seriously this was dejavu. Every single point made about millennials was made about we gen xers 15-20 years ago. The downside to youth is that you really have no sense of perspective regarding the ebb and flow of trends that have come before you. It’s not your fault, just like I thought all this was true about busters back when, back before life happened and I stopped caring about my generational identity and started caring more about how to honor my elders and serve the helpless.
    I remember vividly the absolute panic that boomer pastors were having over the fact that xers were leaving the church in droves. Every leadership journal article back then seemed to circle back to how to reach us. We swore off traditional marketing and proclaimed ourselves the tech-savvy-socially “authentic” new generation.
    Turns out that a bunch of us came back to church after we got married and starting having kids. The seriousness of life beyond college, having a mortgage and responsibility just grew us up. The ones who didn’t follow that grown up path simply moved to Portland Oregon 🙂
    At first we were repelled by the church’s heavy handed approach to “reach” us with live (and usually bad) church drama, the broadway musical production quality of worship, and the obvious attempt at “relevance” through soft rock and conversational preaching.
    But eventually, many of us realized that despite the flaws and obviousness “whatever” of the whole thing, we really missed the boomers. We missed being in community with them. I miss my mom even though I disdain her taste in cheesy church stuff.
    Eventually we realized we needed the community they offered. And we got tired of being too cool for school. And it turns out that now that I am in 40’s, I’m not nearly as critical of the previous generation for failing to “reach” me. And many of us came back.

    Between the civil war and the 2nd great awakening, historians estimate that only about 10% of the population went to church. It’s never been worse than that in America, and I highly suspect this next generation will not be the folks who top that.

    • Beth Marshall

      Banking on procreation and job status changes to bring people to a solid relationship with Christ is an attitude that seems to lack a crucial love and understanding of the Gospel. It also insinuates that without having a nuclear family and a mortgage, there’s no reason for anyone to have a relationship with God. That’s pretty counter-scriptural. Hoping someone will “come back” when their life is different doesn’t sound like the Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the 1.

      You make a good point that others, your generation included, have called for authenticity, for service and for the mission of Jesus to be at the heart and soul of church. I think it’s heartening to be reminded that more than one generation has wanted that. But rather than be negative and crack hipster jokes, what if we didn’t settle for a marketing, meaningless church? What if, instead of using this space to rag on someone else like people ragged on you when you were young and desired a more authentic expression of faith, you chose to use this article as a reminder that Jesus calls us to seek, to serve and to love?

      Criticism for its own sake is poisonous, and it seems from your comment that you’re insulating your heart from the good you could take away from helping the church follow Christ more fully and seek the lost more earnestly. You believe in Jesus Christ, who is the hope of the world. Maybe this is a good opportunity to have a little more hope for the next generation, rather than cynicism.

  • This is solid, Neal.

    I see a lot of desire for involvement, making a difference in the community, and living missionally. I still feel like there is a tinge of consumerism lurking in each of us, in that if we don’t like the music or speaking style of the sermons we are more likely to not stay for long. I’m more than happy to be wrong about this.

    In general, though, I’d say belonging to a faith group that actively participates in bettering the world with our hands and feet (not just our wallets) has become paramount for this generation.

  • KentonS

    Can you elaborate on the turn from “In other words, we want Jesus—and we are less tolerant of church cultures not living like Jesus” to “this does not require Millennials to be more forgiving or accepting?”

    I think I must be missing something: when I read the gospels it seems that living like Jesus means *precisely* being more forgiving and accepting.

  • Harold Bandy

    the ones who are truly looking for something want us to be real as it were,not a hypocrite someone pretending to be something they are not,and there plenty of them and they actually think they are okay and I say this not to put down but there a lot of people confused they are mixing world with church and you cannot do that .As a result you cannot get people to come.