We think Millennial ministry is so important our team decided to revisit some of our most popular research on young adults. We want to help you learn more about the next generation in order to maximize your efforts to spiritually engage them. Over years of research, one thing remains clear: the relationship between Millennials and the church is shifting.
Although this list isn’t exhaustive, here are five major themes we’ve identified from our research.
1. Make Room for Meaningful Relationships
The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who have remained active in their faith after high school and twentysomethings who have dropped out of church, our research uncovered a significant difference between the two.
Those who stay are twice as likely to have had a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active).
The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—nearly three in ten active Millennials (28% ) had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to the just one in ten dropouts (11%) who would say the same.
2. Teach Cultural Discernment
Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world is one of the most powerful motivations for today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way.
For example, active Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say their church helped them learn “about how Christians can positively contribute to society” compared to those who drop out (46% versus 20%). Actives are also nearly four times more likely to say they “better understand my purpose in life through church” (45% versus 12% of dropouts).
3. Create Reverse Mentoring Opportunities
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe the kind of give and take between young and experienced leaders. Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn.
Millennials who remain active in church are twice as likely as dropouts to say they served the poor through their church (33% versus 14%). They are also more likely to say they went on a trip that helped expand their thinking (29% versus 16%) and more likely to indicate they had found a cause or issue at church that motivates them (24% versus 10%).
4. Teach Connection Between Vocation & Discipleship
Churches can deepen their connection with Millennials by teaching a more potent theology of vocation, or calling. Many churches seem to leave this kind of vocation-based outcome largely at the door—unless these students show interest in traditional church-based ministry. But what Millennials are seeking goes beyond this. Vocational discipleship is a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to—whether it’s within the walls of the church or not.
Millennials who have remained active are three times more likely than dropouts to say they learned to view their gifts and passions as part of God’s calling (45% versus 17%). They are four times more likely to have learned at church “how the Bible applies to my field or career interests” (29% versus 7% of dropouts).
5. Facilitate Connection with Jesus
Millennials who retain a longer-lasting faith than their peers are more likely to find a sense of authority in the Word of God—both in the pages of the Bible as well as in their experience of intimacy with the God they follow.
For example, Millennials who remain active are more likely than those who dropped out to say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant (68% versus 25%). Additionally, actives are much more likely to believe the Bible contains wisdom for living a meaningful life (65% versus 17% of dropouts).
What to do next
We know churches are looking for ways to connect with Millennials and inspire this new generation to live faithfully. If you’re looking for a next step in how to effectively minister to Millennials, join us for Barna Labs. You’ll receive real data from your faith community, create a plan to enhance your ministry based on your data, and learn from experts who are successfully addressing these five trends in their context.
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About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
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© Barna Group, 2014