There has been a lot of talk about the underrepresentation of millennials in churches today. While this generation (those born between 1980-2000) account for 22% of the U.S. population, they only account for 10% of our church population. Many believe this discrepancy is unique to the millennial generation, but research shows the underrepresentation of this age group may actually be due to the life stage of 20-somethings rather than the generation they belong to. So, what’s a church to do? How do we become intentional about including and engaging this group in our church and with Jesus? Here are five easy ways to start:
1. Stop seeing them for the generation they belong to and start seeing them as individuals.
Yes, there are some characteristics of each generation that can be generalized or assumed, but set those assumptions aside. Engage with the 20-somethings as individuals and connect with them based on your firsthand experiences with them, not what pop culture says about them. Because they are a younger generation, it is natural to feel as though they have much to learn, but seeing them as students rather than peers can be a deterrent. Approaching and inquiring with genuine interest may lead to further engagement of your 20-somethings.
2. Communicate and act with both truth and grace.
This particular generation appreciates honesty, transparency, and authenticity. They are often flooded with what “should be” but desire to engage with truth about the human experience as followers of Jesus. All people are messy and broken, and we need to make room for that in our messages, congregations, and interactions with one another. In order to do that, we must operate with both truth and grace. It’s not one or the other.
3. Less abstract, more Jesus here and now.
Let’s all face it, the Bible can be a confusing and challenging story to understand and can be interpreted in many ways. The deep theological roots are important, but we have to remember our audience isn’t full of biblical scholars (most of the time). Salvation and heaven are great, but for younger attendees, heaven seems like a long way off. Finding ways to make the abstract ideas and teachings into concrete and applicable lessons about the love and grace Jesus is offering here and now will engage the 20-somethings in the pews and likely draw them into further relationship with Jesus.
4. Enlist their help, and don’t stop asking for it.
Getting volunteers is hard for a lot of churches, and finding 20-something volunteers can be even more challenging. Despite the challenge, it is important that the 20-somethings attending or visiting your church see someone “like them” involved in different levels of your church community. Whether it’s the welcome wagon, small group leaders, worship team, or community outreach, make sure your ministries reflects everyone in the pews. As they see more leaders “like them,” the more likely they are to get involved too. Now, I know what you’re going to say, “We’ve asked, and they don’t want to!” Keep asking. Seasons of life are always changing – who knows what God is calling them to do in their current season?
5. Create a culture of warmth and genuine relationships.
The culture of your church is a reflection of what’s in the hearts of the people that attend it. What does your culture say about your congregation? Taking the time to build a true community that values people over programs takes some intentionality and awareness of the warmth and genuineness of your church. If your culture lacks warmth and genuine relationships, the 20-somethings likely will not engage. As previously mentioned, this group desires authenticity and transparency. When stepping into a church, no one wants to feel like they are just another “hello” or person in a pew. Most people would prefer a “where everybody knows your name” experience. Pastors, this starts with you but isn’t something you can do on your own! You have to engage the whole congregation in this culture shift. Take the time to inquire about this group’s lives outside of church, learn about their desires and struggles, invite them into your home, and find commonalities and ways you can learn from one another.
The five tips above can be used to engage ALL people of your congregation, not just the 20-somethings. Being intentional about the ways you interact with and involve all groups is important to stop and think about. Take some time with your leadership team to assess the way your church connects with individuals, groups, and the whole congregation. Then identify small but intentional steps you can take as a church to shift to a more engaging church for all.
Annie Roberts is the executive director of Gravitational Leadership, a company devoted to the development of pastors and leaders nationwide using innovative tools and transformational coaching. Kaylin Sallenback is the operations manager of Light + Life Communications for the Free Methodist Church – USA.