Faithful Millennials and Gen Zs Love These Three Things About Church

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Many millennials like myself were raised in Christian homes and attended Christian churches every weekend. Our Baby Boomer parents were religious people who believed that faith and religion were synonymous to a stable upbringing.  I can remember really enjoying church as a child, the games we would play, the songs we would sing, and the amazing children’s and youth leaders who were passionate about God and ministering to us young people.  As I  slowly faded away from church, most of my peers seemed firmly planted in church. Whether they were serving as greeters, junior deacons, praise team members, or any other ministry, many of them loved their church and loved to serve.

But as I fast forward 20 years later, I have seen a witnessed a drastic change. Those same teenagers that I went to high school with are either no longer attending church or are no longer even interested in Christianity or any religion for that matter.  While I, who rarely attended church, have now become a minister of the gospel. But what changed? Why does it feel like our young people who used to be passionate about the Christian Church, now seem disillusioned and disengaged? As many churches are constantly asking, where are our young people?

 

According to their book published in 2011, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons were shocked when research revealed that not only were young outsiders  disillusioned to the church, but millions of young Christians were also describing the church as “hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and out of touch with reality” (p. 20). While these are definitely some of the common themes of why many millennials and now Gen Z’s are no longer desiring church, Kinnaman makes a vital point that we should not generalize the issue. Though there are similarities, every story matters. And every experience gives us a piece of the puzzle so that we can come up with effective solutions to minister to our younger generations. In order to minister to them, however, we must first become acquainted with what they value.

Desire for Truth

Both Millennials and Gen Z’s are similar in that they are both truth seekers. Millennials question the status quo to discover truth. Gen Z’s also desire to learn authentic truths, both individually and communally (Francis and Hoefel, 2018). If faith communities want to regain the confidence of our younger generations, transparency and authenticity will go a long way. Being open and honest regarding the strengths and flaws of the church helps boost credibility.

The old adage of the church “being a hospital” to explain the issues of the church seems more like a copout to excuse bad behavior. Opening up and telling the truth about some of our negative histories and present realities will allow them to feel like they are more empowered to make sound decisions on whether or not they want to belong to our faith. But hiding unfavorable experiences (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) that they or others they know have encountered will only cause them to continue to lose faith in our faith.

Desire For Cause-Worthy Communities

An online study in 2017 showed that Millennials and Gen Z’s are more likely to put differences aside and join a community if they share a commonality in cause and purpose (Francis and Hoefel, 2018). In addition, a Barna Group study in 2021 showed that teens were interested in justice-oriented ministries that promoted standing up against the wrongdoing of others, promoting fairness and justice, making a positive impact on others’ lives, and taking care of people who need help. Churches can attract these young people by having more social justice and social welfare ministries such as having food banks, hosting forums to discuss social justice issues, attending rallies supporting equality different demographical groups, or any other activity that will add physical value to the everyday lives of the people in their community.

Desire For Mental Health Assistance

When I was growing up in the church, I did not hear many adults acknowledge or discuss mental health. When any of these issues were brought up, the solution was usually to “pray.” But one of the values that is most apparent in both Millennials and Gen Z’s is the need for discussions, research, and tools that promote mental wellness. According to a 2019 Barna study, 67 percent of young adults do not feel like someone around them “deeply cares for them” and 40 percent are “anxious about future decisions” (Barna, 2019). The recent COVID-19 pandemic has just intensified an already struggling demographic of young people. If the church wants to help bring back its young adult and teen population, there must be an emphasis on mental health assistance for loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

I visited Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana that has experienced exponential growth over the years because they offer free Biblical Counseling services to the community once a week. Churches may want to utilize the mental health professionals in their congregation to offer trainings, counseling, and/or host seminars to help our younger generation who is yearning for mental wellness.

Conclusion

There are many opportunities for the church to minister to our young people that have either felt left out or disillusioned by some of our behaviors. If we focus our energy in being honest about our shortfalls and adding tangible value to their lives, it won’t be long until we see our individual churches bursting at the seams with our next generation of leaders of today and tomorrow.

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