What Millennials REALLY Want from the Church

What Millennials REALLY Want from the Church

Author: Iesha Swilley
March 15, 2016

Concerts, special programs, flashing lights, small groups, outings, game nights … the list goes on. These are some of what the church has offered to capture and maintain the heart of the youth. These efforts to engage the millennial generation (a cohort of individuals born between 1980 to the mid-2000s) generally come from a place of sincerity on the part of the church’s leaders to reach this generation “at their level.” We often hear cultural epithets and jokes come from the pulpit as a way to keep the youth’s attention during Sunday services. Open mic discussions and suggestion boxes are often promoted as a way to attain feedback from generation Y. These seem to be reasonable attempts to relate to this group, and help them continue on the right spiritual track. Yet, for some reason, many millennials are dissatisfied with the church and a great number leaving it altogether. What’s the problem? Is the church not doing enough? Are we just spoiled, young brats who want it our way or no way? Are we complete rebels who refuse to adhere to protocol or respect sacred religion? For the great majority of us, the answer to those questions is a resounding no.

For those of us who love God and understand that we truly need Him in our lives, we are not out to beat up and talk down on the church, however we have a deep desire for more. More of a true, authentic encounter with our Savior and less of the ritualistic rules and practices that the church has deemed an accurate depiction of righteousness. Our love for God is what is keeping us around, but it is also what fuels our frustration with some of the ways we continue to “do church.” Studies have shown that millennials are leaving the church at an alarming rate and many are forsaking religion altogether. The alternatives for attainting spiritual fulfillment are numerous and enticing. Although many are counterfeit and only satisfy at the surface level, they appear to be doing the trick to some extent. Why is this the case? Why is it that motivational speakers, social media celebrities and the enlightened cult-like affiliations are able to provide, at an artificial yet sustaining level, enrichment for the soul seekers?

One the other hand, those who are not enticed by the all-but-authentic alternatives to church have gone out on their own journey of encountering Jesus. They take deep dives into the Word on their own, read commentary, listen to podcasts and watch sermons online by preachers who seem to know what they’re talking about. They possess the values, morals and convictions that may come from an upbringing in the church, and stems from a sincere faith and belief in God, but choose not to come under the “covering” of a church because when they did so in the past, they were not fulfilled. This is rather plausible and may be suitable for some, however it can be more of a disservice to them when they are not connecting in fellowship and worship with likeminded believers. It deprives the church of the gifts and insight this group has to offer, and can leave a void in the church and in the lives of these millennials. It is as if a part of the Body is becoming atrophic. The church should (and typically does, even if in less than ideal ways) create a source of accountability for its members. It should be a classroom, hospital, resource center and familial network for believers, providing spiritual resources for the “total man.” Yet, that one generation, those millennials everyone keeps talking about, has some legitimate grievances with the way it has, and has not, fulfilled its duty.

I recently posed some questions to youth and young adults who are or once were a part of a church to determine what it is they need more (or less) of from the church as they continue to pursue spiritual growth and ultimately, make it through the gates. The responses ranged from, “have open and non-condemning conversations about taboo topics” to “the church has become too programmed.” These sentiments were shared among the other responders, and it really reiterated the point that although our methods may be different, we really do love Jesus and desire a church culture that supports our spiritual needs.

What is it that we REALLY want from the church?

  1. Transparency – We are the “keep it real” generation. Many of us were brought up under the “do as I say, not as I do” rule while simultaneous being told to think for ourselves. We learn by hearing the whole truth. We understand the desire for privacy but also appreciate openness and honesty. Our frustration comes in when we don’t get true testimonies from those who appear to have reached some success in their spiritual walk. Believe it or not, we desire to sit at their feet and glean wisdom that will help us in our often very difficult lives. What we often encounter though are smiles and sharply-dressed church members with lap scarves and ties who can’t really relate to us. Tell us about your past struggles and how you overcame. Remind us that even our leaders struggle at times and strive every day to be the best Christian they can be.

  2. Flexibility – The rigid structure of many of our churches can actually be paralyzing. We understand that order is necessary in church, just as it is with any other institution, no matter the setting. However we do not like order that impedes progress. This is not a call for the church to keep up with the times necessarily, and we certainly don’t want to bring worldly practices into the church. But the church should be willing to adjust to meet the needs of the people. This means not only hearing what we say, but working with us to determine if and how it can be done. We are not out to overthrow the church, we just want to be able to do it differently and not always be mandated to programmed, traditional methods.

  3. Opportunity to learn & grow – The fact of the matter is, we don’t know it all and most of us realize this. We may not know anything however we appreciate the learning process. We like to ask questions and are not challenging authorities when we do so. We may not understand the why’s and how’s, but we like to be hands-on and learning. We may find that one area of ministry isn’t for us, and should not be considered confused wishy-washy as we find our role in the Kingdom. Help us grow.

  4. JESUS – This should go without saying and could stand alone, however it seems to get pushed behind other efforts. Our desire for Jesus undergirds everything else. We want to be taught His ways so that we may walk in His truth (Psalms 86:11). We want the Gospel, and not a watered-down version riddled with catchy clichés. We need to be taught how to do spiritual warfare, how to pray for the sick and how to love like Jesus did, in spite of persecution. We want to be equipped to truly be the disciples we are called to be, and that can only be done by preaching Jesus.

Many other things could likely be added to this list, but these things seem to capture the heart of our cry. YES, we know we have a part to play and the beautiful edifices we attend a few times a week cannot be our sole source of development. However, if the Body of Christ is made up of those who are devoted to attending church regularly for spiritual nourishment and service, then obviously this is a key place for us to be planted and watered as we seek a spiritual increase from God. The goal is to not only grow ourselves, but to also help fellow young believers who, like us, are on a spiritual journey and may have a need for something a little different.





Victorious Believers Ministries

624 S Outer Dr.
Saginaw, MI 48601