When we talk about the lack of Millennial engagement in the church, we can often get tunnel vision, chalking it up to theological reasons, morality, culture, or failure of the church to be relevant.
Turns out the company down the street is seeing the same ingress and egress of Millennials in and out of the workplace, and, too, are trying to figure out how to create better retention and engagement. The business or company that hires Millennials deals with the fact that 30% of them will leave the company every 1-3 years. What gives?
If we look closely, we can see why, and the lessons are instructive for the church trying to connect with the Next Generations. In an article written for Forbes, contributors David Strut and Todd Nordstrom highlight how companies have jumped in head-first into the hot trend of workplace perks, souping up the workflows and environments with new kinds of desks, gyms, team activities, and more.
In the church world, think edgy youth group, fog machines, lights, music, cafes in the lobby.
But it's not working. At all.
The "problem" with Millennials is they're resistant to band-aids - cosmetic changes that cover up an underlying lack of important elements needed for interaction and engagement in an effective organization. Strut and Nordstrom highlight five such deficiencies in an organization that, rather than a lack or quality of "perks", pushes Millennials away and out the door.
1. Poor Communication
Millennials want to be communicated with and provided feedback. Recent research finds that young people who leave the church after highschool do so because there was not enough space for open communication, and relationship with an older person. Millennials want more than anything to grow and develop, and they have a built-in recognition that getting feedback and personal attention from leadership is crucial to making it happen. An environment that is neither communicative or lacks feedback loops will make it hard for a Millennial to engage.
2. Lack of Recognition
Millennials long for meaningful, 1:1, recognition and appreciation for their growth and participation in the larger effort. Previous generations seem to have a remarkable quality of just getting into the trenches and getting the work done, and we've gotten used to that in the church. For better or for worse, Millennials live in a world where everything is seen and shared and recognized, and have grown up with massive insecurities and being told that they are special and unique. This perfect storm requires meaningful love and appreciation from leaders on a regular basis. In a technology-driven world, though, isn't it refreshing that young people still want 1:1 interaction and growth?
3. Lack of Vision and Execution.
Does your church and leadership inspire and have a vision that works? Millennials have a loyalty to things that work, brands they believe in, and leaders that inspire. They want to make an impact, and that goes deeper than a lot of churches end up going. If Millennials see that leadership is unable to come up with a vision that others can get behind, and that leads to ineffectiveness, Millennials don't have an intrinsic loyalty that keeps them around. Position and prestige don't matter. Leaders who are shepherds alone may find it difficult to connect with Millennials who are looking for ranchers.
4. Archaic ideas and systems
This is particularly a challenge for the church, an institution distinctly built on maintaining tradition (and that's not a bad thing!). This deficiency can rear its head in a couple different ways. Is your church still passing a bucket around for offering? Time to create an online giving platform. Is your bulletin still the only method of communication? Time to get a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Deeper than some of these, though, is the Millennial's desire to get the how and why of the systems and boundaries put in place. Communicating traditions and values in a way that makes sense and has purpose is key. Emphasis on communication. Because the leaders says so or this is the way things are or have always been, won't cut it.
If your church isn't helping Millennials grow and develop, they'll walk out the door. And while discipleship is a piece of that picture, that growth and development has to manifest itself in non-spiritual ways as well. Giving them opportunities to grow in church leadership, allowing their voice to be heard, connecting them with older mentors in the church in their field of interest, allowing space to design something new and extraordinary out of your church, these are all things that will keep the NextGen engaged and excited about the potential of their faith community to have a meaningful role in their life and the community around them.