Translated, though, what churches are really asking is this: "How can we keep Millennials here, at our church?"
This isn't a cutback. Generations past have been born in, grown up in, and often died in the same faith community. This created a beautiful scenario of long-term engagement, investment, participation, and loyalty to a leader and a church. It also matches (and has perhaps defined) what often seems to be church culture today, one focused on tradition, heritage, maintenance, and security.
When it comes to Millennials, though, everything has changed. Asking how to keep Millennials in a specific faith community is the wrong question to start with.
Because the fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter whether you are a church, a university, a business, or an organization, you can expect the average Millennial to not stick around for long. Studies within the last five years, for example, have shown that 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years before they move on to the next one.
Kevin Roberts, head of Saatchi and Saatchi, a global advertising firm, realized this new reality and made the most of it, with incredible results. In an interview with Entrepreneur, he shares that 30% of his employees, most of whom are Millennials, turn-over every year, giving him a new company to lead every three years. Watch the 3-minute interview here, it's incredible.
These realities and opportunities provide a few lessons for the church when it comes to engaging Millennials effectively.
Millennials aren't looking for a church "home"
They're looking for a place to discover their God-given potential and purpose and accelerate that as a part of a larger, active faith community. Church as a place to sit down and get comfortable is not what Millennials want.
Millennials have grown up in the shadow of Silicon Valley culture, with an emphasis on rapid start-up, incubation, and acceleration. Incubators and accelerators are organizations and teams designed to take people with ideas through a rigorous process of mentorship, idea execution, and then spit them out rapidly. The incubators and accelerators then move on to the next cohort of people and ideas.
Add on top of that a desire to do something for the common good, Millennials desire churches to be those kind of places that are action and future focused. Their idea of community is going to come from common action and growth and risk-taking together, under leadership and mentorship designed to facilitate just that. And then be pushed out of the nest and into the world, equipped and confident to do the work God has designed them to do. Even if this means they go to another city or neighborhood, and a different faith community. But there's good news:
The best engagement strategy is to let Millennials go
What if the church's success metric wasn't how many people stayed in the church, but how many people exited effectively?
Churches that develop a brand around accelerating and launching people outwards (intentionally, not on accident) will create a powerful vacuum that will never be empty too long. While it may not always seem like it, I believe people are passionate about growing and developing. Places that are invested in creating the best followers of Jesus possible and releasing them to go do something great will always see the greatest engagement and sustainability.
As Mr. Roberts points out, not only are Millennials who leave replaced by other incredibly skilled and creative Millennials, but those who leave often come back from another job or place more skilled and creative and empowered, making the organization they are returning to that much better!
The same could apply to the church.
Millennials aren't Plug-and-Play
Often, churches exist programmatically, and in a top-down structured fashion. Trying to engage Millennials in this kind of organizational structure will prove frustrating for both Millennials and church leadership.
On the Millennial side, they've grown up to be mobile, flexible, fast, and collaborative. Trying to fit them into one of the many church boxes is against the organic grain of their DNA. Millennials desire the organic spontaneity of a bottom-up experience focused on personal growth and impact within a larger community.
Perhaps more importantly, and on the church side, trying to pair the Millennial revolving-door with church programs and structures that are based on long-term investment and retention is going to be incredibly aggravating, not to say completely ineffective, for everyone involved.
How has your church dealt with Millennial engagement? What's working, what isn't? Comment below with successes and challenges!