Here are 3 images from their research over the last few years that stand out particularly, and point to important elements of a church that impacts and launches the generations.
In 2011, as part of the research that went into You Lost Me (written by Barna President David Kinnaman), nearly 1,300 Millennials aged 18-29 were asked a series of questions about their past experiences in church. The sample size looked at a cross-section of those in that age bracket who were still active in their church, and those were active in their teenage years but had since dropped out.
When asked if during their highschool years they had a close personal friend who was an adult at church or parish, 59% of those still active agreed, while only 31% of those who dropped out could say the same. Likewise, when asked if they had an adult mentor at church other than the pastor or church staff, 28% of still-active Millennial churchgoers said they did. Perhaps more importantly, only 1 out of 10 church dropouts could say the same in their experience.
Barna is very clear in saying that “correlation does not equal causation,” but even anecdotal evidence from pastors and leaders around the country points to the idea that Millennials thrive in, and desire, settings where there is intergenerational relationship and mentorship.
In the same study, another disparity stands out: Millennials whose church made it a point to connect vocation, career, and passion with God’s calling on their lives and the Bible remained more connected with their faith community.
Less than 1 out of 5 Millennials who dropped out could say they learned to view their gifts and passions as part of God’s calling. Fewer than 1 out of 10 who disengaged from their church could agree that they learned in church how the Bible applies to their field or career interests.
For all the talk of work-life balance, professional and personal are very much blended through technology in general, and the same expectation will go for faith and work. This study would also point to churches that foster a sacred-secular divide as being less likely to engage Millennials long-term.
In October 2013, Barna asked nearly 850 Millennials aged 18-29 years-old to look at the 4 pictures above and select which one best matched what they believed church should be in the world. Overwhelmingly, the results pointed to being a catalyst of both intimate small-community, and personal growth and the cultivation of beauty.
Not high on the list was a common depiction of the church, a hospital, nor a “health club."
These numbers for the church reflect similar studies in the marketplace, where Millennials ideally seek out environments where there is the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, with the opportunity to collectively cultivate positive change.
While this is not a silver-bullet list of insights and answers, it does validate what I think we’ve begun to see and sense - for as shallow as we’ve depicted Millennials to be, their desire is for a church experience that is deep and community-driven.
It would not be a risky bet to invest in forming church expressions focused on theological depth and study in close communities of multiple generations together at once, knitted around the belief that "all of life is all for Jesus" (as the guys at Redemption Church would say!).
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