These days everyone is trying to understand Millennials . This makes sense when the majority of America’s labor force is composed of men and women under age 35. Born in 1979, I find myself caught between two generations. I identify with people older than me (GenX'ers), but I also resonate with many young adults. For the past ten years I’ve pastored a church in urban Minneapolis largely composed of 20 and 30-somethings. Journeying alongside these Millennials, I’ve noticed some things. My observations are not meant to be taken as absolute generalizations, they are merely realities true to my own experience and context. Here are five things I’ve learned about Millennials and church:
1) Millennials are around for small windows of time.
For an urban church full of young people, transition is a way of life. I was frustrated initially with the amount of turnover in our urban congregation. Now, I've learned to move beyond discouragement and frustration with the high rate of transition in our church. Instead, I see that transition as an opportunity to equip people for kingdom ministry. God’s people don’t belong to me, they belong to him. Leaders are stewards of the people entrusted to their care. Success isn’t found in amassing a large crowd of people who never leave your church, but rather success in God’s kingdom economy is about multiplying and sending people out. As a church planting pastor, being a “sending church” is exactly what I signed up for. In our context, we're trying to think through how we can develop pathways to equip young people for gospel mission, even if they’re only around for a couple years.
2) Surface level authenticity is easy, but authenticity in community is hard work.
Millennials are hungry for authentic relationships. They’re tired of religious hypocrisy and they can see right through facades and slick approaches. In an age of virtual community through social media, young adults want to be truly known by people they can trust in real community. This prospect of community sounds very appealing, until you hit some bumps in the road. Navigating the potholes of real flesh and blood relationships is hard work! It requires staying and applying the truths of the gospel. That means we have to equip Millennials with realistic expectations regarding life in community. It’s through transparent, authentic, grace-filled communities that God transforms people.
It’s encouraging as the pastor of a smaller church to know Millennials aren’t necessarily looking for the latest technology or high-tech productions. They want relationships. They want to participate in a community of people who genuinely care for one another, where they can see God powerfully at work in the grind of daily life. I’ve seen dozens of Millennials come in contact with that type of community and say, “I want to be part of this.” Authentic community is attractive.
3) The church is a family, but few Millennials have a healthy model of what family looks like.
For Millennials, one of the most attractive pictures of the church is "family." The familial metaphor for the church is one of the most frequent images used for God’s people in the New Testament. I think part of the appeal of the church as family for Millennials is rooted in a deep craving for something they’ve never experienced. All of us are dysfunctional to some extent. We’re all works in progress. We all have baggage. However, the majority of Millennials are either from broken homes or families with a high degree of dysfunction. One of their deepest longings is to belong to a loving family, but they don’t know what that looks like. They don’t know where to start or even how to practice the normal rhythms of family life. It’s precisely here that the church can be a community of families within a larger family. The beauty of the gospel is that it creates true family.
4) If following Jesus doesn’t have significance for everyday life, Millennials are not interested.
In past generations, one of the emphases in evangelism was placed upon life after death. You can know where you will go when you die. Don’t you want to be certain about your eternal destiny? It’s absolutely true that part of the good news of the gospel is eternal life. But, certainty regarding the afterlife may not always be the best place to start the conversation with Millennials. The gospel must promise a better life in the here and now, not just after death. The gospel is good news for Millennials! Only through faith in Jesus Christ do our present lives truly have meaning, significance, purpose and joy. The gospel brings hope and significance for this life, as well as the next.
5) Millennials want to invest in a worthwhile cause bigger than themselves.
Many young adults are exhausted from a self-centered approach to life. They’ve been taught the world revolves around them, but frankly, that gets pretty boring. They crave a mission outside of their personal bubbles that they can give their lives to. Millennials are less motivated by a career that can make them a lot of money. They want a job that they enjoy, where they feel like they’re making a difference in the world. This is why community and mission are vital for churches desiring to reach young adults. The church must connect Millennials to community and help them to see all of life as an opportunity to join God in his mission to renew all things through Jesus. The gospel is an epic story worthy of commitment. Millennials may be cautious about commitment, but when they do commit they go “all in.” I've seen it over and over again.
The future holds great potential for a significant movement of the gospel in our land. I believe Millennials could very well be the generation that God uses to bring about this gospel movement.
 "Millennials" are the generation born roughly between 1980-2000.