Millennials and Lost Tradition: What Millennials in Your Church Think You’re Missing

There have been many articles written about the diminishing relationship between Millennials and the church. This new generation of adults seems to have either abandoned the churches of their youth or never bothered to pick up the church-going habit to begin with.

Despite all of the nervousness that the church feels about Millennials, Gracy Olmstead of The American Conservative gives us reason to be hopeful:

“America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose ‘unaffiliated’ when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: Rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: It’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.”

It seems that some Millennials aren’t abandoning the church outright, but that they’re looking for something else.

Technology or Transcendence?

Boomers and Gen Xers saw the computer boom take place. They’re enamored with technology in a way that only generations that lived without it can be. Technology has changed daily life more in the last 15 years than the prior 35, and anyone born in 1960 has seen it first-hand.

Millennials don’t have the same experience. For them, technology has always been a ubiquitous part of everyday life.

This difference has created two unique perspectives on how technology and sacred spaces intersect. Previous generations were quick to figure out ways to work it into services to increase the wow factor and draw. As it became obvious that technology could be used to improve stage lighting and presentations, the Boomers and Gen Xers were quick to incorporate them. Soon they were using clips from their favorite movies in sermons and streaming their services online.

Why wouldn’t generations excited about the advancements in technology use them to increase the awe in their services?

Millennials have a more organic relationship with tech. It doesn’t capture their attention in the same way it did for previous generations—they’re not as easily impressed. Their relationship with technology is more defined by the question, “Does this improve my daily life?” They’re less impressed with the use of video bumpers before the sermon, but shocked when they’re expected to write a check to make a donation. They want technology that’s useful, not impressive.

When it comes to spirituality, Millennials want to experience something transcendent. They’re hard to impress with flash and glitz. In fact, they’re burned out on it. They’re looking for something deeper—they want to be engaged and inspired.

Millennials and Liturgy

There was a time when the church in America was frozen in time. Throughout the 70s and 80s, stepping into many churches was like stepping into a time machine that took you back to the 50s. While it comfortably hearkened back to a simpler time, it felt removed from modern culture. Throughout the late 80s and 90s, the church worked hard at becoming more culturally relevant. This was a big step forward for a church culture that seemed disconnected from the world around it.

It wasn’t easy. There were many battles over what kind of music was appropriate at church, whether dressing down was acceptable, and if moving from pews to chairs was pleasing to God. Eventually, the battles dissipated and the race was on. Soon people walked through a foyer/café to sit in an auditorium and participate in a worship service that felt like a concert. It was a dramatic change that had a profound effect on Generation X.

But as the church chased relevancy, it became less and less attached to its own history, and many church services felt completely detached from their rich Christian roots.

Meanwhile, Millennials are caught in a rapid cycle of constantly changing relevancies. The internet brings everything to their door in a never-ending sequence of important events and ideas. They’re constantly forced to sift through a daily allotment of disposable stories and urgencies. What’s pertinent right now will be forgotten tomorrow. The church, however, is still struggling to stay hip and relevant, but by the time the latest viral video or meme gets introduced into church culture, it’s already outdated.

It’s no wonder that Millennials would be drawn to liturgical expressions of worship found in more high-church expressions. Liturgy represents everything that’s missing for them in the 21st century: depth, meaning, involvement, and a sense of timelessness. Millennials are hungry for tradition and to find their place in the historical narrative.

3 Ways to Reach Millennials with Worship

Your church doesn’t need to become liturgical to reach Millennials, but it does need to become more intentional about worship. Instead of going big and boisterous, why not try going deep? Find ways to create worship services that are less spectator driven and more experiential.

Create environments that foster stillness and silence instead of constant stimuli. Incorporate candles and allow for more moments of reflection.

Here are three simple approaches you can try:

  1. When you read from the Word, do so in ways that encourage people to be more involved. Invite people to read Scripture aloud, and create more responsive readings and congregational prayers.
  2. Share communion more often and make it a core and meaningful part of the service.
  3. Use technology to serve, not to entertain. When you use technology, make sure it’s useful and adding something to the experience. Don’t make technology the center of your gathering. Be mindful of how you use technology. Integrate technology in ways that fulfill a genuine purpose.

Remember, the Church rests on millennia of history—history that Millennial Christians want to participate in. Don’t assume young people are only interested in the hottest new trends. They’re hungry for a weighty, meaningful experience, and the church is uniquely capable of helping them satisfy that hunger.

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