By David A. Busic
There has been a great deal of research and discussion about the impact of millennials (those reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) on the church and the impact of the church on millennials. Much of the data tends to focus on the negative aspects of their demographic. However, in my frequent interaction with young Nazarene leaders — both pastors and laity — I am greatly encouraged by their love for the church and their commitment to the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition.
I have drawn several conclusions about ministry with and among millennials.
First, conducting church “business as usual” will not reach them. In 2016, 23 percent of organized Nazarene churches reported having no youth in their congregation. Let that sink in … 5,207 Nazarene churches did not have one single young person ages 12-29. Additionally, recent research reflecting all Protestant churches in the USA reports that 50 percent of the students in our youth ministries will walk away from the church after leaving high school. Of greater Kingdom concern, many of these young adults will also discard their faith in Christ.
It is important to ask: Why are these young people leaving?
Sobering trends demand that we prayerfully reconsider “business as usual.” This is not the time to play it safe. The stakes have never been higher and the opportunities have never been greater.
Second, and on the positive side, studies show that 94 percent of Christians came to faith in Christ between the ages of 4-30 (85 percent between the ages of 4-14). Furthermore, even though half of young adults are leaving the church after high school, half are also staying. Just as the church must ask why some are leaving, it is essential to discover why the other half is staying and find ways to replicate those reasons in our local contexts. How are young adults finding identity, belonging, and purpose in our congregations that makes them want to be a part of us?
Those who are willing to stay have hopes and dreams for the church. I discovered this in a series of focus groups with millennials conducted in the last 12 months. I learned they want to be part of a church that is authentic, honest, incarnational, difference-making, and most of all, Christ-centered. The questions they are asking of the church are simple, yet profound:
- Are you (the church) asking the right questions? Do you know the deepest problems facing the world right now, and are you willing to face these problems head-on?
- Are you being honest about the shortcomings of the church? Are you willing to do the hard work of changing to be relevant in the future for the glory of God?
- Do you want me?
- Do you need me?
Millennials will undoubtedly do things differently than their predecessors. They are not motivated by the same things as previous generations. They are not inspired by maintaining institutions. But they will give their lives for a movement of God that wants their help.