Reaching The Defining Generation
By Dave Earley
The Millennial generation, those born 1980-2000 and now aged 14-34, is the largest in US history with a population of 77.9 million. As we discussed last week, based on population, there should be a large number of young adults knocking down the doors of our churches, but this is not the case.
We need to rethink how we “be the church” for this defining generation. As I said last week, the challenging thing is that the only type of Christianity that will reach Millennials is authentic, relational, missional, global, biblical, sold-out, radical Christianity. Business as usual is not working. For example, 80% of Southern Baptist Churches baptized less than one young adult last year. Sixty percent did not baptize a single teen.
The good news is that the only type of Christianity that will reach Millennials is authentic, relational, missional, global, biblical, sold-out, radical Christianity. So when I read the book of Acts, I see the same values that are reaching pluralistic, Post-Christian Millennials.
Look at Acts 2:42-47 with fresh eyes
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
- Teaching the Jesus Way of Living. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
The apostle’s had just spent three years living with Jesus, watching His life and memorizing His teachings. Jesus had commanded them to teach others all he had commanded them (Luke 6:42) So starting with the basics of loving God, and others, and moving on to loving one another, they taught their people the Jesus way of living.
I find we the best “teaching” to give Millennials is the straight stuff – everything Jesus said and did – even the hard stuff, without watering it down.
- Devotion to Living in Community. They devoted themselves … to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread… Now all the believers were together and held all things in common T
In the second century Justin Martyr described Authentic Christian love in this way, “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”
Tertullian reported that in the third century the Romans would look at the Christians and exclaim, “See how they love one another!”
According to A Lifeway Research survey, Millennials value relationships more than other generation. Family and friends, Facebook and twitter deeply impact their lives. I find that most young adults are looking for “family” and when the church feels like “family,” they feel at home. They like smaller more intimate venues than the boomer generation.
- The Discipline of the Prayers. They devoted themselves … to the prayers.
Possibly because they were motivated by the example of David and Daniel, the pattern of prayer three times daily was adopted by the Jews and was regularly practiced up through the time of the early church. Regarding the Jewish pattern of prayer, Epiphanius speaks of “Rising up in the morning and in the middle of the day and in the evening, three times a day, when they say their prayers in the synagogue. 19
The early church continued the practice. For example, church father, Tertulian says explicitly that we must always pray, and adds, these significant words:
“As regards the time, there should be no lax observation of certain hours—I mean of those common hours which have long marked the divisions of the day, the third, the sixth, and the ninth, and which we may observe in Scripture to be more solemn than the rest” 20
Many Millennials are flocking to liturgical churches such as Catholic and Episcopalian because of the discipline of the liturgy. On the other hand, one of the largest Christian movements of young adults in America (IHOP-KC) is built around the practice of a community of believers practicing worship and prayer 24/7/365. Over 1,000 young adults commit to spending 24 hours a week in the prayer room.
- Experiencing the Supernatural. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.
Jesus launched His ministry with supernatural healings and deliverances. Jesus sent His disciples out to do the same (Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness).
Before He left, Jesus told His disciples they would be able to do those works and even greater ones than these (John 14:12-15). He also told them to wait to launch their ministries until they had been empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The first several centuries of church history tell the story of a church moving ahead on the winds of the Holy Spirit.
American Millennials have grown up with a much greater sense of the supernatural than their parents. Wizards, witches, vampires, werewolves, angels and demons flood their media options. Millennials have a global awareness. They have been exposed to supernatural healings and deliverances on mission’s exposure trips to the majority world.
Churches that reach Millennials cannot just skip over the supernatural aspects of the Bible.
- Generous Living. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.
In the second century, Bishop Clement, described the change that occurs in the life of a new Christian, “He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”
Churches that reach millennials cannot ignore social justice and mercy ministries. They also cannot just delegate it as a fringe program of the church. Caring for the poor and broken must become a huge part of what they church is and does.
- Non-segmented Christianity. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house.
First century Christianity was not a one hour a week compartment in the life of the Christians. It was a daily lifestyle of worship, study, fellowship, service, evangelism.
Even though less Millennials are practicing Christians, those who are following Christ are highly committed. They avoid lukewarm churches and go for churches that are all out all the time in following Christ.
- Experiential Worship
Millennials learn best through experience and participation. Several years ago, we led a prayer summit with 60 young adults where we met for a weekend without a microphone, stage, screen, platform, or speaker. We sat in two concentric circles and worshipped, read the Bible together, and prayed with and for each other. I interviewed each of the young adults after and without exception they all loved it. Most said something along the lines of, “This is what I thought Christianity was supposed to be like.”
8. Global Engagement
Christianity was started to be a global enterprise extending from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria to the furthest ends of the earth. Millennials have been raised to believe that they can change the world and will join churches that they feel are seriously trying to make a difference. They have travelled more than any other generation and have more friends from and in other countries than any other generation. Churches that reach them have to be serious about impacting the world.
So, in order to reach millennials we really don’t to try to be what they want a church to be. We only need to be what Jesus intended a church to be. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?