Every new generation influences society in profound ways. Every new generation also affects churches in America. The Millennial generation is no different.

Those adults and youth born between 1980 and 2000 are large in number, nearly 80 million. They are the largest generation in America, and they will continue to shape much of what takes place in our nation. They are also setting the tone for American churches today.

I have written about Millennials extensively, so I thought it might be helpful for me to share some key ways this generation is already shaping the church. Here are six of the most profound shifts.

  1. There are fewer of them in church than previous generations. By our estimates, only 15 percent of the Millennials are Christians. No more than 20 percent of them are attending church once a month or more. While there are many Millennials in total, only one of five is in church today.
  2. The Millennials’ desires for relationships are affecting the churches they choose to attend. They will only go to churches where they can easily connect with others. Unlike the Boomers, they refuse to be worship-only attendees. They desire to be in more relational settings. Churches with healthy groups will be very attractive to Millennials.
  3. This generation is doctrinally serious. At least the Christians among the Millennials care deeply about doctrine. More and more Millennial Christians will be in churches that are deeper in doctrine both from the preaching and within the groups of the church.
  4. The Millennials are intensely community focused. They are more likely to be in a church where the leadership and the congregation care about and are involved in the community they serve. They are refusing to be a part of a church that acts largely in isolation.
  5. This generation is already affecting the size of the worship gathering. As I noted in my earlier post, worship centers will be smaller. The Millennials are at the forefront of this facility revolution. They will eschew large worship services for more informal and smaller gatherings.
  6. The Millennials will check the facts of church life. When the preacher states a historical fact, many Millennials will check its historical accuracy on their smartphone within seconds. They will look at church budgets with an eye for missional impact. This generation is somewhat of a doubting generation, and they have the resources to check anything said or offered by churches.

I have said on more than one occasion the Millennial Christians, although relatively small in number, will be great in influence in American congregations. We are already seeing that reality. And from my perspective, many of the changes they are bringing to churches are healthy and exciting.

What do you think about these six shaping influences? How are Millennials impacting your church?


  1. Pat Hicks says

    How can you say, “forsaking the gathering of the fellowship” healthy and exciting…they seem so self involved….

    • Thom Rainer says

      Pat –

      I am referring to the Millennials who are involved, the Christian Millennials. Obviously, I am not excited that less of them are Christians. And I believe they are much less self-absorbed than my generation, the Boomers.

      • Melody says

        Yes I don’t think you can call them more self involved than the “me” generation of the 70’s. They do care about the meat of scripture. The world offers much in the way of fluff and truth watered down so much it isn’t even recognizable, that is the last thing they want at church. They don’t see technology as sin either since they can’t remember a world without it.
        What I am curious about is if they see being involved as important then how does home schooling fit into this?

        • Kelli says

          Melody, I think homeschooling fits very well into all of this. In my experience, homeschoolers can be some of the most involved, solid Christians I have met. Depending on the parents, homeschooling can lay a solid foundation in the scriptures for this generation where there is a lot of skepticism and hard questions flying around. I am a millennial who was home schooled and because of the solid foundation I was given, as an adult I have never been faced with a question that shook my faith. On the contrary, I love the hard questions that society asks, because digging into those questions with an open Bible and an understanding of scripture only deepens my faith and in turn gives me a greater capacity to pass that faith on to those around me. This has set the stage for every one of the kids in my family to go on to the mission field.

          As for being involved, there is a common misconception that homeschoolers are not involved. Perhaps in some communities that is the case, but not so in the one I grew up in. In my community, if there was an organization geared toward young people in community service and leadership, you could almost guarantee that the most involved members were homeschoolers. In grade school and high school I was a part of just such and organization. Probably about 2 to 5 percent of that organization was made up of homeschoolers, yet about 90 to 95 percent of the volunteer leadership positions were filled by homeschoolers.

          I was part of a college Bible study group that was open to anyone on campus who wanted to join. Of the 8 or 9 regulars in the group, all but one had been homeschooled and were on fire for spreading the gospel. It was the meatiest Bible study I have ever been a part of. Of those 8 or 9 members, all are still steadily pursuing God and seeking to serve Him except the one who was not homeschooled.

          In one of my college classes, a discussion came up dealing with some of the difficult questions that Christians face. There were many in the class who claimed to be Christians, but not one of them had a clue what they believed or how to stand up to the challenging questions of the teacher except for the three home schoolers in the class.

          Anyway, that is some of my experience. I know there are also public schoolers who have a deep faith in God, and I respect those who are able to shine the light of the Gospel in their schools. Experiences will vary drastically and I understand that there are many who have been scarred by every type of schooling – home, public, and private. All I know is that somehow we have got to give our young people an unshakable foundation. There are far too many who are losing their faith because of the lack of a solid foundation.

    • Wayne Detzler says

      After an intensive year of studying the influence of Millennial churchgoers, I released THE EMERGING CHURCH-A FAITH QUAKE. This week I made arrangements with the Bishop of Bridgeport (CT) to study the impact of Millennials on Catholic worship.I am totally enthused about what seems to be a new spiritual hunger within the Millennial generation.

  2. says

    Suggestion, Thom… There are several folks at my church who need to read this, and quite a few of them are not computer-savvy. Might it be possible, along with the buttons for “share” in all the various formats, to have a button that would allow us to “Save to file” or “print to file”?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Keith –

      Hit the subscribe button, and the posts will be sent to your email. You can then print, forward, and save.


  3. says

    Thom, I live and serve in a community that is full of Millennial’s, Lawrence KS, we are a church with a majority senior membership, we’re moving toward more middle age parents with teens. We have some young single’s and we regular get young adults visiting us on Sunday morning, some come back, most do not. We are doing many of the things you talk about in your article, which is an excellent article. We are doctrinally deep, but not legalistic, we have a thriving Food Pantry, that serves on average 160 family’s every month, we have small groups, on Sunday and during the week. I am open to trying almost anything {that’s biblical} to reach these people, it is exciting to see the ones we have growing and serving and living out their faith, but want to see more.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Gary –

      Thanks for sharing your story. God is blessing you and your church — He always does when we are obedient to Him,

    • Martin says

      What church is it? I have a millennial son who lives in Lawrence and does not attend worship. I would like to direct him to yours

      • David says

        Martin – Gary is talking about Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church. It’s a fine church filled with some wonderful people. I’d also recommend your son to West Haven Baptist Church in nearby Tonganoxie, KS, if he prefers a fellowship that’s a little larger. But both are great churches!

  4. stacy dixon says

    My experience with mills is that they only show up for things directly related to them. They generally ignore the parts of the functioning church that do not serve their immediate interest. They tend to be focused on their immediate peer group and are difficult to teach. What can an Xer possibly have to say? Relevance trumps wisdom. Of course, like all generalities, this is not true of every person. I am a counselor and attend a church largely made up of mills. I like them, but the self-absorption is an issue.

    • Josh Swain says

      Stacy, I might suggest that all generations have been historically self absorbed in what they want. Seniors want what Seniors want which is typically traditional worship setting, Boomers want short sermons that don’t hit home too hard and as far as MIlls go… I actually find them more likely to be fully engaged in church life over the boomer generations. I am 33 years old and I believe Mills are described as those born between 1980 and 2000. (I may be incorrect on that) I do believe that everyone one of us engage in the part of the church that directly serve us. However, there are folks that engage in church activities because they believe in them even if they don’t serve them and then there are those who do it and complain about it and become disgruntled church workers (“those young folks just don’t understand how important {insert any older ministry here} is. The nature of people does not change. We all must make movements to work and serve together and I believe a healthy church is one made up of all generations. When that is the case we will have our differences but our core vision must be the same.

    • Matt Burton says

      Stacy, can’t the same be said for pretty much all generations? Few seniors get involved with youth groups. Few empty-nesters serve in the nursery. It may be sad, or it may just be a fact of life, that we all tend to be more involved in those ministry areas where we have the most interest.

    • Sheri Warren says

      “My experience with mills is…they are difficult to teach.”

      Stacy, I would suggest that there is resistance to certain teaching styles, but I have found participatory methods VERY effective.This goes back to the affinity for small groups or community, but the reading of scripture in small groups, with a conversation on context, meaning, and applicatuon works in budding understanding. Being encouraged to ask questions, in a large or small group setting, and having those questions responded to has also been effective as it also shows truth can stand up to scrutiny. So, dialogue over monologue has proven a more effective approach.

  5. Sam says

    I’m a Millennial and not in America. I am seeing this happen slowly right infront of my eyes. Though I don’t take credit that I am influencing some of our leaders (as they observe our spiritual growth), I am just grateful for how God is answering my and some of my friends prayers. Please pray with us to help re-shape our church and take the gospel as the Number 1. Please pray for us to continue learning and reading God’s Word and growing and setting an example to our elders.

  6. Shawn says

    Thom, I have mixed reactions about the millennials at our new church plant (2 years old). You are right on target with your observations about their relational desires; but I’m not seeing the missional part. I believe they “think” they are being missional; but the facts don’t bear it out. I don’t see them inviting new people to their groups (although I’m encouraging it). While they have a passion for the community; it does not translate into getting the Gospel before people, seeing them come to Christ, and becoming a part of the local church. In fact I have had huge pushback from them when it comes to seeing our small congregation grow. To get them involved in doing something outside of their group is VERY difficult. I hate to say it; but they seem more self-absorbed in what they can get out of the church (through relationships) instead of what they can give to the church through Christ-like service. While their parents (the boomers) may have been self-absorbed with secular pursuits – the Christian millennials seem self-absorbed with their view of Christian spirituality and what the church can give them through relationships; at the expense of the local body they identify with.

    Their view of evangelism is so focused and narrow that it doesn’t seem to reflect the model we see in the NT regarding evangelism. My millennial worship pastor things you have to be in a Bible study with someone for a year before you can really make an evaluation about their salvation (as if that’s our job.) We have scores and scores of people in our geographic target area…with their approach we would reach very few of these people.

    I have got pushback from them on…

    * Inviting friends to worship gatherings.
    * Starting a transportation ministry.
    * Reaching out to guests in our church.
    * telling me “it doesn’t matter where someone goes to church.” (while I understand this philosophically; why start a new church if we’re not going to engage our community to be a part of it!)

    I have seen other church plants and existing churches struggle with small groups of millennials who have issues (doctrinally, with methods, etc.) who bond together and then leave the church.

    The recent fascination of this group with Reformed theology has been an issue in many churches. We’ve seen this in our SBC circles with many of the young pastors coming out of seminary with very Reformed views of mission’s and evangelism. I hear this from the current millennials in our church who are enthralled with many of the Reformed authors and books of the last 10 to 20 years. Every time I discuss evangelism I get some type of an excuse from this group that smacks of Reformed thinking.

    Wow…I’ve went way off topic (but maybe not as much as you think…I believe there’s a correlation between the recent Reformed emphasis and what we’re experiencing from Christian millennials.) I could go on…but you get the idea…

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Shawn, I appreciate your thoughts and I think they are on-topic. Any statistics about generations are generalizations. There will always be exceptions.

    • Ryan says

      I am a millennial church planter and I agree with Shawn in his evaluation. I have also observed many of the same things that he finds frustrating. However, I am not sure it is just Millennials. Other generations exhibit similar traits, maybe it seems more obvious with Millennials.

      • Shawn says

        Hi Ryan, Here’s a more specific example…we recently had an outreach day. As a part of the effort people wrote the names of friends they were inviting on a card and posted them on a prayer board so we could pray for them as a church. Almost every generation in our church was represented on the board EXCEPT for the millennials. Our middle-age, older folks and even some of our teens invited lots of friends. Our millennials were shocking absent from the effort. So while I hear you that the problems may cross generations; it is very prominent among our 20-year olds. (at least in our context)

        • Brian Smith says

          Shawn…did you ask them to create an event on Facebook and invite all of their friends and then to tweet and instagram during the service. Was the event proliferated on social media and through the church eNews and other electronic outlets. Did the church tweet about the event? I’m not being sarcastic in any way, I’m the strategic communications volunteer (Gen X’er) at my church. The middle age will do the cards and the youth will do what they are told. The mills and Xers like myself are eSavvy. Was there an electronic board to post on…was it on the church website? Perhaps they need to be engaged like they engage. Have an SMS distro list, send the eNews electronically, tweet, Facebook. I don’t carry checks or cash, I give online as do a number of mils. I don’t see a problem, just a misunderstanding in how to communicate and get reciprocal communication…all things to all people. Not trying to flame and I hope this comes across as some recommendations not as an indictment my friend and brother.

          • Shawn says

            Our communication guy is a millennial. He had it on FB, our
            website, and we did several mass emails (w/ MailChimp). Don’t know
            if he tweeted it or not. We do have FB events for most of our
            significant outreach activities. But I am sure open to suggestions
            in our communication strategy. I’m sure we can do a better job in
            that area; but the fact that they were not talking about inviting
            friends, that our mill worship Pastor only invited 1 friend, and
            that of the friends that come – none we’re in their age group is

  7. says

    Can you clarify your statistics? You say 15% are Christian and 20% attend church. So is that 20% of the 15% (which would mean 3%), or do 5% attend church without identifying themselves as Christian? A corollary question, are those who are attending church “graduates” of a church youth group?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jim –

      You’re right. My statistics are muddled. Of the Millennials, 15% are Christians. Of the Millennials, 20% are church attendees. That means more are attending church than those who are Christians.

  8. says

    Great thoughts as always, but I must say, #3 is something that I haven’t seen at all. Most 20-30 year olds that I know couldn’t care less about any doctrine other than the doctrine of salvation.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Tom –

      Good to hear from you friend. As with any major statistical study, there will always be those that don’t fall in the majority category. Your observations about #3 are undoubtedly valid for your context.

  9. says

    Thank you for this insightful blog post. Our staff is continuously challenged in our ministry efforts to millennials. They long for authenticity, personal and ministry integrity and relationship. I will be sharing your post at our next staff mtg.

  10. Rik Maxedon says

    Dr. Rainer,

    It seems as though saying thank you for this post is not nearly powerful enough to express myself. This post is great and affirming. It is so great and affirming because it is wonderful to me to know that someone in your position at an institution like Lifeway understands these concepts. Many times, I have felt left behind by the machine of the corporate church because the church I pastor is small and centered around the things you mention here. It seems that this is not the best way to grow a church, but it might just be the best way to grow the Kingdom.

    Maybe I am being a bit too dramatic with that last sentence and maybe by insecurity is showing. But, there is truth there.

    At any rate, thanks for your service and whatever it was the encouraged you to write this post. It brought great courage to me. I am grateful to our God for you and your work!

    • Shawn says

      David, you make a fascinating comment that needs to be examined. You say, “It seems that this is not the best way to grow a church, but it might just be the best way to grow the Kingdom.” So in other words…you are saying that growing the local church is contrary to growing the Kingdom (?)

      This is what millennials miss (and some others as well) – seeing the local church grow is NOT contrary to the growth of the universal body of Christ. It is complementary…and some would say necessary…and some would say it IS God’s way to see the Kingdom grow. In the NT we see local church planting and growth as the primary way the Kingdom is expanded. (right?) Everywhere Paul went he planted local churches, his letters are to churches, the book of revelation begins with messages to local churches.

      While we see some independent missionary activity here and there in the NT, the primary result was always a NT church being started (with a pastor, with structure, with unified worship and purpose).

      This implied dualism between the Kingdom expanding apart from the local church is a concept outside of the NT.

      • tim smith says

        Shawn, I believe there are many local “churches” that are more interested in their “churches” growth than Kingdom growth. Many would seem to be content with events and activities that draw crowds yet have no Spiritual depth and little if any scriptural basis.

        • Shawn says

          Tim, Again…why is the “local” body growing contrary to the “kingdom” growing. I personally do not know of churches who have an evangelistic event and say “this is all about us; and not about the kingdom.” I also do not know of evangelical churches that are unconcerned about spiritual depth and not following Scripture (sure there are many liberal churches out there that would fall into this category; but we’re talking evangelical churches here). I’ve heard this accusation before; but have yet to see it backed up with examples. It’s kind of like saying, “I think Sally is a bad girl.” Well, why is she a bad girl? Is she dancing on tables, flirting with other men, and sneaking off in the night? Opinions need examples to undergird them.

          • tim smith says

            One example would be the typical evangelical church’s membership roll compared to the number of actively involved, sacrificially giving people in the church. If you are content to continue to add to the roll through “baptisms” without holding the current “inactive members” accountable you are adding numbers but not growing the Church.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Rik –

      Wow! Thank you for your words. You may think I encouraged you, but your encouragement to me exceeds anything I did.

  11. Carlton says

    The feedback here is interesting. Why is it that Thom’s research seems to differ from the opinions of so many concerning this generation?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Carlton –

      Any broad statistical study presents averages with generalizations. Any local example is bound to have at least one exception to the national norms.

  12. Allen Calkins says

    In my limited exposure to ministering to Millenials, they seem Jekel/Hydeish on their interest in doctrine. Unsaved mil seekers do not seem hardly any appetite for doctrine at all. They consider it a negative emphasis that goes against their pluralistic ‘can’t we all get along’ thinking way they were raised to think. BUT once they are saved, Mils do seem to hunger for deeper sermons and SS lessons much more than my fellow shallow Boomers or the seemingly apathetic X/Y geners.

  13. says

    I believe that most generations have their negatives and positives (excluding whatever MY generation is, because, obviously, we’re not in error like the others…or so the thought seems to go). I believe what most people, regardless of their generation, are looking for is AUTHENTIC Christianity – a true “following” of Jesus Christ. Due to the many and various faith-heritages, people are looking beyond anything previously experienced for the “new” or the “more authentic” versions that are presented. I have ministered for 30 years in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a conservative, most-traditional, exceedingly liturgical and too-often isolationist element of the worldwide federation of Lutheran churches. Regardless of the generation, there are always the “me-issues.” The solution I have advocated for decades is simple: “If it’s all about Jesus, it’s not about me; and if it’s all about me, it’s not about Jesus.” Regardless of the generation, when people are invited to focus on Jesus-following, the rest flows out of the Spirit’s working…no matter the faith-heritage, the worship format, or the types of ministry offered by a congregation.
    The Millennials have uniqueness: they are the first generation raised by TV where more families are split and/or blended, who have not had to physically work as much, raised in a philosophy of entitlement in the face of terrorism, war, and narcissism. And yet – and this is important – Jesus died for them as much as He has died for all; and this Gospel message connects best when combined with (a) relationships and (b) the opportunity to serve. Now, the question is how we in the church-corporate can translate the truths of the Church Universal that connects with a predominantly non-church, post-church, pre-Christian culture with the timeless grace of God.

  14. Seth says

    You say that only 15% are Christians and at most 20% are attending church with any regularity. I wonder what percent of older generations are ACTUALLY regenerate. I would say that while fewer of the millenials are attending church, a MUCH higher percent of those are genuine. I think this is a huge positive and might (in the long run) outweigh the negative of fewer church attendees.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Seth –

      Any research on the number of regenerate persons is an estimate at best. Having said that, my research shows the following percentages of Christians in each generation: Builders 65%; Boomers 35%; Gen X 22%: Millennials 15%.

  15. David says

    I am a Mill, pastor, and current seminary student @sbts. I think Mills are looking at churches to see if its body of believers actions Monday thru Saturday show their faith and love for the church. All my life I have observed Church goers actions to be no different than that of the world. In Thoms book church member he points out what a Biblical Healthy church member looks like. In too many churches they see unbiblical unhealthy church members that are only Sunday morning worship attenders and it turns them off to that local body. Mills are looking for proof through fruit.

    • Heartspeak says

      They may be chasing a chimera! I’m a Boomer and that’s what I look for as well. But I’ve been told that I’m looking for something that doesn’t exist— and I’m starting to believe it’s true…..!

  16. Glenn Dawson says

    Thom, Great article. I am writing a paper for doctoral study and my question is; Is there something that you have not asked millenials that you will or would ask in further research. i believe that this is an opportunity that we can not afford to miss.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Glenn –

      I recommend you look at the book written by my son, Jess Rainer, and me: “The Millennials.” Thanks for the kind words.

  17. Brooke says

    I am a 20 year old Millennial and college student. Old enough to know what a floppy disk is, but young enough to have never lived in a world without the World Wide Web (it beat me by 23 days).

    First I want to say how impressed and thankful I am to see Dr. Rainer replying to each comment! (I actually just told my roommate and she said, “Wow! That’s really impressive!”)

    Through my time here at college (and having to find a local church) and interning for my (other) church’s young adult ministry (18-30s) over the summer, I have learned a lot about myself and other young people. And from at least my observation, your points are spot on. One of the biggest desires I have noticed within myself and within other young Christians around me is that we desire not only to have relationships, but relationships with those who are older and wiser in the church; to sit under the counsel and discipleship of those further along in their faith. And I believe this is a God-given, biblical desire, but quite honestly, difficult to fulfill.

    I also believe it is important for the readers (and church members as a whole) to remember that there is a difference between the Christian and non-Christian millennial attending your church (naturally, unsaved millennials will not have the same desires as saved ones). There are also differences among the Christians. We each have different hearts and have had relationships with Christ for different periods of time (as with every member of the church). Have grace and remember we still have a lot of growing to do until the day we die. Yes, these are generalizations because we are each at different points, but God is working in all of us. Don’t become discouraged because we lack extensive wisdom, ask God to show you our potential. Love us where we are, encourage us, train us, and even rebuke us, but in the name of the Father. Invest in us. It is our desire and your biblical command. Don’t separate from us, embrace us. We are not the *future* of the church, we ARE the Church, here and now. Don’t look down on us because we are young…

    We are hungry for depth~ in preaching, teaching, relationships, doctrine, and faith. We want to get to know you; get to know us and we’ll show you that it’s true! :)

    I desire a multi-generational church that is alive for the Kingdom and obedient to God’s Word. And praise God I have not only one, but 3 (Navy brat, college student…it happens).

  18. Thom Rainer says

    Great observations and recommendations Brooke. You offer a lot of wisdom, though your years are young. We old dudes would do well to listen to people like you.

  19. Mark says

    May I add:
    Young people (and especially young professionals) also want your ministers to relate to them and attempt to understand the modern world that they are living in. They don’t really care for sermons that have nothing in them that they can use in their life.

    They do not understand task forces and endless committees that do nothing but draft reports after having meetings.

    They will try hard to get your church to have short meetings, use conference calls and turn to technology.

    They see nothing wrong with trying something new on a trial basis and seeing how it turns out.

    They appreciate a good blog debate on issues.

    They will not hesitate to take an issue public instead of keeping it quiet like previous generations did.

  20. Matt Hambrick says

    It’s amazing how critical all us ‘older’ folks are of the younger generation. Especially since we raised them…and our success rate in spreading the Word here in the US in pretty awful at best. God bless them if they don’t want to do church the way that we did! I am also pretty convinced that talking about all of their shortcomings on the comments doesn’t do anything to help. Like it or not they are the future, why don’t we invest in them instead of fighting against them!

  21. Dave Burns says

    Great conclusions, and measures to be considered. My reaction would be to look at all six areas, and try to address the one that would make the quickest difference at your church. The leadership style, and the courage to make change is the question in how to reach millennials. The beauty of the church is diversity, but one change does not fit most. Pray for wisdom in change. The “sacred cows” must go, how much of of what we do in church is purely socially driven instead of spiritually driven must be answered. Millennials like social connections, but connections with depth and purpose. Less activity with more spiritual purpose I see as the answer to impacting millennials.

  22. says

    I am encouraged by your post Thom. As a church planter, I have pounded to our leadership team within this, our first year, that we will be a mega church as God leads but we will not look like any mega church that you have ever seen before. If we do, we will probably not be fulfilling the mission that God has called us to in making this generation disciples of Jesus. Always appreciate your incite Mr. Rainer.

  23. Clare Nesmith says

    Hi, Thom,
    I’m an Episcopal priest living in the North, and having grown up in the South. One commenter earlier in the thread spoke of Millennials not wanting to do “outreach.” My experience has been that this age group (both those in church and not in church) do want to do missional outreach. So those who are “churched” will participate in outreach as long as that outreach is active and focused on the physical needs of those who are in need (Matt 25:31ff). They’re not so interested in saving souls. My deepest hope is that this cohort is living St. Francis of Assisi’s word to “Preach the gospel always. Use words if necessary.” What I find to be necessary is how to connect the impetus for service this age group has with the Saving Grace of Jesus so THEY understand and can begin to articulate it. Then they will better have the tools to evangelize by word as well as by deed.

    • Mark says

      People can show Christianity without saying anything. There are times that one cannot mention faith but one does not have up hang up their faith at the door. Being ethical, honest, helpful, etc. are all things that are supposed to make Christians known. I have seen it in the jewish community as well. Most do not talk about the Torah and prophets, they just act and show it.

      So is your congregation growing? The ones around DC are growing for reasons they haven’t yet figured out. Unlike some churches, they made no obvious changes yet it did not hurt them. I still think the 11-minute homily and being liturgical contributed.

  24. LaDonna says

    My two cents: I consider myself a Millennial, I love Thom Rainer & I believe Thom is right on, in this article.

    1.) It is extremely encouraging to me when someone my age or younger is committed to the church, because unfortunately it is more rare than I would like.
    2.) The size of a church is not nearly as important as the Relationships. If we are not interacting and we don’t feel a connection, what is the point of church?
    3.) I wanna learn something, I wanna go deep in scripture and dig for meaning in not only my life but our life as a whole family.
    4.) I feel like if a church is not involved in the community or in missions, they are doing nothing and living for no one.
    5.) In reference to #2 A larger church may be able to offer more, but if no one knows you or your kids in the hallway where is the connection?
    6.) Some may think it’s disrespectful but Yes, My iPhone is my Bible, if something in a sermon sparks my interest, I’ll take the 10 seconds to research. Tis Life today.

    In addition to this article, a church that offers the same thing to my children is extremely important! Relationships/Depth ect… I want my child to come home from church excited about a lesson or a relationship they have made. Really it’s all about being a Family that meets needs to me.

    • Melody says

      We know you and your kids if you are a regular and are involved. I go to a large church. It makes a huge difference how regular people are, if they stop to interact at all or they just dump their kids off. The relationship has to go both ways. I can see as much as 18 sets of parents in a morning just for my class alone. Some parents come every week but they change which service they come to so that impacts which people they interact with. I volunteer for the same time slot every week. That is true for most people either every week or every other week. I am there every week so the children see the same familiar face-that is if they come at that time every week. This year my slot got moved to the 9 am service so I attend the 11 am service. It is like going to a different church. I didn’t realize that all the people that I have developed a relationship with over the past five years consistently volunteer for the 11 am service. I have gotten to know people through working beside them and attending classes. My church has connection groups but as a single parent it has never worked out well for me and yet I am connected.

      So I would say that if a person isn’t connected they need to look at themselves first. What are they doing to reach out to people? Are they learning other people’s childrens names? Do you know the names of the kids that your kids are in class with? Have you learned the teachers’ names? Have you asked your pastor who is in charge of organizing the volunteers and done that? My church requires that parents volunteer each quarter I think at least once but often they have an attitude about it. I don’t think that is because of the generation but probably has more to do with not making the connection between being part of the kingdom means that you help out. Everyone has a consumer mentality. Provide this for me but I don’t want to know how it ends up on my plate. Are you teaching your children to serve other people?

      Those are just some thoughts from my experiences.

  25. Clare Nesmith says

    Hi, Thom,
    I’m an Episcopal priest living in the North, and having grown up in the South in another denomination. One commenter earlier in the thread spoke of Millennials not wanting to do “outreach.” My experience has been that this age group (both those in church and not in church) do want to do physical missional outreach. So those who are “churched” will participate in outreach as long as that outreach is active and focused on the physical needs of those who are in need (Matt 25:31ff). They’re not so interested in saving souls. My deepest hope is that this cohort is living St. Francis of Assisi’s word to “Preach the gospel always. Use words if necessary.” What I find to be necessary is how to connect the impetus for service this age group has with the Saving Grace of Jesus so THEY understand and can begin to articulate it. Then they will better have the tools to evangelize by word as well as by deed.

  26. Ben Klar says

    As a Millennial-age student pastor (I’d put more emphasis on “pastor”) who works primarily with those at the tail end of the mil generation I appreciate this article greatly. Our church acknowledges that the “young people” (ages 35 and under) of our community are important but we definitely struggle with agreeing on how to best reach the unsaved and disciple the saved. In our context (Bible Belt–Texas) I’ve noticed our Christian Millennials have desires toward most of the areas Thom has mentioned above even if they are mature in any of the areas (not that I would claim such maturity either). Most encouraging has been an interest in family discipleship that has grown within Millennial parents without such emphasis from the pulpit. I have talked to a number of young families in our church who have articulated a strong desire to present an explicit Gospel (to steal Chandler’s title) to their children in a way that they did not experience growing up. Are they experts yet? No, but their desires and actions toward that end will likely bear rich Gospel fruit in the generation to come. Praise God!

    • Mark says

      May I ask what area of Texas? University town? What are you doing towards the Unmarried of the younger generation who are usually skipped over in outreach efforts?

  27. Bryan Manary says

    This goes to the heart of something I have been wrestling with recently. I think that the church has fallen into a trap of being to generationally-focused. This idea started for me as we have contemplated adding a Summer Youth Intern next summer to kick-start our youth ministry (very-small, struggling, old church right now). I have come to believe that youth ministry as we have done it in the Church for the last couple of generations has failed (note the statistics in Dr. Rainer’s reply above). We keep losing more and more of each generation, even as we have intensified our resources, talent and focus. As each new generation “comes of age”, we get a flurry of books, reports, statistics and studies about how we can reach them. But we don’t.
    I have decided that I will encourage our church to think in different terms regarding ministry outreach and programs. For example, we have decided to hire a Family Ministry Intern next summer who will focus on helping families with children at home build homes filled with faith. We will and equip the parents to take the lead, rather than cede it to some YM.
    As I said, this is all still very new thinking for me, and I could easily be waaaaay of base (wouldn’t be the first time!). But maybe its time to change our categories?

    • Melody says

      Be careful of being too inward focused too. Family program is great for those two parent families that have grown up in the church and chosen to stay or return. But what about the rest of us? Is there room at your church for the broken? If one of those kids invites a friend from one of those broken or even a two parent unbelieving home will he feel welcome? Will he recieve love along with the truth of the gospel? Or will he feel like he doesn’t quite belong even though God is father to the fatherless. We teach that it is grace that we are saved, not of ourselves but then we set up miniature cultures that require everyone to be similar in background.

      Just some thoughts from someone who doesn’t fit in.

      • Bryan Manary says

        Good thoughts, Melody. We don’t have everything worked out, but being inclusive of youth whose family is not churched is an important issue for us to consider. Of course there is a place for the broken and the different. I myself am a 55 year old never married pastor. Trust me, that is VERY different in the American Protestant church. Having said that, the nuclear family unit is not a “mini culture”, but God ordained ( I believe ), and an essential way of nurturing and passing on the faith. So it is up to the church to nurture and promote that – even as we strive to include those who don’t quite fit.

        • Melody says

          I agree completely about the church teaching parents to lead their children, especially fathers when there is one. They shouldn’t be standing by letting the wife handle all the disciplining and spiritual leading in the family.

  28. David Stahlman says

    As a millennial on one end of the calendar who spends most of his ministry time working with millennials on the other end I would say if we would give a little room to this generation and allow them some opportunities inside of our churches to lead or even be heard we would actually see less of them leaving. Millennials are in an awkward place generationally because there are fewer of them than the other generations in churches (especially smaller rural congregations that are composed largely of boomers). Because of this their opinions, their passions are often marginalized. The ones that I have been blessed to work with both as leaders and as students have a depth of sincerity towards trying to live for Christ 24/7 that it shames many of the “adults” I see living the “me” life Monday through Saturday.
    These 20 somethings and and teenagers really want doctrine, they want the truth, they want church and Christianity to be different than everything else and many of them do not mind the persecution that comes along with it. They really remind me of foreign Christians I meet like those in China, they are willing to suffer because they understand that, though they have it better in many ways than any other generation before them, there is something more out there something better and they want it. They have a particular distrust in the world because more than any other generation they have seen the hypocrisy in their parents and leaders of the previous generation and they will leave church if being a Christian means being like that. They want honesty and sincerity in worship and most of all I have found that they want relationships, I have never seen a group of people who feel so alone despite 24/7 access to the entire world.

    Just my thoughts.

    This is a fantastic article.


  29. Milton says

    Thank you for the interesting insight and I will accept the input as intended but one thing I have always been concerned about when we begin to breakout certain groups within the church it can lead us away for the central focus of the church. The mindset that causes us to allow the sub groups to shape the church can lead us away from God by way of His word and by the Holy Spirit shaping the church. For instance…

    1. There are fewer of them in church than previous generations…- so do we change the approach/message to try and “attract” millennials to church (2 Cor. 2:15-17)? I think not. You preach and teach the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to draw them into the church. Too many churches today try to design “attractions” to draw. Jesus was never about attractions it was the simple message of John 3:16 ministered by the Holy Spirit that came through the mouth of a disciple of Christ. (Romans 10:13-15). I think there is far too much catering to groups whose numbers already tell us that they’re not in church (1 out of 5) and that does not even mean that that one is saved.

    2. The Millennials’ desire for relationships are affecting the churches they choose to attend… – if millennials are searching for relationships in the church it needs to begin with Jesus otherwise it will become more of a social gathering. True believers are designed for true fellowship. If you seek anything other than a kingdom transformation, then its just a “religious” experience. The church is dying because of superficial relationships. God is in search of true worshipers not a FB friends list. I think its way past time we start focusing on what God desires instead of what church attendees desire.

    3.This generation is doctrinally serious… – this is a good trait for those who are actually believers and in a church but shouldn’t all believers have a Berean attitude? The pursuit of sound doctrine is not just for trusting preaching and teaching but for applying it and living it out. The pure doctrine trail should lead to a transformed life.
    4.The Millennials are intensely community focused… – On one hand we say that the millennials are not in church but then we say they love community. Anyone can be in community. Community is only as strong as the koinania (biblical fellowship) experienced. Often in our church communities donuts, coffee, personal prayer requests, social time, etc. define what community is Biblical community has to be intentional which takes work. Its prayer, fellowship, and spiritual growth steeped in accountability. I’m not sure this is the experience across Christendom today in our churches. Oh, how this must break the heart of our God!

    5. This generation is already affecting the size of the worship gathering – Worship is never measured by size but by truth and spirit (John 4:23) The Father seeks those who will worship Him. Worship is not a Sunday morning event its a daily lifestyle. Corporate worship is an amazing experience when God is truly being worshiped. Not being in corporate worship speaks to the depth of shallowness in the life of a worshiper. Who gets to set the parameters, expectations, and instructions for our sanctuaries? Is it not God and His word(Hebrews 10:25)?

    6. The Millennials will check the facts of church life…If the inspection is to validate the church to be one born of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God then that’s a good thing but it must/should lead to participation and investing one’s spiritual gift to minister to that body of believers. Otherwise its just a fruit inspection exercise.

    I think too much time has been spent on trying to appeal to certain defined groups within the church. I don’t know that I see that pattern biblically speaking. The place of worship is not a mall, buffet, or entertainment center, its a place to gather with others who are like minded about God Almighty to come and worship and know Him and to love and encourage the others around you. I think it is great to hear about the habits of the millennials but maybe more emphasis should be placed on the commandments (instructions) of the Messiah
    (2 Cor. 2:15-17)

  30. says


    Thank you for this post and all of the research that must have gone into it. As always you bring great insights to us and hopefully incite some good change among us.

    Reading through the comments is is apparent that there are some language issues in the church today. For example the term “missional” has been used so much that it has become watered down to the point it is hard to discern what one means when one uses it. In the comments above some folks seem to think being missional means getting butts in the seats (the mission is to grow the church). This definition is most likely derived from the view that the best way to grow the kingdom is by making disciples (or fully formed followers of Christ, or mature Christians, etc) and the best way to do that is by getting them into the church (the implied expression is a group of people meeting at a certain time in a certain building).

    I was born at the tail end of the xers and spent several years as a pastor to Mills. In my experience very few mills (and lots of xers who like me grew up outside of church) would define missional in the way I stated above. Having read your work for awhile now I am presuming that is also not the way you intended it to be interpreted. Perhaps it would be helpful if you linked such “buzz words” (that can have different meanings) to other posts where they are more fully defined and explored. In that way maybe we missionaries to the mills can better understand what your research means in our context.


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