What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials?

My son, Jess Rainer, and I recently spoke in Texas on the topic of the Millennials, America’s largest generation of nearly 79 million persons. Because we co-authored a book entitled The Millennials, we have had the opportunity to speak on the subject on many occasions.

We reminded this audience in Dallas of the birth dates of this generation, 1980 to 2000, and then proceeded to share our research. We had commissioned LifeWay Research to survey 1,200 of the older Millennials; the researchers did an outstanding job. We have thus been able to share incredible amounts of data and insights from these young adults.

The Question about Worship Style

As in most of our speaking settings, we allow a portion of our presentation to be a time of questions and answers. And inevitably someone will ask us about the worship style preferences of the Millennials.

Typically the context of the question emanates from a background of nearly three decades of “worship wars.” In other words, on what “side” are the Millennials? Traditional? Contemporary? Or somewhere on the nebulous spectrum of blended styles?

And though Jess and I did not originally ask those questions in our research, we have sufficient anecdotal evidence to respond. And our response is usually received with some surprise. The direct answer is “none of the above.”

The Three Things That Matter Most

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.
  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.
  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

The Churches They Are Attending

Millennial Christians, and a good number of seekers among their generation, are gravitating to churches where the teaching and preaching is given a high priority. They are attracted to churches whose focus is not only on the members, but on the community and the world. Inwardly focused congregations will not see many Millennials in their churches.

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

But they will walk away from congregations that are still fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams. Those are not essential issues to Millennials, and they don’t desire to waste their time hearing Christians fight about such matters.


  1. says

    Quality – what a wonderful concept. Having a broad spectrum of ages in our congregation we do face some challenges with music style, thankfully that is the only generational challenge we face. Our millennials have told me (because I asked); we are here to glorify God, the solid teaching and the music last. I am thankful that the younger crowd is flexible with music style and much more focused on solid teaching. Thanks for another great post.

  2. says

    Thanks for all you do to keep these things fresh in front of us! I actually dealt with this issue in my previous pastorate. It was an “us against them” attitude. There are now no millenials attending…sadly.

    God bless!

      • john burns says

        I am new to North America , fresh arrival and with a PR Card for BC . I attend a wonderful Baptist Church as a member – Sadly the Music has become an unresolved issue with deep roots now of 10 years + . We have a wonderful young Music/worship pastor but still the older generation is I’m afraid been swept aside . As and Irish Man I have come to love and appreciate the Gettys contribution to the hymns / songs if you will. Their Words full of a depth of truth and doctrine , melodic , and very worshipful and very memorable and I believe they will be the Classics of tomorrow – But I I really wish as a 60+ singer /soloist that the Getty s would seek out British Columbians and come and hold times of Concert/Worship services in the Churches here . I pray that God would move them to coming . I am a nobody but would be a willing helper to bring this to happen to bring Glory to God and leave a legacy of true and meaningful worship from the people .

        • Marie says

          As a millennial involved in worship ministry, this is just so sad for me to hear. I have tried so hard to reintroduce hymns and more diverse styles so more people feel included. And the church won’t let me. When I suggested the recruitment of a musician in her sixties, I was told that the church wants a ‘young, energetic’ image up front. What nonsense. I am young (if not particularly energetic), and I feel excluded by all this focus on youth. As Simon and Garfunkel put it, God is old. The Bible is old. What happened to respecting the wisdom of those who have more experience than we do?

          • David says

            Marie, your words are music to some of us. Your words are more refreshing and true than the original article. This gives me hope that there are still a few young adults that follow Christ with a pure heart, good conscience in sincere faith. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mark says

      I know the feeling of having management/leadership against you. I am not surprised that you lost a lot of younger people. Tragically, the younger generations aren’t wanted in many organizations. I am sure many of your congregation are proud of their accomplishment.

  3. Scott Foster says


    I wondered with your findings pointing towards authenticity, rawness and an awareness of what is happening outside the walls of churches if you saw trends in millennials when it came to preaching?

    I agree with everything shared but am suprised many in this generation lean towards more prophetic, directive, expository teaching, not the topical seeker focused teaching. Being genuine is a huge value!

      • Craig says

        While it may not be the only, shouldn’t the preaching and teaching of the Bible be the primary focus for when the body of Christ meets?

        • Andrew Mckinney says

          I agree Craig. However, our christian culture has been far more vocal about worship music prefrences. Also our worship music is an easy target to identify as the reason for lack of growth or being divisive.

    • Ali says has many blogs on the teaching issue. In a nutshell, millennials (and others) want to be part of a conversation…to be heard…not just talked at.

  4. Joseph Young says

    I am Millennial reaching Millennials and I agree with all three things that matters most. The Millennials I work with are truly seeking genuine community in seeking God’s truth. It doesn’t matter to me if it is traditional, contemporary, or in our traditional language, Hmong. I believe, we want to see the body of Christ worship our Lord in truth and in spirit, not just going through the motions. One thing I would like to add is more time for prayer and not just quick 2-3 minute prayers. Thanks for an awesome post.

    • Marie says

      Yes, agreed. Also, more time for public reading of scripture. I think millennials are more cynical than previous generations, and generally suspicious of anything that comes across as showmanship. When churches are afraid of interrupting the ‘flow’ of worship by reading scripture, the worship is probably not flowing in the right direction!

      Of course, all of these criticisms apply mostly to evangelical churches.

  5. Trevor Huber says

    As a Millenial myself, born in 1987, I agree with the type of churches myself and my friends enjoy attending. I know my wife and I choose a church which focuses on reaching the lost world around us as well as a church which talks about important life issues that we did not get in our more traditional churches growing up. These topics include sex and tithing which are talked about frequently in the bible but seemed taboo in our traditional churches growing up. As for as the, “Rich Content,” of the music I am not sure what that means. At my church we will use “Secular” music as well as contemporary christian music to prepare us for the sermon. I have never heard of Keith & Kristyn Getty. The Christian music I listen to is Fellowship Creative, Hillsong, For King and Country, Brandon Heath, Casting Crowns.

    • Mark says

      I am older than you are, but when the priest was talking about harlots and then went on to mention the soliciting and offering of sexual favors by both genders of highly educated professionals in offices, I knew he understood the modern world. He said nothing more during the homily about office sex, but one sentence was sufficient.

  6. Michael Banak says

    The worship music should be as theologically / doctrinally sound, rich and true to the Word as the sermon. You shouldn’t be singing the same songs week after week just as you shouldn’t be teaching the same bible verse week after week. The style of music should not matter as long as the Words hold true to the Word, are Theologically deep and honor God. The words of the songs shouldn’t be shallow and solely emotional and repetitive.
    The reason the classic hymns are called “Great Hymns of the Faith” is because they were faithful to the Word and spoke to our minds and hearts and were not written to whip us up into an emotional frenzy, they were written to glorify God (not us) and not fit this current manipulative style. I would question some of the Millennials as to what they consider Theologically Rich music, because some of the quote “Worship” music that is being PERFORMED at their churches is not Theologically Rich, but Theologically void. Just because you sing Jesus I love you and my life is meaningless without you and I can overcome the world fifteen times, that is not Worship music and that is what you see at these large, mostly Millennial attended, Churches.

    • Chad says


      There are plenty of “hymns” devoid of theology as well as new songs. My argument is always about where you are looking.

      I might also remind you that a lot of modern songs are taken directly from scripture. Many of which come from the Psalms.

      Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly teaching and admonishing one another in PSALMS, HYMNS, and SPIRITUAL SONGS, with THANKFULNESS in your hearts to God.

      God calls us to a variety of expressions in worship. I find most churches don’t teach Biblical principles about worship and most Christians don’t have proper theological formations on the issue.

      Oh and about repeating things over and over: Psalm 136 has 26 verses each of which ends with the phrase “for His steadfast love endures forever.” Seems like repitition can be glorifying to God. Unless you know something David didn’t.

      Apparently you skipped the last paragraph of the article:

      “But they will walk away from congregations that are still fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams. Those are not essential issues to Millennials, and they don’t desire to waste their time hearing Christians fight about such matters.”

      We have more important things to focus on, so I’m going to be off now and try to invite some people to Easter services.

      • Mike Banak says

        You missed my points completely.

        Most of the quote “old” hymns are full of Theology, most of Modern Hymns are not, with the exception of the Gettys’ music.

        Where I am looking is some of these mega churches where there are a lot of Millenials in attendance

        Thanks for quoting Col 3:16, but a lot of these modern songs don’t fir in that category, just because you pull out a few lines from a verse and plop it in a song doesn’t make it spiritual.

        God indeed loves various types of worship, TRUE worship, and I agree most Churches don’t teach enough Theology or at all, let alone demand it from their worship music.

        Really, comparing Psalms 136 to some of the repetitious worship music today? Next you’ll say that the repetitive prayers of the Pharisees that were condemned should be glorifying then….Apples and Oranges there…

        And I did read the last paragraph, but again you miss the point, if they are having their ears itched by that type of music and the preaching that usually goes with it, why would they leave, answer they don’t because they are in agreement…

        Proper, God pleasing, God centered Worship Music is of vital importance, like I said before, it’s just as important that you come before the Lord with Worship music that is pleasing to him, honors him, exalts HIM! It is important to defend this just as it is to defend false teaching and if you don’t agree maybe you would accept my invitation to come to our church this Easter…

        • Chad says

          “Proper, God pleasing, God centered Worship Music is of vital importance, like I said before, it’s just as important that you come before the Lord with Worship music that is pleasing to him, honors him, exalts HIM! It is important to defend this just as it is to defend false teaching and if you don’t agree maybe you would accept my invitation to come to our church this Easter…”

          Don’t you realize that to God the most important thing is where our hearts are at? Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira. Many other people brought a variety of things to the apostles but the these two conspired to keep some of their resources for themselves. God doesn’t strike them down because of what they bring but because they of their deceptive hearts and their lie. Worship is no different. Worship is a heart language. God looks at our hearts and whether he is glorified has to do with that, not whether the music was just right or not.

          And you are still over generalizing old and new music way too much. There are a myriad of new songs that are theological deep and sound (that aren’t Getty songs): “Man of Sorrows” – Brook Ligertwood; “This is Amazing Grace” – Jeremy Riddle; “Revelation Song” -Jenny Lee Riddle; “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” – Stuart Townend; “Happy Day” – Tim Hughes; “Overcome” – Jon Egan; “Stronger” – Ben Fielding; “Worthy is the Lamb” – Darlene Zschech; I could go on and on.

          Just out of curiosity what are the “old” songs you are talking about?

        • Mike Banak says


          If millenials are being turned off by my attempt to defend True Worship, not styles of worship, would they also be turned off by me calling out false teaching in the pulpit? They are linked, and if you are representing all Millenials here, I would just say that The Church should never conform and gear it’s music and teaching to attract any particular group of people. Preach the Word faithfully, sing True Worship songs and God will add to the Church.

          Again, if Millenials would be turned off by this, which I don’t think all do as you say, they don’t understand the importance of defending these issues and how important they are.

          Would you not agree that faithful preaching of The Word and God honoring worship music should be defended and we shouldn’t just let it go to make some people happy?

          • Derek says


            You are correct to say that the church shouldn’t conform; however, what turns off millenials is comparing “newer” praise music to false prophesy. This is a leap, and a jab at folks seeking to worship God.

            1. Psalms are full of repetition of praise, and even the angels are seen in Heaven repeating “Holy.”
            2. There are sheep stealing churches that do get it wrong, but the blog author and the commentators here have expressed this qualification, tacitly.
            3. I attend a church that uses an Organ (only) and has an expressed litergy. Re: Psalm signing, “old” hymns, and sound preaching so I’m not exactly a “homer” for the modern church.

            The problems that I see lie more in topical preaching. To me, it seems as though millenials as a whole don’t value exposition. “Lets talk about a topic!” or “lets have a small group discussion based on our feelings!” It is the same problem that we have in emphasizing the Love of God to the exclusion of justice, goodness, wrath, etc…

            1984 model here….

          • Mike Banak says


            On your first statement, My apologies on not being more specific, I wasn’t implying that all newer music lack Theology, I am referring to the emotionally driven, empty your mind, repetitive kinds that are clearly written to whip up your emotions instead of lift the name of Christ. Like I said, I love the Gettys music, they clearly put thought into their words and are more concerned with the words being right then how the music makes you FEEL.

            So I’m not stating that contempoary music in the church means you’ll have false teachers, I’m saying that usually when you have the contempoary music I described above, you’ll have a Pastor who also lacks the ability to preach sound Theology, and you end up getting, as you say, nothing but Topical messages.

            Thanks for your reply, my only desire is that the Truth is being preached and we offer up to God honoring worship music he deserves, we should be as discerning as to what is being preached as to what is being sung.

            God Bless

          • PDAC says

            You should check out They just started up a year ago, but released an album that has a variety of styles, including a modern hymn titled, “Holy God, Who Lives in Heaven’s Light” based out of 1 John. We sing that one in our church from time to time.

        • Michael Banak says

          PDAC –

          1) Holy God, who lives in heaven’s light,
          You rule in righteousness, through all Your glory shines.
          Search our hearts, uncover every sin,
          Unveil the wicked ways that dwell within.
          For we are dust, and like the flowers fade,
          But You are first and last, and never failing.
          Holy God, who dwells in heaven’s light,
          We bow in brokenness before Your throne.

          Beautiful, It teaches who God is, who we are and points back to God…It probably sounds amazing sung in a congregation…

          Thanks for sharing that!

    • Leo Makarov says

      Michael, I’m with you 100% !!!!

      I guess I missed NOT being a millenial by 6 months. (June 1980).
      I sure hope more and more churches consider using more “traditional” hymns in their services.
      A 4 verse hymn often has the same amount, if not more, theology crammed into it than a weak sermon.

      The term “rich content” is a rather broad, unspecific term.

  7. Mike says

    I’m a Millennial that works for a medium sized church and faithfully attends and serves a small church in a nearby rural area.

    Both churches say the same thing. They want to attract “young people”. They want to “embrace new ways of communicating and connecting with people.” Yet there is still a hesitation to do so. When it’s time to make a decision about doing something new, both churches want to just barely dip their toe in the water with the new idea. Without a genuine commitment and support of an idea, it has no chance of succeeding.

    I understand that uncharted territories are scary. But you can’t let fear of failure or fear of the unknown paralyze you. Put prayerful thought into the decisions you make, but then make them with conviction. If you succeed that’s great. If you fail, you now have more knowledge and experience to help you make your next decision.

    I guess what I’m saying is just do something. Trust that God will lead you where you need to be.

  8. says

    Thanks for reminding us of their focus on the biblical, theological and historical worship content instead of the musical style. It is pretty refreshing and the rest of us could learn from this generation. If music is the primary driver it will continue to get most of the blame. Beginning with the biblical and theological content, however, allows that music to spring forth from a solid foundation.

  9. Mark Dance says

    Our church is relocating next door to a college campus on Easter, and I was hoping that I could connect with Millennials by simply untucking my shirt when I preach. You have blown away my strategy with your blog Dr Rainer!

    On a serious note, I do fear missing this and any opportunity to reach Millennials. All pastors should take comfort in knowing that any church can deliver on good THEOLOGY (music/preaching) and AUTHENTICITY. Although QUALITY may not seem as important by comparison, I agree with the Rainers that it is very important to Millennials as well as their Boomer parents. If we don’t prioritize quality in our worship planning and budgets, the Millennials won’t prioritize coming to our churches.

  10. Mark Lindsay says

    From my research, millennials are indeed looking for richness, authenticity, and quality. The good news is these can be found in any type of church. Furthermore, absent these attractional values in their church, millennials appear to be flocking to “attractional churches” that openly model them.

    However, from my research I believe that this is a second choice for most millennials. The real solution for the typical church trying to retain millennials is not to try to offer something attractive to them. The real solution is to understand what they value in life and to intentionally invite them into the leadership “conversation” of the church. Any changes that need to take place in view of millennial values can then happen organically as a simple function of their valued presence. The church that understands their drive for success, their commitment to diversity, their desire to be trusted, and their openness to change rules to fit the need, and that acts upon that understanding, will be set up nicely to retain this generation as a foundation for a sustainable future.

  11. Dave Westlake says

    In all of the talk about worship styles with an emphasis on the preaching and teaching, is there any discussion about the issue of time of service and order of worship? I ask because in many churches I have served and observed it does seem as if the order of worship is chiseled in stone, and as the one hour mark for the entire service approached people begin to look at watches. I have even heard of people taking notes on what time the pastor begins the sermon, what time the pastor ends it, and then remembering what time the clock said when the benediction was given. This occurs even when Communion is being offered and received. Thanks in advance.

    • Thom Rainer says

      I am not aware of the specific discussion. It might be a topic for my research and future posts. Thanks.

  12. says


    Great post. What was the sample group used to gather these findings? Are you finding that these preferences have little to do with race and cultural preferences? In other words, would these findings hold if you asked a group of 100 urban, African American Millennials?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Geno –

      The original sample group was 1,200 older Millennials (born 1980 to 1991). The sampling came close to mirroring the demographics of the United States. For example, anglos were represented by 61% of the total, African-Americans at 14%, Hispanics at 19%, and Asian-Americans at 5%. Females comprised 49% of the sample; and males, of course, the remaining 51%. Birth year representation was in line with actual numbers of births. Matters such as education, income, and geographic distribution reflect similar distribution of the entire generation.

      In terms of accuracy, at a 95% confidence level and a 50% distribution, the potential sample error is +/- 2.8 percentage points. The potential margin error for subgroups would be higher, though we saw no significant disparity in the responses of the subgroups to the entire sample as whole.

  13. says

    In other words the more we go around the more we come back to the same. God’s Word attracts people. It has always been that way, so far as I can tell, and I think it always will. So it isn’t style but His Word. So preach on good preachers with more of His authentic, rich and quality Words. I’m not a Millennial but the “Millennials” I see are all people just like me. They walk, they talk, they eat, and they all need a relationship with their Creator just like me.

  14. Matt Jones says

    As a millennial I love this post. I go to a church of blended worship styles (probably mostly contemporary, but by no means cutting edge). So many of the songs we sing, if I heard them on the radio I would flip the channel. But in church with the chorus of believers, they feel authentic. It is true that rich content, quality, and authenticity are what we long for, but the reason that I find older generations don’t often see that in us is that they have different definitions of what those things are. For the millennial, those three terms are deeply practical. We can’t feel like we have achieved them until we have put them in our lives and souls. Rich content doesn’t mean, good information as much as good applicable preaching. We are not afraid of thinking but we thrive on putting our thoughts to work. Quality also is practical, we will give you a pass on imperfections if you are actually trying. And authenticity is so important because without it, we can’t enjoy the application of worship. We are flat out disturbed at the thought of forgetting church as soon as we walk out the door. As much as we are aware of it compartmentalization is not something we can stomach. We are purist, which is why so many sermons and books these days (marketed to millennials) are titled with “radical” and the like. We are OK with sold-out and often feel out of place in churches because of that very fact. Worship wars disgust us because they define Christians who can’t give up a preference or style, and then we wonder how they could ever achieve “sold-out.” Us young folks need guidance, but not to be held back. Balancing wise guidance with openness to new ideas is what will set millennials free in our churches to be all that they can be through Christ. I have seen it work, and through Christ it is possible.

    • Mark Dance says

      Thank you Matt for your fresh perspective as a Millennial. It is good for us non-Millennials to hear how worship wars affect you. I think every generation has had their fill of it. I would assume that these selfish skirmishes “disgust” the Object of our worship as well.

      • Chad says

        BINGO! How can God be honored by people who put their preferences and themselves ahead of everyone else? It is a heart issue not a music issue.

  15. says

    Thank you for this. I believe it’s time to stop the wars and begin working on quality, authentic (and a word you did not use) relevant worship.

  16. Isaac says

    As a borderline GenX/Millennial I have wondered (humbly) if this divorce in tastes in worship and music reflect a maturity on the part of this younger group or an immaturity on the part of the older groups. I don’t say this as a slight toward anyone…but I have been thinking a lot about what drives the older generation’s views on traditional church services and worship. It feels disrespectful to blame it on issues of maturity, but it a really easy point to run toward. It seems like if I could understand the underlying issues regarding the preferences of both (any) groups that it would make resolution easier to achieve. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your posts. They are always appreciated. :)

    • Thom Rainer says

      Isaac –

      I don’t think it is inherently generational. I see it more as a reflection of the way we have “done church” for three or more decades. Much of the focus has been on “what can the church do for me?” rather than “how can I serve God and others through the church?” As a consequence, we have created a consumer-driven church that demands we meet the comfort and preferences of church members. Certainly we should care for the genuine needs of church members, but many members today demand that the church be about their preferences as well.

      I wrote a little book about reversing this trend. It is called “I Am a Church Member.” I’m not plugging the book; rather I’m giving you a source that reflects another perspective.

      Thanks to you as well.

      • Isaac says

        I’ve read part way through “I Am a Church Member” and enjoyed it so far. I went ahead and downloaded the app a while back, too. :)

        Good point. There are plenty of people across all the demographics of churches I’m familiar with who have trouble separating doctrine from preference and needs from neediness. It’s easier to pick those people out when I have a “us/them” mentality.

        Thanks for your response!

    • Chad says

      I think you are pointing the right direction and I agree with Thom that a lot of it is the philosophy of church membership. We have bred consumerism in the church (and by we I mean those who had major influence in and around the 1950s.) Ed Stetzer always says if the 1950’s come back most churches in America would be ready. I think that, unfortunately most of this issue is not a theological argument. Its a preference argument by a generation that is largely concerned with what the church should do for them, and one that is focused on “the good old days.”

      I also don’t mean any disrespect to those older than myself, but I think that Millenials have arrived at what the church is really supposed to be and I think its because we have an unromanticized view of the church. Alot of millenials didn’t grow up in the church. So those coming into the church don’t have any idea other than what the Bible says church should be. We’re largely not looking for what the church can do for us but what it can do in our communities and the world around us.

      If we are all selfless I think most of the things Millenials are looking for will naturally be found in most churches.

  17. Kat says

    Here’s the thing: if your church is asking “what worship style is [demographic] interested in?”
    -You are still not getting it-
    Worship is not about YOU it is about God. You will never “appeal to [demographic]” as long as what you are seeking to do is be a man-pleaser. The only true “authentic” worship is the one which says “What will honor God and please Him?” and let the world think what they will.

    Stop asking what will please fallen sinful men, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

    • JPH says

      Kat, I think you truly get to the CORE of the issue here. What will honor God, regardless of how I, or anyone else for that matter feels? What does God require of me?

  18. says


    Thanks for this. It served as a great touchpoint for me as I sent a vision document to our church’s leaders this morning about how we can help make our Sunday experience as a congregation into a robust component of our discipleship culture.


  19. says

    I think our churches are suffering from a lack of authenticity in many respects. Our worship seems to be the most prominent place though. When you have people attempting to act like something they’re not in order to attract a certain demographic it comes across fake and this generation can instantly see that. Being who Christ has called you to be and not trying to act an age or style that you truly aren’t is a large key in this situation. I think the churches who truly reach people in our day will be intergenerational in their approach where the generations are fully integrated and not separated by things like musical and preaching styles.

    • Mark Dance says

      Good input Ken. I agree with you 100%. Our 92 year old church is a very intergenerational church family. Each generation longs to be connected with the other generations, as opposed to being faced off in a worship skirmish.

  20. Mark says

    In the big cities, I think the younger professionals appreciate the really old, liturgical services with a homily focused on Jesus taken from the gospel of the day. These churches still play the organ and have a cantor with the congregation singing the responses. Thus, congregational participation occurs. During advent the evidence that Jesus was the messiah as foretold by the prophets made a lot of sense. They also don’t want the difficult, ugly topics left out of the homily. They want to sense that the minister or priest understands the modern world and everyday life, and that the clergy, regardless of gender, are learned and act professionally, not folksy.

  21. Mike Tourangeau says

    Great article! I grew up in an independent Baptist world with mainly revivalistic songs from the 50’s. The first time I heard the Gettys or Sovereign Grace music, something clicked, I could never sing mindless dittys again!

    To be fair there are some bad newer songs, but listen closely to Across the Lands. There is a feast there!

  22. Drew says

    For decades our family attended a church with a content-rich, contemporary style of worship. One of the wise ways one of the pastors led us was having a multi-month series called “It’s not about the style” During that series the worship music used each Sunday was a distinct style, everything from traditional sacred, country, accoustic, rap, rock, etc. Basically it guarenteed that most everyone would have at least one Sunday service where they were worshipping in a style they didn’t like (something to offend everyone). Years later, when our family joined a very traditional style church with pipe-organ and hymnals, that series served me extremely well. I can’t count the number of times when a hymn would start up and everything inside me would wince because I didn’t care for the style. The phrase, “It’s not about the style” would echo in my mind and I would adjust my heart to worship God outside my realm of comfort.

  23. says

    Immediately after reading your article, I forwarded the link to this article along with a big “Thank you” message to my pastor and worship pastor.

    Your article was a great reminder to me to be thankful for the opportunity I have to worship and serve in a church that does place such a high priority on the teaching, preaching, and pastors who invest themselves in order to provide such rich content that reflects deep biblical and theological truths. Thank you so much for the reminder.

    • Thom Rainer says

      And your attitude of thanksgiving says much of your biblical character, Rodney. So I say “thank you” to you.

  24. says

    Good article! As a ‘Millennial,’ I’d say you’re pretty accurate in you’re assessment, at least from my perspective. I know that I personally am much more interested in biblical content and authenticity of expression in worship than I am any particular style. I get so frustrated by “worship wars” – the very notion is dripping with consumerism!

    I would add this: I think that it needs to be understood that “music” in church is a subset of “worship,” not the equivalent. I (and many others of my generation) am passionate that “church” (a gospel-centered community living together on mission) not be confused with “church services” (a weekly gathering). I think that these underlying issues are important to understand the way our generation views “worship” and “church.”

    • Zach says

      Great point, Chris. This goes back to what someone else was saying about definition of terms being so critical. I’m a millennial and I have had to do some serious thinking about what goes into a worship service. Our team at our church is just learning to really pull together a cohesive, immersive worship service on Sunday mornings. There’s been a lot of trial and error (especially with sound systems!) but our people have been patient. You can’t have quality without being intentional, and you need a team committed to glorify Christ with their labor of love.

      Ultimately, each church member needs to check their preferences at the door–the ones who prefer traditional hymns need to sing joyfully during the praise chorus, and the ones who prefer a modern sound need to let the weight of an older song sink into their souls.

  25. Leo Makarov says

    What is meant by “MOST” in the survey ? Doesn’t seem legit until actual numbers are given. Most can mean 90% of people, or 51%. Which one is it ????

  26. Mark Dance says

    Wow- this is great feedback today about worship! I recommend the “Rainer on Leadership” podcast #037 about how to work through “Worship Wars.” (click PODCAST on top of this page). Dr Rainer talks about how to unify Bommers and Millennials in worship.

    I would also like to suggest a new follow-up podcast on worship that would address some of these questions and comments today. I know that my worship pastor and I could greatly benefit from getting more handles on how to improve our quality, authenticity and theology on Sunday mornings.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Rickie –

      One source to answer your question would be my post “The Main Reason People Leave a Church.” You can find it in the search function on

  27. Justin says


    Your observations about content, authenticity, and quality seem accurate, but what, if any, is the role of style?

    I hear over and over again from our pastor and other ministry leaders that “style should not matter.” Several posters above state something similar. This seems to be an attempt to shame those who have been embattled in the “worship wars.”

    It would be very tempting to give my pastor a Lecrae CD (or another artist very different from his own taste) and see how long he could/would listen to it in his car.

    Lecrae offers deep content, authenticity, and quality; but I am guessing my pastor would not listen for very long. The same experiment could replicated with any person and any “style.” There seems to be something more going on than just preference.

    I’ve been curious for a while now what role style should play in worship, if any. Music has a unique ability to resonate deep within the heart of people. Consider how Saul was soothed by David’s harp.

    If music is so powerful, does style matter?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Style does matter, in the sense that we all have our preferences on a number of issues. The biblical thesis running through many of these comments is that we should not insist that on having our way on stylistic issues. All believers should seek to put others (and their stylistic preferences) above ourselves.

      • Justin says

        Thanks for the response. If everyone truly put each others’ interest ahead of his or her own, would that lead to a “majority rules” situation? Would style then be dictated by the preference of the largest group?

        By the way on a separate note, the ideas in your original post probably apply to more than just music. I work with hundreds of millennials every day, and they have serious issues with the “programs” of the traditional church whether related to worship, discipleship, evangelism, or anything else. They want rich content, authenticity, and quality across the board–with authenticity being at the top.

        Great discussion; thank you.

  28. says

    As somebody just barely included in the Millennial generation (born in 1980), these three elements pretty exactly describe my own priorities and preferences in corporate worship.

    One thing that has been a tremendous blessing to me serving as a worship leader in a growing church (Stevens Street Baptist in Cookeville, TN) for almost 15 years has been seeing that the generations that came before mine also seem very eager to be led by those who share these priorities. Their own preferences are different, certainly, but in my experience, their desire to see young people passionate about Christ trumps questions of musical style. At the same time, our Millennials (which are a very large demographic in our congregation) are perfectly willing to sing “older” songs that line up with the preferences of their elders, because they appreciate the authenticity and passion of the older generations. When I plan worship services, I never feel as if I need to “throw a bone” to anyone in particular. I have the freedom to choose rich content, knowing that because our people are led well in all aspects of the life of our church, they will follow their leaders and engage in the worship of the church. It makes for some pretty sweet multi-generational fellowship!

    • Thom Rainer says

      You are indeed a part of a healthy church, John.

      By the way, I really admire your pastor. (Note to readers: The pastor is my son, Sam Rainer).

  29. Bob Ricard says

    I truly dislike when one breaks down the believers in Christ to different “groups”. There is but one Christ and to label some as a different group divides what should be a unified body of believers. One should concentrate on reaching all unbelievers and not worry about what reaches a specific group.

  30. Les says

    Dr. Rainer, thanks for your blog and I enjoy people’s responses although I seldom respond. I suppose my response to this post is that I don’t know what to do except keep on doing what I am doing but we aren’t reaching anyone.

    My church is extremely small, we average 26 in worship. I preach sound doctrinal sermons and stay true to the text. Do seasonal events. We sing traditional songs out of a hymnal with no overhead of any sort. We have a 25 year old young lady as our music leader that is very sincere and does her best and fits in well in our congregation. We have a 25 year old youth director also and I allow him to preach the last Sunday of each month. I am 71. The young age of these two leaders has not drawn any people to our church. We got the young people because we were told that would draw people of any age and our congregation was old. Hasn’t happened. We do have one couple who thinks we need to switch to a traditional service because it will bring in young people and the millennia’s. I have asked them for a model as proof of that but none is forth coming. I also challenged them to find a band but they apparently are only talk.

    I don’t know what else to do.-Bro. Les

    • Thom Rainer says

      Les –

      Please know I have prayed for you and your church. Though I cannot offer specific solutions based on the limited information, I can suggest you focus on getting the church looking beyond itself. Perhaps you could start with some major project to help the community or a local school.

  31. Max says

    “… theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality …”

    I recently picked up LifeWay’s most recent revision of the Baptist Hymnal while attending a meeting at a neighboring church. I was surprised to see that certain hymns referring to Christ’s death as an atonement for everyone and not just the elect – like “Whosoever Will” and “Whosoever Meaneth Me” didn’t make the cut. Neither did “Oh What a Wonder It Is”, with its “all who would believe in Him, He’d save them every one” or “Holy Bible, Book of Love”, which proclaims that Christ “died for everyone.” I suppose these grand old hymns, and others like them, were dropped to make room for some new millennial songs or perhaps reflected a shift in SBC theological leaning … but they contained theologically rich music which blessed past generations; wonderful hymns which future generations will miss out on.

    • J Sloan says


      That is a most ridiculous comment. You’re obviously not a reader of this site. If you were, you’d know that Dr. Rainer is not making soreriological assertions here. To insinuate such is an indictment of your agenda.

      As for the merit of your claim, please note the scads of hymns by those of an Arminian persuasion in the hymnal. All the ones by Wesley for instance. The overlap of hymns in the Baptist Hymnal and Methodist Hymnal are extensive.

      You came to this post with an agenda just like you’re looking at the hymnal with the same. Take off the conspiracy glasses and enjoy the great view with the rest of us.

    • Frank Montgomery says

      Dr. Rainer –

      Please accept this as constructive criticism. I know you like to have as open of a conversation as possible on this blog, even when you get criticized. But please don’t approve comments like this one by Max. He obviously has no clue what he is talking about. I know many of those who were on the committee for the 2008 hymnal. To suggest they had an agenda like Max did is ridiculous. In fact, there are more evangelistic hymns than in the earlier hymnal. When you approve comments like his, it distracts from a healthy discussion. Please keep the fringe and divisive people off the blog. Thank you for hearing me.

    • Sylvia Greystone says

      Max –

      Are you serious? Are you really saying the 2008 Baptist Hymnal has a Calvinistic agenda? Do you have any idea of the background of this hymnal? Are you always this divisive? Good grief.

    • Max says

      J, Frank & Sylvia – thank you for your perspective.

      Dr. Rainer – thank you for allowing me to post mine.

  32. Heather says

    Although I do agree that most people hate inward & self-centered churches, because they want inclusion, I feel that they lean towards more secular churches. I do not, however, agree AT ALL about our generation not caring for the music or hymnals. I, personally,will NEVER go to a church that doesn’t sing hymnals or have a choir. And if they jump around in the Holy spirit, even better! I feel most connected to God via music. There’s not much more a preacher can say that I can’t read from the Bible! If a sermon is over an hour long, I won’t stay! I remember missing Sunday school when I became “too old” & had to go to sermon. It’s boring. So no, I disagree with a lot of this, & I believe the next generation will be different.

  33. John Cotten says

    I have no research to back this up, but I believe that believers of every generation face much the same temptation when it comes to worship: to put other gods before I Am. The only difference is in the “gods” chosen. We tend to elevate the Worship Celebrity of the Moment, hanging on their every word, reading their every book, eagerly awaiting their latest recording. Sometimes we know more about them than we know about the Lord Himself. We almost treat them like high priests, through whom alone God speaks to us!

    After a season, that Celebrity fades and a new one steps center stage.

    This is no less true of those in their sixties or seventies than it is of those in their twenties or thirties, except perhaps that the younger one is, the more frequent the turnover.

    Regardless of our age, background or culture, may Jesus Christ alone be our sufficiency. “In Christ Alone my hope is found,” “all other ground is sinking sand.” Soli Deo Gloria!

  34. says

    The Question should be: “What type of worship pleases God and is acceptable to Him”.
    The Bible teaches, “What man highly esteems, God counts as an abomination.”
    The Bible teaches that the world hates God, so it is unbiblical to use music that sounds like the world and is acceptable to the world in an attempt to worship a holy God.
    Worship must be GOD CENTERED and not man-centered. Stop worrying about what pleases the millennial’s. Concentrate on pleasing God!

    • Robert Wright says

      How do you know what is pleasing to God? You have an interpretation of pleasing. How do you worship God? Do you fall to your knees or do you dance in the street naked because both are pleasing to God. There is nothing in the Bible of how to sing praises to Him or the method to sing to Him. It says we will be singing praises to God when we get to Heaven. Wonder what type of music that will be? It may be some style none of us have ever heard. When we are in Heaven then we will know exactly what He wants and I believe there will be people there that most “élite” Christians will wonder how they ever got there singing with their hands in the air or standing while singing. Before you can start preaching to someone about salvation you first have to have them in the building. If there is nothing to excite them about coming to your building then they are lost. If they are 18 and older then the percentage of them that start going to church is very low. Something usually will drastically change in their life before they will talk to God for the first time.

      A few years ago I visited a church to see how they do multiple services. The first was a blended service with a hired orchestra. The second was all youth lead and very loud contemporary and the third was more traditional. During the second service, while the kids were singing with their hands in the air, these two older women came up to an Elder friend of mine. The one said to the other “Vic (elders name) what are you going to do about that in there”. The other women elbows her friend and said “they’re here aren’t they!”. Vic told me he said nothing at all. Everything that needed to be said was said. That is a person that understands why we have church in different formats.

      We have to focus on what brings people to God in the first time. If we did not grow up knowing God’s love (taken to church by parents) then something or someone has to introduce us to God. We have to start focusing on what will bring others to God and stop worrying about what we “think” praising God is. What you call praising may not be what someone else calls praising or what opens their heart to allow God to get inside. That may be repeating the same verse 12 times but if that is what it takes then God is pleased and will use that person.

  35. Victoria F. Boron says

    What is ‘authentic’ worship? The modern church as we know it looks nothing like the church of the first few centuries of Christianity. If you are going to talk about authenticity and not reference the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, it’s going to be very hard to discuss theology since what is preached and what is taught in the modern, protestant church is rather ‘new’ in the grand scheme of Christendom. My family and I left a large protestant church and became Orthodox and have found the richness that was lacking, the consistency in theology that was not in the Protestant Churches. Now, every church is made up of humans, so every church has to work hard to reach out in a relational way to all folks from all walks of life. However, the worship service itself should not be ‘catered’ to a generation, we do them a disservice when we do that. All too often, Church History is only referenced to the Reformation or ‘thank God we aren’t Catholic’, when there is an entire other side of the world (The Eastern Church) that has believed in the SAME theology since the very beginning of Christianity and never had the Crusades. They never adopted the requirement of celibacy in their Priests, they are allowed to marry and have a family, there is no theology of Purgatory and many of those Roman Catholic Theologies that came after the great Schism. If someone is looking for the consistency of theology, the richness of worship, and embracing the beauty of the history of Christianity, I would encourage you to look towards a Church that can trace it’s roots to the beginning of Christianity with complete theological consistency with The Early Church. If you notice, all reformation happened in the West from the Catholic Church, because there was gross abuse of power/money etc. and with the theology of the Catholic Church, however, there was never a need for that in the East with the Orthodox Church because of their continuity of faith and theology, it never needed reform. Thus, every off shoot of the Catholic Church has led to Denomination after Denomination, until wow, some churches are floating off on their own, creating ‘their own’ beliefs, and some with absolutely no accountability for it’s leaders to anyone, and how many congregations have ‘split’ because of it? Not to mention, in the USA, this generation care much more for social justice, and they are not satisfied with ‘if you’re not a raging conservative tea partier, then there’s no way you could be a Christian’ and that ‘the republican party is the party of Jesus (and guns)’. I have seen SO many of my friends that are in their 30’s that have LEFT Christianity all together, that used to attend the protestant, non-denom, top-notch praise and worship band, ‘best of the best’ in modern services that I used to go to as well. They asked questions that theologically, the protestant church COULD NOT and CANNOT answer. They see the gross waste, the lack of care for the environment…that is what this generation care about, and if their church can’t care about it, it’s hard for them to sit through a service, no matter what the lyrics of the songs the awesome praise band is singing. There is a rather huge movement of Protestant ministers into the Orthodox Church, and if someone (no matter what age) were interested the best book to start with is a book called “Becoming Orthodox” written by a former protestant minister, and Campus Crusade for Christ leader, Peter Guillquist who led a mass exodus from the protestant church to the Orthodox Church. This is quite common now, as my own Father is a former Protestant Minister in a Non-Denominational Church, and is now in Seminary to become an Orthodox Priest after the last 12 years being an Eastern Orthodox Christian. If anyone cares to read more, there’s nothing wrong with doing some research and asking questions, especially within Christianity and in reference to the early church. Here’s a link to a blog by a former protestant, turned Orthodox that might interest anyone.

    • says

      This movement to Eastern Orthodoxy is a fad. I know that young people are looking for something stable and permanent in a world of dis-permanence, but Eastern Orthodoxy is so foreign to our culture and Protestantism roots are so deep that most people won’t give it a second thought. I have brought in elements of liturgical worship into our services and people appreciated it, but at the end of the day richness of content, authenticity, and quality as suggested by Rainer are the key components; the denomination is secondary…even Eastern Orthodoxy. The blog link you posted was from a guy who had a solid foundation in Christianity and he was looking for something he didn’t have growing up. I think he/you are the exception, not the rule. On the whole the service could be just about any theological persuasion as long as the paradigm is belong then believe and there are elements of mystery to make it seem more interesting. I base these opinions on the fact that I am a worship pastor in a reformed church that started 4 years ago in Ann Arbor, MI and has grown to 500 from 50 people when we started…all with 26-30 year olds like myself.

      • Greta Hoostal says

        Happy Easter, everyone!

        I am Orthodox as well (convert of one year, from Lutheranism). There has never been any fad regarding Orthodoxy, because it has hardly changed since it was founded, at the first Pentecost. We never had ‘worship wars’, because the worship is basically the same as that of the Apostles, and we even use the Liturgy of one of the very Apostles, St. James, on certain occasions. The Liturgy more typically used is very simliar and hasn’t changed (except in tiny regards like praying for the president now instead of the emperor) in about 1,600 years.

        Participation in a fad is for the sensation of something new, and generally easy, and so is entered on a whim. But it takes about a year, sometimes longer, to be found ready to be received into Orthodox Church, and it is VERY hard—an enjoyable hard, of course, and not more than we are capable of, but it’s not for nothing we have been called spiritual Marines. For example, we have longer services, generally more of them, and we are supposed to stand throughout. Orthodox churches aren’t even supposed to have pews, except on the perimeter for the elderly and infirm to rest as needed. All hymns are sung a capella. We have a dress code of sorts: ideally, women should cover their heads (all hair all the time, like Muslims or nuns), men should wear beards and have uncovered heads (except clergy in certain circumstances), everyone should be in sex-specific clothes (e.g. dresses or skirts on women), and everyone should be dressed and should act very modestly. We have to go to confession, and it is not anonymous—the priest is a full witness and the person confessing has to put his hand on the holy Book of Gospels which proves the truth of the confession—it’s mortifying and makes one embarrassed to sin in the first place, knowing it will be known even to the priest. We have a very strict rule of fasting: no meat (except shellfish), no dairy products, no eggs, no olive oil, no alcoholic drinks, and no sex, not just during Lent or on Fridays, but about HALF the year, and according to a calendar; also no sex, food, or drinks (not even water) at all (except as medically necessary) from midnight until communion the next day. The sex is only for those who are married. Not only do we not write our own marriage vows, we don’t even have vows. The bride and groom are crowned as white martyrs, i.e. of complete self-sacrifice to one another. Women are to obey their husbands as they obey a king and men are to honor their wives as they honor a queen. Abortion AND contraception are prohibited. (‘Matrimony’ etymologically means ‘source’, i.e. of children.) Marriage at a young age (18?) is encouraged. Monasticism is even better. In the event martyrdom is at hand, it is expected we will accept it (e.g. think of the Copts and the Christian Syrians!). Divorce is extremely frowned upon and discouraged and rare, limited to adultery and possibly a few other situations. Remarriage is limited to 3 times and it is a penitential rite. We are given prayer-rules, i.e. certain prayers to be said at certain times of day (more prayers for those who are capable of them) and to be accompanied by the Sign of the Cross (to consecrate oneself to God) and usually prostration (bowing down like a Muslim more or less, but to our God, as people generally did in the OT, as they do in Revelation, and if you look at the original Greek, as Christ commands in Matt. 4:10). We are very pro-life, and often pacifists or at least somewhat so. Absolute monarchy is generally believed in. All that doesn’t sound to me anything like a fad.

        Here is an article that I think indicates non-faddish growth:

        As far as foreignness goes, what about when the Apostles were sent out? They took a foreign religion, a Hebrew religion, to Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Indians, and so on. The Apostles didn’t try to mold the people into Hebrews, but took what they already had that was not opposed to God and adapted it. The evangelized remained in their very non-Hebrew cultures but still were able to become Christians, and they did eagerly and gladly endured martyrdom. Those people DID convert relatively rapidly and in huge numbers in most places, so that’s not necessarily an indication of a fad. Their cultures did not change drastically, but the adapting took some time. First, the Liturgy was translated into the native language. In America, we have had the Liturgy translated into English, and where the Orthodox people have become largely English-speaking (converts and children of immigrants), an English Liturgy is used.

        In America also, we have the melting pot working on the cultural accoutrements, such as the music sung. The Russian and Ukrainian music lend themselves particularly well to that because they have a lot of Western influence, with polyphony and melodies that appeal to us Westerners. In my church we have mostly Ukrainian music and some Greek, and it is about half converts. There are over 300 households with membership and attendance is about 120 to 200 people, from even nearby counties. A very popular church, and the converting tends to be a few people a year. There are many other Protestants who have converted.

        If even that is ‘too foreign’, there are also Western Rite Orthodox parishes, which are basically the same as Catholic or Lutheran or Anglican except with Orthodox faith. Any congregation is welcome to join Orthodoxy and use either Eastern or Western rites. Here: is a repository of Western rites. Here is an example of a hymn from one: . It is the Faith that makes us Orthodox, and outward appearance is the result, I think like this: Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (Matt. 23:26)

        What we believe we didn’t have while growing up, or anytime before we came, was the True Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (the Orthodox Church is technically the Orthodox Catholic Church). …with Apostolic Succession as the Apostles demonstrated, with exactly the same Faith they had, and with the same doctrine and worship, like in the books of Revelation and Ezekiel, on earth as it is in heaven. My church was founded by mostly Macedonians, and so has exactly the same faith and worship as in Macedonia, and the Bible says, ‘Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia…’ (2 Cor. 8:1) Is that not a true verse?

  36. says

    If Millienials wanted “rich content” then Hillsong and Jesus Culture wouldn’t be nearly as popular. If they wanted authenticity then why are so many seemingly inauthentic leaders popular?

    I think some of my generation want these things, and many could care less.

    It’s easy to paint with a broad brush, but it doesn’t work that way in the real world.

    • Victoria F. Boron says

      I’d have to agree with you wholeheartedly. Many of young, college educated adults (myself included) liked the modern approach to the protestant service, but, when I started wanting more, I saw through the facade. Unfortunately, many of my friends did as well, but instead of looking into their faith and the history of it more, to before the current model of churches today and the current theology of the day, they left the church altogether. Some are Buddhist, some are agnostic, some have adopted a completely Laissez Faire mindset toward religion, or now blame all the problems of the world ON organized religion. I blame much of the protestant church for lacking the glue to help these kids hold their faith together. And it wasn’t that they DIDN’T want to believe, but they thought “How can I? Look at this mess! Fighting about politics, scandal, lack of fiscal moderation, this doesn’t seem like the culture that Jesus would ever condone.”

    • Mikayla says

      Totally agree…it’s the same stuff over and over again. It seem like they don’t take the time and effort to make good songs. There are so many cranked out at a time, so how could they be any good? I do want theologically sound, poetic, moving lyrics, not just singing “Jesus I trust you” and “I wanna live my life for you” over and over again.
      It makes me wonder if we are just super focused on the experience and emotional aspect of worship than anything else.

  37. Ron Bean says

    As a 66 year old elder-elder in a church full of millenials, I appreciate this. Content over style is a phrase often repeated. A service will often include “In Christ Alone” as well as “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place”. The Acts 29 people who come think we’re conservative while the conservative folks think we’re very contemporary. Piano and guitars, a violin, and maybe an occasional djembe but you can hear the singing over the instruments. The preaching is good, sound Biblical exposition and everyone understands what we’re doing. (And it’s been years since I’ve sung “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul”)

  38. Chuck says

    “we have sufficient anecdotal evidence to respond”.

    Anecdotes are not evidence at all, and are no basis for forming any kind of opinion.

    • Malcolm Dodd says

      Chuck –

      As a researcher of more than two decades, I think you are jumping to a faulty conclusion. Anecdotal evidence in of itself may not offer significant value, but based on the massive research of the Rainers, I see great value. Because of their large sample, they are able to see derivative issues that could easily form their conclusions. They also have been shaped by their sample questions, which allows them to probe issues more deeply in informal interviews and conversations. Researchers are more and more seeing the value of some levels of anecdotal information. In the case of this project, I would accept their anecdotal findings with a great deal of confidence.

  39. Mikayla says

    Wow! This is so true! I’m looking at churches right now and these are definitely the things I look at!

  40. says

    Unfortunately I think your study may have had a biased sample. There are many churches today still striving to have music worship that is theologically sound with rich content, authenticity in it’s “performance,” and with quality. I would say that style is important. I am a “millenial,” and when I hear the style of the world mixed with the rich words of those such as Getty, it does not bring peace. It brings unease as to me, this combination is a result of Christians trying to serve Christ while including the styles and music of the world.

  41. says

    This post is resonating with millennials in my church reading it on facebook. What we found was ministering from our strengths and gifting (including worship) has created an exciting experience on Sunday mornings. We have seen success with focus on flow and joy rather than style. Passion with theological clarity is more attractive than formula. In our context several churches have pretty good worship services and preaching. What has resonated the most with both our multigen church and our community is the very intentional culture we are establishing. Everyone wants to be a part of something significant. Our goal is to love our community so deeply and without expectation that if we had to close our doors our city would weep with a sense of great loss. That has created a cultural mindset and plethora of ideas and excitement we see millennials responding to.

    I was curious to see if the metrics have been examined to see how important church culture is in reaching millennials and in church growth in general. If not, perhaps a topic for my DMin lol. Thanks

    • Thom Rainer says

      Ben: Go to the home page of my blog and enter the search for “Millennials.” You will see several articles and podcasts to address your questions. Thanks!

    • Mike H. says

      Ben, you made a great point about ministering from our gifts and strengths. Too often, we as leaders and churches begin with “who can we attract and how can we change who we are to do it”, rather than beginning with the ways God has uniquely gifted us and being comfortable with that. When we minister the way God designed us, we lead, live, and worship authentically — and that draws people in (not only Millennials) and inspires them to stay connected for the long run.

  42. Kevin says

    Great article, and thanks for the research. I myself am just a millennial being born in ’80. I understand the mindset as well because I am a youth pastor. As with any “movement” there are by-products. What sort of insight might you have of potential down sides to this? Could the passion toward preaching and teaching delve into a world of legalism? Or, is this the perfect blend toward a successful and proud generation? Thanks for any insight.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Kevin –

      I think the greatest potential danger is both legalism and inward focus. I pray that this generation of Christians will avoid both.

  43. Tina Matteson says

    I’m a music director/worship leader in a medium-sized church in Texas, and it’s exciting to see our church growing steadily, mostly by millennials. I’m thankful we already have a great mix of ages, but there is something special about children running in the halls and new babies being born to our members that brings a renewed energy. As I work on planning our music, musical style is mostly irrelevant to me (although our band, praise teams and choirs have certainly developed their stylistic patterns over time), but theological content and appropriateness for our congregation, is hugely important. As I read your article I realized that we work very hard at the qualities you highlighted. And, in the area of authenticity, our staff has a very close, warm and comfortable relationship that only strengthens our ministry. Much like in a family, when the leaders (mom and dad) are in unity, life goes so much better.

  44. Derek says

    Millenials want to see and connect with other millenials. At least, that is what I have noticed. If a church has no youth, or limited youth, then it is difficult to bring back from the brink no matter what the Church does because it has killed off the connections.

    • Mike H. says

      As a children’s minister, my view on this is that, in the past, we have trained Millennials to only connect with their age-group peers by having our children and youth almost completely segregated from the other generations in the church as they are growing up. As a result, when they do become adults, they have a hard time connecting with others outside their own peer group. This approach is what “kills off the connections.”

  45. Rebecca says

    As a millennial who grew up seeing “worship wars” in my own church and in just about every church around us, I completely agree with your assessment. Most of the members of our youth group were put off by the focus on “style”. In their adulthood, many have moved away from the church they attended growing up, because of the lack of authenticity they perceived and irrelevant priorities of the church leaders. This generation tends not to respect or follow anyone they perceive to lack genuinely Christ-centered motives. Many of us feel that genuine places to fellowship and worship are few and far between in our areas. Also, genuine churches are not necessarily more “contemporary” or more “traditional”. I think it is also important to note that Millennials tend to have more respect for those who openly admit to having lived a sinful life and have genuinely repented than church leaders that they perceive to be prideful and arrogant. We trust those who are genuine. We would rather be in a Sunday School class taught by the man who lived a rough life in his youth but is now a strong believer, or the grandfather who has lived a faithful life as a layman in the church than one taught by a seminary degree carrying leader that we feel has prideful motives. Not that degrees are not respected, they absolutely are, but they must be validated by genuine love for Christ. Like you spoke about in regards to “quality”, it is so true that most are not impressed by a choir who perfectly performs difficult music but lacks genuine conviction. Sensing pride in a pulpit or in a worship leader will drive away a millennial quickly. We are seeking to be genuine so we want to sense that our leaders sincerely love Jesus and have had the same struggles we have.

  46. Don says

    So, I am a millennial myself, having been born in 1993. I loved this article, but one thing I would like to just throw out is on a comment I saw regarding this article on here. There was a person named Mike who posted about how the church he attends was afraid to jump in to newer ways of doing things. You said you were going to write on this. I am interested to read your article. I think one thing the church has not learned is how to use the community around them. Here is what I mean: I am a college student at a small Christian liberal arts school. I play tenor, bari, and am learning how to play bass saxophone. Except for one church that I believe has this problem that is being alluded to in this article and these other comments on the subject of politics and going through the motions, only one other church in our area uses a band. Yet, this university I go to has a great music program. All of these new churches are not hiring people who have studied music at any school. Most of them are going to the person who can play a guitar and sing. I have no problem with this to an extent. I have a problem when it is in the name of drawing the young people in. Last point. I listen to all kinds of music except for country and some other sub-genres, but let me give two artists names-Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Robert Glasper Experiment. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue just performed at the NBA All-Star Game during halftime. His band is himself on trombone and trumpet, a percussionist, a bassist, a guitarist, a tenor sax, and a bari sax. Robert Glasper and his band one the Grammy for best R&B album two years ago with Black Radio. He, a few months ago, released Black Radio 2. I was reading an interview with Robert saying he wanted his next album to be a gospel album. When I look at these two artists, they are pushing the boundaries of music. But at least with Trombone Shorty, this clash of what a number of people would see as the traditional set-up of guitar, percussion, and bass is contrasted with instruments besides piano and other things. Now yes, both of these groups have some of the most talented musicians on the planet, but my point is the church as a whole, at least in the U.S., has lost creativity. Just some food for thought. Thanks, and have a great day all!

  47. says

    Thank you Thom – I much appreciate your research and putting out there what you are finding. It certainly helps a young pastor like myself.
    Here is what I posted on the link to the FaceBook article:
    I missed being a Millennial by just two years (1978), but my wife is one (1980) and we both attest to this very thought. And I am thankful to be a part of a church that shares the same view, passion and goals behind the music ministry – using it to glorify and worship God. We are not caught up on what the article said, “fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams.” But rather are more concerned with “theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.” We are called by God to be Highlands Baptist and not just the same as every other church around. I appreciated this thought from the article: “quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.” Thank you for this article – a great reminder and support to the reality.

  48. livingauthentically says

    yes, I agree with this and I am NOT a millennial….but I have given birth to four. :)
    I love so many styles of music…a WIDE variety is okay with me, but like millennials, worship is far less about the style than the authenticity and soundness of doctrine. Music prepares my heart to hear from God, and actually HEARing the words and being able to sing along, both with my mouth and my heart, is how that happens for me. Thanks for reminding us of these important truths, whether it is through millennials or boomers (like me).

  49. Caleb Kolstad says

    Dr.R- As a Millennial myself I have not observed this three fold worship (music) commitment among many of my peers. I see a much more self-focused, preference (radio) driven, emotion-led (rather than emotion filled) understanding of worship.

    I also do not believe many M’s are gravitating to Word-centered churches. Topical-evangelical fluff seems to be the favored flavor in my community.

    I do agree with you on your final point however. “They are more attracted to churches whose focus is not only on the members, but on the community and the world. Inwardly focused congregations will not see many Millennials in their churches.”

    Of course what Kevin DeYoung talks about in his fine book, “What is the Mission of the Church: Making sense of social justice, shalom, and the great commission” is not fleshed out in very many local churches.

  50. Timbo says

    Is there actually an age group that doesn’t value the three elements you listed? Seriously.

    I’m a complete baby boomer, and yes, I wanted to hear some “contemporary” music in worship, but not without the foundation elements you listed. I.e., I’d always rather hear traditional music that was authentic and well-done, than contemporary music that was not.

    • Linda says

      Thanks Timbo! I was thinking the same thing. I’m also a baby boomer, and I have always valued rich content, authenticity and quality in worship! I have to smile when the author says Millennials can “sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions.” As if the rest of us can’t? Do Millennials have some kind of spiritual discernment missing in the rest of us? I don’t think so! I love the old hymns. I also love much of the contemporary worship music. But in either case, the music must have rich content; meaningful words that teach or express my heart to God. I get that each generation has its own quirks, but I think we do the Body of Christ a disservice when we label the generations and then play a guessing game as to what each generation wants from the church. Can we just stop doing this and agree that we all want the same thing? Let’s focus on making our worship services authentic, rich and of top quality, not because a certain generation craves these things, but because it’s the right way to approach our holy God.

  51. says

    Being a millennial and a worship leader, I can attest to this truth. My focus in choosing songs each week for my church is that there would be rich content in the lyrics, regardless of what style the music might be. One week not too long ago, we unintentionally had practically a hymn-sing in our service because the songs I had chosen were all hymns. I’m always seeking to choose songs that form a cohesive bond with what passage our pastor is preaching.

    The problem with the “worship wars” is that the focus is on the wrong thing entirely. Style should only serve to promote the message. A song should be singable for a congregation, simply so that they can focus on the words of the song. Mindless going-though-the-motions singing is worthless for everyone and robs the congregation of time that could have been spent truly worshipping our Creator. May that never be the case in our churches!!

  52. Kim says

    I interviewed this past weekend for a new position as pastor. The committee composition was definitely pre-1980 birth years. And they want the same thing that you suggest: good, solid, well planned worship with meaningful, thoughtful messages that call us into relationship with God through Christ and also call us out into the hurting world around us. I think many people of all ages are looking for exactly what you are speaking about.

    The difference I notice, however, is that the people in the 60-90 year old age range DO care more about the worship space itself including how it is arranged, that it be given some modicum of respect. Many in this age group do not want the space changed. The younger generations are less building oriented (due to cost in many cases, i.e. money that could be spent helping others rather than maintaining ourselves.)

    That also impacts at times the quality of worship as some of our spaces are so acoustically dead and visually distracting due to ill repair or dated, dingy walls with poor lighting that it can detract from the quality of worship for some people.

    I think your thoughts and many of the comments are right on target. Thanks.

  53. Jim Kelley says

    I can see this in my own children ages 26 to 36. This article is right on the issue.
    I am traditional in that I love the hymns. I could sit in church and sing with a pipe organ “Holy, Holy, Holy” ; “May Jesus Christ Be Praised”; “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name”; “The Churches One Foundation”. I also love certain contemporary songs and choruses that are substantive and correct doctrinally. I am really weary of the conflict over music and now- dress. It seems to me that if the teaching from the pulpit was as it should be according to Christ and the Apostles we would not be seeing the splits, error and acrimony now prevalent. I want to be able to worship God in Spirit and in Truth and not be distracted by inane singing by guys and girls on the platform in skinny jeans holding big microphones among smoke machines and intelligent lights.
    Check out

    • says

      thank you for that. Are these elements new? I think we need to be reminded of them and for that I’m thankful that the millenials want these things. But it wasn’t that long ago that people said abut my generation, these young people can spot hypocrisy a mile away! That was in 1972.

  54. Bill Mahan says

    I’m looking in scripture trying to find where it tells me that Biblical leadership is to attract people to church. I didn’t think church was a spectator sport that was to be marketed like a broadway play or rock concert. I was under the assumption that the Bible told us to seek His guidance and not the world’s wisdom. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Seems like we seek to put seats in the pews and money in the plate.

    • Ezequiel Martinez says

      Wow, I don’t feel alone in the world, finally someone with common sense who actually reads the Bible! I’m a little disappointed to see where Christianity is headed to trying to please everybody instead of teaching & preaching the truth. Allow me to invite you to read the Gospels and how Jesus spoke directly to the pharises & the scribes and anyone else listening. He was not trying to gather a big group and have everyone have a warm feeling in their heart and sing kumbaya waving their arms (John 6:59-67). Music in a church service should not be a big sensual broadway show (John 4:24). A church service is not for entertainment! It’s to edify the church and not nessisarily to make you feel good about yourself. If you’re looking for a place to make you feel good about yourself or if you attend a place like that then you don’t attend a church but rather a social club.

  55. Leah says

    I am a Millenial. I have been attending church faithfully (Sun. Mornings, Sun. Evenings, Wed. Evenings, and any special services or events we have) for 26 years. I was saved at the age of 12, and began my pre-teen years with a fervent service for the Lord. I had a couple years of teen rebellion – not wanting to get out of bed on Sunday morning, whining and complaining that Sunday School was boring… things like that, but for the most part I’ve been a committed Christian for most of my life. Our church still uses the King James Bible, sings Hymnals for our congregational songs, and is quite traditional in our teaching and preaching. My Husband, who is also a MIllenial and was not raised in church like I was, got saved 8 years ago in March and is now a Reverend and the Associate Pastor of our church.
    I believe bickering and arguing about music, technique and style of teaching/preaching is pointless and should have no place in God’s church. I for one adore the old hymns, but also appreciate listening to, at home or in the car, and on occasion sing a special of Praise and Worship music. I wholly agree and believe that not all P & W music, whether it be contemporary, old-school, or new age, is spiritually filling (at least for me), but I believe that each and every person must decide that for themselves. The Bible tells us that what convicts one, doesn’t necessarily convict the other, isn’t it safe to assume that it could work the same way with our Spiritual needs? What works best for you may not work for me, or vice versa.
    Jeremiah 6:16 says this, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”
    Our church follows this “motto”, you could say. We are very traditional and old school. We have a few Millenial families, but mostly older generations. However, we do see more and more fruits for our labor as we pray and seek out His will for our church.
    I will say again that I feel there is no room to bicker and argue about the styles, fundamentals, and techniques of churches and what they choose to do regarding what they feel the Lord leads them to. In the end it boils down to one thing, preference. If you are attending a church that you’re unhappy with because its methods are not meeting your spiritual needs and the church is unwilling to change this, then maybe the Lord is saying it’s time for a new house of worship. Trust me, some people spend so much time complaining and trying to change the minds of others that they forget to listen to the Voice that tells us it’s time to let go and move on. The truth may be that the will of God is for that church to continue the way it is, or they may not be willing to hear or understand at that time, and maybe your future in serving the Lord lies elsewhere.
    I pray that we, as one, united church in Christ can all get along understanding that we all have separate unique spiritual needs, but one very special core belief in common… our love of God and all! May God bless each and every one of you!

  56. Evie says

    No doubt rich content, quality, and authenticity are most important. Makes sense. As far as walking away from “worship wars”, wouldn’t most of us like to do that? Sometimes its harder but in the long run more important to God’s purpose to stay and work things out. If worship never evolved, we’d still be singing Psalters pre Isaac Watts. Here’s my problem with discounting style: unless you have a worship leader who knows what they are doing, your services risk having no cohesion and flow if everything under sun is included, because “everything has merit”. Then the worship song with guitar and drums ends up next to the hymn in 3 verses with organ and its a goulash. Musical whiplash! A little focus and stylistic consistency is nice.

    I can buy that mills will leave if there is great animosity about worship style, but I also suspect if they don’t like the style themselves as well, they won’t stay either. That’s just human nature. We all want to worship in the way we think fits us best and have differing levels of tolerance for how outside this fit we are willing to go.

    Blessings from Alabama

  57. Thom Rainer says

    My apologies to those whose comments are not being posted in a timely fashion. We are checking into the problem on our side.

  58. JB says

    I’m an older millennial, and I cannot tell you how hungry I’ve been for #1.

    My thought life, my walk with my God, and my meditation on the words of God’s people are often complex and require some philosophical and theological vigor.

    As such, I often desire to praise God in the same tone, and I get frustrated when all praise being done communally is simplistic and repetitive.

    I am refreshed to know that I am not alone.

  59. Paul says

    While I am thankful to God that the Millennials want rich content, authenticity, and spiritual quality to their worship, I wonder at the many statements regarding the types of churches they will or will not attend.

    It seems like they are abandoning the churches God in which they grew up instead of doing the difficult work of engaging them patiently and humbly regarding the truths above (content, authenticity, quality). Further, do the Millennials believe that they are stronger, more spiritually mature than the previous generation? Do they think they do not have much to learn from them? That’s not normally how things work. Usually one generation is strong in one thing while the next is strong in another. Together they are stronger—unless one side abandons the call to exhort one another while it is still today.

    So for rich content: Why not patiently and humbly appeal to the worship leader to sing songs of greater depth? Why not make it a priority to sacrificially disciple the worship team?

    For authenticity: Hypocrites are authentically caught in the desire to please people. Why not model authentic worship? Why not build relationships with hypocrites to see if God might be gracious to them and they might repent? OR, if the worship team is beleaguered, exhausted from their many practices, why not join up and add some strength to the team?

    For quality: Why not be a patient voice that calls for a holistic quality to music (i.e. spiritual and musical preparation), not expecting change in one or two years, but five or ten? How about hosting a prayer time for the worship team at your house, sparing no expense in showing your love for those who are attempting lead worship every week?

    If Millennials abandon their churches in their time of spiritual need, then they are also culpable for loving them too little. They may lack the patient love of Christ. Please Millenials, for the sake of the Church of God, patiently and steadfastly love your church!

  60. says

    Mostly right on. The one thing is your first point. The Getty’s songs are great and all, but … “taken the Millenials by storm”??? I don’t think so, and the ccli charts/billboard charts/etc simply don’t show that.

    That position is held by Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. And though I really enjoy their songs (plus the Worship Together/Hillsong music, that makes up the rest of the CCLI top 25 for the most part), I’m not sure I’d say these songs are theologically rich and deep.

    The Getty’s music tends to sit better in a more blended service – blended in music and blended in age. Not a millenial-mostly church.

    Unless I’m missing something here!

    • Thom Rainer says

      The sampling was the total population group. There was a subset as you described, but it accounted for only about 15% of the total.

  61. Alan says

    One problem with the argument presented here, “style does not matter,” is the natural conclusion that is often drawn from it: “style does not matter” (i.e., style is a matter of “personal taste”); so we should not be arguing about “style;” the people we want to reach (attract?) are young; young people usually prefer a “contemporary” style; so, the argument follows, let’s have a “contemporary” worship service and if the older folks object, we can always just tell them, “style does not matter” (i.e., don’t be concerned about the matter–you will just cause divisions amongst us). Something very practical concerns are left out of the argument, one of which is our youth-obcessed society’s attitude toward older people, and if Christians cannot engage in honest intellectual debate about these matters without jumping to conclusions and resorting to calling each other names, as has been demonstrated in a few cases above, then I do not see much hope for the Church, absent, of course, the grace of God.

    Perhaps, first, we might consider using better terminology: I think most people are confusing musical “style” with musical “genre”–these are indeed different terms with different meanings. Genre may encompass style, or even a number of styles. A lot of people here have lumped all worship music that is not “contemporary” (which is itself a bad choice of terminology) into a category of “classical” style, as if there were one classical style–there is not. We could speak of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th century (and beyond) categories of classical music–all have unique musical styles and each historical periods encompasses more than one style; and they all encompass more than one genre (i.e., during the Renaissance, one would encounter vocal music written in genres such as madrigal, motet, canzona, and ricercar; during the Baroque one would encounter opera as a genre; etc.) There is no one “classical” style, just as there is no single style of Folk, Rock, or Jazz music. I believe that most people who speak in the worship music context of a “classic” style are really referring to musical genres that include music written for choirs and organs. The subcategories do not stop there, however, as traditional denominations have developed, over the centuries, types of music that highlight stylistic differences: e.g., you might hear different styles of choral music at Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. churches and subspecies of each–the list goes on and on–and that is just Western music: there are whole different categories of music in the Eastern Orthodox churches.

    Why do we feel we must throw out 2000 years of Christian music history? Tell me what Protestant church is not doing it and I will join it. Was the Holy Spirit silent during all these years, and, perhaps more to the point, can we not benefit from hearing ‘older’ music written by Christian mem and women to whom God gave unusual spiritual and musical gifts? What we have today are whole generations of Christians who often lack discernment in church music matters because they lack musical education and were never taught how to sing. The fault for this situation lies as much with “traditional” church musicians (who did not find it fit to devote enough of their time to training the children of churches in musical matters) as it lies with “contemporary” church musicians (who don’t see any problem with the matter). When I read the Psalms, I see a lot of references to God’s people lifting up their voices to God in song. I don’t see a lot of references to football and basketball fellowship groups. Isn’t it logical to believe that, if God wants us to praise him in song, perhaps we should be willing to spend some time learning something about song and singing? I find it sad that we have generations of people today who will never experience the joy of singing in a church choir.

    One more thing: please consider the possibility that some styles of music have limited expression, thus, to say that “style is unimportant” or “one style of music is just as good as another style, and God does not care anyway” is perhaps thinking that is a little naive. As much as I may ‘like’ certain styles of Rock, and the musicians who perform them, and as much as I would concede that musical creativity is far from absent in these styles, they don’t hold a candle in creativity or musical genius to compositions written by (most) ‘classical’ composers. Leonard Bernstein, for one, proved that a good ‘classical’ composer could write great popular and Rock music; the opposite is seldom the case. Given a blank piece of manuscript paper and a day’s time, I think I would find more creativity and “inspiration” (using the term in its broad meaning) in what J.S. Bach would come up with over that which many of our ‘Contemporary” composers would produce. Aesthetics have value, and most of the Reformers acknowleged this fact. A skilled carpenter produces a better chair than that produced by an unskilled one. That does not mean that the product of the unskilled carpenter has no value.. To say or imply, however, that all styles of music display equal creativity or intrinsic value is more a reflection of the thinking of our age than a truth. There is a reason why people still listen to J.S.Bach and why medieval cathedrals still stand. Can we say the same will be true a thousand years from now about the worship music and spaces many write and build today?

  62. Jeff H says

    Being a twenty year old and in the generation that falls under this category, I want a church that does this:

    Love God and love people. Whether it be with the old hymns of our faith or some of the newer songs, as long as you loving God and loving people, that is the kind of church I want to go to. A lot of my friends, in fact, look for that same kind of church.

    Obviously, the teaching is important, don’t misinterpret my statement, but if a church doesn’t actively love God and love people, then I want absolutely no part of it, no matter how wholesome, authentic, or genuine their worship is.

    And with regards to on musical preferences, He is worthy of worship BEFORE you even like the song, so if a song physically prevents you from lifting Him up because you don’t like it, then it seems to me like that is an issue of the heart.

    One thing about contemporary music that makes it just as great as the traditional hymns, is that they have simple, easy to discern messages and it is written in modern language. I remember when I started going to church when I was seventeen, I had no clue what any of those hymns were talking about, and I think that would be the case with most other unchurched millennials. That, and as a worship leader, it is very easy to create a contemplative moment as the Spirit leads you. For instance, if I were singing a contemporary song, I could very easily just stop all the singing and create space for everyone to contemplate, pray, etc…I could even share what God is laying on my heart or pray as well. I feel with some of the hymns it is a little more challenging to do that. Contemporary songs may not be as theologically deep as the hymns are, but is that a requirement of a song? For it to have a lot of theology? Obviously, you want it to be theologically accurate and not spreading lies, but I definitely think it is nice to have some songs that are not as deep and that just proclaim a simple truth. I don’t look for the theological depth in the songs first, I look for it in the preaching of the Word. I do, however, look for theological accuracy in the music.

    And the quality part I do resonate with. As a worship leader, I definitely look to worship with skill in a manner most glorifying to God (Psalm 33:3), and I definitely look for it when I am looking for a church. It can be easy to lose the reverence and become distracted sometimes with straight up bad execution of the music.

    But once again, you can play all the music beautifully and have amazing teaching, but if you’re not loving God and loving people while doing that, don’t expect to find me there. Nothing worse than walking into a church I am visiting and not feeling welcomed or loved.

    Love God. Love people.

    • says

      This may be the best post of the lot. Thank you. As an old dude and a pastor, I appreciate hearing this, Some one said, if you sing sound theological songs and have sound theological preaching your church will grow. That is simply not true. If the church is just sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, I hope it doesn’t grow.

  63. says

    It’s a losing battle.

    “You don’t do the old songs, we do this music for the young people, but where are they!?”

    Then you point out “well, we’ve actually been doing more of our songs from the hymnal”

    “Oh, sure, they’re in that new ‘hymnal’ but they’re not the good ones”

    Then you do a bunch if the songs they request

    “Well, you did them wrong. We are a mature baptist church, we deserve traditional music done in a traditional way” (exact quote)

    Meanwhile, the only thing people say who are leaving (who reference worship) is a lack of freedom and “here we go again” division.

    “Style” is 100% appropriate for a member to express preferences to a pastor, and 100% not something to debate/divide over.

    If you have a Worship Pastor or a Minister of Music, it is their prerogative, just as it is the Pastor’s prerogative what and how he preaches.

    If it’s not a good fit, then he can leave, otherwise, shut up and tell someone the gospel already.

    The church is so full of self-centered jerks who think history started when they were born. Good grief.

  64. Victor McQuade says

    What is often missing in the music debate is the ability to get beyond the musical sentimentalism and emotional attachment to look at things objectively. Along with good content and authenticity should come music that is inherently easy to sing as a congregation. Keith Getty said it best. “If the congregation cannot sing a new song by the second verse then it should not be used.” I am always saddened by seeing half or more of the church who cannot participate in the singing because the composers and musicians are ignoring the musical limits of the congregation. Some objective analysis of why certain songs work musically and others do not would go a long way to making our services more interactive and as a result less acrimonious. I firmly believe that if the 2 issues of content and singability were addressed, we would see a much richer musical/spiritual experience across all ages.

    • Ken says

      That’s another great point. I recently attended a conference for bivocational and small church pastors, and the music leader did a really great job. He played a combination of traditional hymns and contemporary choruses, but he did the traditional songs in a way that young people would like, and he did the contemporary songs in a way that was not overpowering to the older folks. I personally believe if more music leaders were like him, many of the “worship wars” would die overnight.

  65. Tim says

    What a great post Dr. Rainer. At 52, I’m like my friend Mark Dance (except for the 52 part AND that he is way cooler than me). I was thinking of untucking my shirt but alas, my wife won’t give me the go ahead.

    I was reflecting on my youthful involvement in church and really don’t recall worship wars. Maybe it was my upbringing but I honestly remember that worship was simply about exalting God — lifting His name in praise — glorifying Him. Not about style. I am sure their must have been conflict but I don’t recall it. My parents probably protected me from any of that. However, as I read this article it struck me that too often my staff and I sit in a room and talk about how our worship will affect different demographics. I am all about relevance to be sure. But when was the last time I approached worship with an eye to pleasing deity rather then demographic. Trust me, this comment is definitely not about the speck in anyone else’s eye. It’s about the plank in my own. Lord, teach me to keep my eye on you and may my gaze draw other’s towards you as well.

  66. John Hoffacker says

    Rich theology, authentic, high-quality worship – these are attractive, sure. But what about the lonely, the confused, those in pain, or hungry, or lost, or sick? What do they want from a church? What do they need from a church?

  67. Rich says

    I’m a millennial and I find many of my friends couldn’t care less about the music. Some of them come late just to avoid it. I’d rather have great teaching and some form of genuine fellowship.

  68. Lynda says

    I’m a Gen Xer but if my opinion still counts … I have to share that our LCMS church has the praise & worship team stand **BEHIND** the congregation. We sing to an empty altar. It is beautiful. I love it. Worship becomes transcendent. I highly recommend churches try it even one time & see how it affects the worship experience.

  69. Ray Nearhood says

    Quoting the conclusion:
    “And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

    But they will walk away from congregations that are still fighting about style of music, hymnals or screen projections, or choirs or praise teams. Those are not essential issues to Millennials, and they don’t desire to waste their time hearing Christians fight about such matters.”

    If this is actually the case it is terribly encouraging!

  70. Allen says

    You confuse worship with praise. You have concluded, wrongly so, that worship is about music. Praise is about music. Worship is a lifestyle. Re-do your research parameters.

    • says

      Praise is about music? Really? I agree with you that worship is much broader than what we sing on Sunday morning, but so is Praise. Lets just call it singing.

  71. Jess says

    Good starting point to understanding or feelin of millennials. but I think your painting millennials with a wide brush. It’s what the world dose too chrisainty.

    • Ken says

      That’s also a good point. Every generation is made up of individuals, and not all of them are the same. Thus, we have to be careful about how we label the “younger generation”.

  72. says

    I completely agree! Let’s stop arguing over the superficial and go deeper! Not only will depth of theology and quality attract and retain Millennials, but it will improve the worship experience for all generations.

    May I add also that Millennials should be asked to contribute to the worship experience. While it’s great to sing Getty, Tomlin and Jesus Culture, give young adults the opportunity to express their creativity with original music and lyrics – but don’t stop there – allow for creative expression through all the arts – dance, paint, drama, etc. Community participation is essential in our churches.

  73. Shawn Allee says

    I am 28. Many people I know are around my age (who would of thought). The idea of music that you have presented is a good one. As you have said quality matters. In my, non-expert, opinion it deals more with the congregation than the worship style. Worship style is a more secondary thought. It comes down more to how the people will welcome/reach out to the ones they they are trying to impress. I have found more loyalty to Christ and the local church based more on how a congregation will welcome the mentioned age group.

    If “my group” of people enter into a great set and speaker but feel no community you will see them leave or attend elsewhere. Yes, we have our preference of music that we enjoy to hear, and we have a particular form of preaching we might like but overall if a church shows how to be the body of Christ, then we will stick around and be a part of the body. Include us, don’t exclude us.

    Overall great article. Thank you for your discussion with your daughter as it is very insightful too. Have a great day.

  74. EC says

    I was born in 1988. I’ve been to countless churches of many denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, throughout the U.S. I also went to college for music education. I have never been turned off of a church by a style of music. The only thing relating to music that I have turned away from is when it looked more like an act. This supports the general comments in the article about authenticity of worship. I honestly think that most of the “contemporary” push is from people who are my parents’ ages…maybe assuming they know what young adults and teens want, maybe ascribing their own desires to the Millennials’.

    I cannot speak for all Millennials, but what I’ve noticed that is preventing my generation from joining a particular church (besides what was listed in the article) is the lack of belonging. I’m not talking about hearing “our music,” or getting overly-excited greetings from other members. I’m talking about an invitation and an outlet to take part in the church beyond Sunday service/mass. For me, it has been easy, because just about every church has some sort of choir/music group that I can jump into. Others, though, are left out of groups, especially those of us who are over 18 and childless. It may seem hard to have groups that welcome an age range that is made up of students who are going to and from college, moving around, odd work hours, etc., but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some of my suggestions:
    -Service groups composed of all ages are a great possibility. They can be more project-based, so you don’t have to be available at 4 pm every Thursday to participate. They allow participants to grow in a relationship with other members, and the best part is that it puts faith into action.

    -Bible studies that already exist within a congregation could be more open. Make them more publicized, let the congregation know that “adult,” “men’s,” or “women’s” Bible study means 18+, not 40+. If possible, be flexible with attendance. Most importantly, let there be open, raw discussion.

    -Churches with smaller numbers of young adults could have an inter-church young adult group. Careful, though, we want it to be more than just hang out time. It’s hard to justify leaving other obligations to go play volleyball if there’s not a bigger goal in mind.

    -Invite more young adults to take leadership roles in existing activities. Of course they have a sign-up, but sometimes a little push from someone who’s been involved with it helps. “You mean you actually want my help?” Think of how rewarding it will be for the entire congregation if young adults took more active leadership roles in children’s and teen’s groups. Think of how this music debate would have been resolved much sooner if there was a young adult on your church board who said, “I don’t think that part matters to us.”

    We want churches that feel like home. Places where we can love God and others, grow, serve, have responsibility (and a voice), and COME HOME TO (even when we’re away from our real home).

    • Ken says

      Great comments. I’ve been reading Ken Hemphill’s “Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur”, in which he makes the case that Sunday School is still a viable outreach tool when used properly. The trouble is not with Sunday School as such, but the fact that we no longer use it in the way it was intended. Studies show that the vast majority of people come to a church not because of the style of worship or because of events, but because a friend invited them. As you stated so well, there’s simply no substitute for that “personal touch”.

  75. Shalom Wilson says

    Absolutely! As long as the message in the songs are Biblically sound, what does it matter what music it is set to? The very most important thing to me, as a Millennial and as a Christian, is that worship, sermon, music, service, teaching, and missions are Jesus focused. That is what works and what brings everything in to focus and perspective.

  76. says

    I am 49 years of age. DEFINITELY not a Millennial! Smack dab between Boomer and Buster in 1964. Yet, the three things you list as what is desired by Millennials in worship are what I desire in worship. As a former music director/worship leader, I struggle with churches who STILL haven’t understood that the music “ministry” is MORE than just a performance ministry. It MUST be a MINISTRY!

    Singing a song perfectly, with the rhythms and notes written on a sheet of music has very little to do with worship leadership and more to do with music education and training. Yes, we are to be developing QUALITY, but not at the expense of the experience of worship. We need to be HONEST in our deep gratitude and love for God, wanting to give our best to Him, but so in love with Him that we stumble over our offering to get closer to Him.

    Thank you, Dr. Rainer, for bringing up this topic… at the risk of facing change in your church, and change in churches across the nation. I pray that churches will see the need to shift further away from music education and performance and closer to the language of love which worship is to become.

  77. Dani says

    I appreciate this post as it has helped me to define that, it’s not the lack of contemporary music that really frustrates me in our church worship service, but the lack of authenticity in the “worshippers” and in the song leader. The lack of preparation can be very apparent at times. My husband has been frustrated by the lack of professionalism in the music, as he spends many hours in study, preparing and internalizing sermons that communicate the truth of God’s Word. So, we’re getting part of it right, and a few people stick around because of that; but without the whole package, young people just aren’t going to choose this church. What’s sad is, these members don’t truly care enough to lay aside their own comforts to reach out to a dying world. And because of that, this church will die. They don’t even see it; but it’s as plain as day to me and my generation (and I’m not even young enough to be considered a “millennial”).

  78. Anthony Keve says

    EVERYONE who are believers look for what the “Ms” want.

    Jeff H. & John M. Harris said what my 57 year old brain was thinking. A former catholic exposed to orthodox and several Protestant denominations that’s a practicing Pentecostal these days in a growing modern, large church

    I think Robert Wright’s testimony about “saying nothing” spoke volumes.

    Some hinted at preference; others like me, continue to stir the “worship war” pot.

    William Blackburn you hint (LOUDLY) at legalism.

    Victoria Boron: “They asked questions that theologically, the protestant church COULD NOT and CANNOT answer.” Whoever “they” were or are: Bring it on!

    Also you & Leah sell your late model cars. Victoria get a horse & buggy; Leah a Model T.

    John Gardner. “…perfectly willing to sing “older” songs…”
    Begs the question: do they have a choice? 15 years ago in rural Georgia, I, along w/the rest of the county didn’t have a choice.
    “…they appreciate the authenticity and passion of the older generations.” Suggests the younger generation can’t be authentic & passionate.

    Finally on music I’ve heard & read many assert “the new stuff doesn’t have what I grew up on.” A polite way to say “It’s different, it wrong.”

    I repeat what steve asked:
    Can someone please explain “Theologically deep” please? Thanks!

    I must be shallow because I love to sing & play the “new stuff”; stupid because I rely on Bible translations (e.g. NLT & NASB) I can grasp quickly. Further, people I look up to have asked me for my insight on things.

    I see you traditional/KJV-only fans winding up already. Don’t bother – I haven’t heard one fact-based argument yet – just opinions.

  79. Evie says

    This is what we are experiencing at our church: top quality, authentic music that is delivered with great passion, but no longer connects well with the people in our area. So, our members are becoming older and older, while the community in which we sit seeks out churches with contemporary worship music. Yes, the millennials are there, too, not at our church.

    So, while I understand the point of this blog, the reality is some music genres just don’t usher people into worship as in the past. That’s fine! It is, after all, about bringing people into the presence of God so they can worship Him, not about the maintaining a genre. Only God and His word last forever. I’m hoping that the best of hymns and choir music will remain, and I think they will, but standing on principle and missing out on bringing in people is not a worthwhile goal.

    Perhaps some here have experienced worship services that are contemporary and too shallow, and that’s the point of view they are coming from. Our services are the opposite; extremely deep and rich theologically, but not all that wonderful to sing and be a part of! The choir gets all the fun singing gorgeous pieces, while we observe and appreciate, but not participate.

    I appreciate what the Gettys are doing; hymns for new generations.

    • Ken says

      My quarrel is not with contemporary worship as such, but with the inconsistent attitudes I’ve seen among too many proponents of contemporary worship. They insist God can be worshiped with more than one style of music – which is true enough – but they invariably want to do nothing but contemporary worship. If the church doesn’t do the style of worship they like, they go to another church. They tell us worship isn’t about us, which is also true, so why do they insist on doing it their way and no other? It’s not about them, either. I’ve also seen too many of them try to force contemporary worship into congregations where it doesn’t really fit. When it doesn’t work out the way they like, they blame the congregation. I would find it much easier to accept their form of worship if they would simply practice some of what they preach.

  80. Jim says

    When Jesus first began his ministry on what we call today “The Sermon on the Mount,” he said in Matthew 7:21, not everyone who saith unto me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. This is the key principle which was taught to me by Christian parents, pulpit ministers, Sunday school classes, etc. It doesn’t matter what we want, or the Millennials want, its what the Father in heaven wants. This was learned in the very beginning with the story of Cain and Able. Able’s sacrifice (worship) was what god wanted, Cain’s was not. We either have commands or examples of early Christians worship written in the inspired word of God. James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. NIV Had my generation taught this message from God’s word the way it was taught to me, the Millennials wouldn’t be looking for something suited to them, but what is suited for God.

  81. Neal says

    Despite the popular use of the term, the continued use of “worship” to refer to “congregational singing” is problematic for a variety of reasons.

    My purpose in writing however, is to question the notion/definition of “rich content.” A book entitled” The Message in the Music” examined and challenged that very concept, conducting a survey of the most used songs on CCLI from 1999-2005. A theology colleague of mine and I continued that work using CCLI songs from 2006-2012. With some obvious limitations to the study, both they and we concluded that the most popular songs from CCLI could mostly be summed up in the phrase: “I/We praise you, Jesus.” There was some vague use of traditional Trinitarian language, placed mostly in Christological context, and some passing references to various aspects of Atonement. And that was about it.

  82. Sarah says

    The sole focus of worship should be on God. Period. Not “entertainment”, not catering to special age groups or special interest groups. Your focus should be on the teachings of Christ, which have never changed for over 2000 years. Your time her on earth is to prepare for heaven in the most holy reverence. Going to church shouldn’t be a social club, coffee house, concert, etc. It should only be about reminding yourself of the enormous sacrifice Jesus made for everyone, even those who don’t believe. The Holy Spirit is your comforter, here to comfort us while we wait for Jesus to return. We should be more focused on our salvation. Not being entertained or worrying about losing “millennials” because the music wasn’t hip or modern. The Catholic Church is the only place I’ve found this after 45 years of Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, non-denominational evangelical, etc. churches. The Catholic church is accused of a lot of things (boring, dead, etc) when in fact, it’s one of the few that has remained the same. Eventually, people ego are truly seeking salvation find themselves on their knees, in a church being taught by a man who has dedicated his entire life, for real, to God. They finally come home.

  83. Stephen says

    My wife and I have been leading contemporary worship in the Methodist denomination for over 14 years now and I have to say that my heart is deeply troubled that so many congregations still put so much emphasis on preferred musical styles (including our church). These worship wars do nothing but hinder our ability to be the church God intended us to be. Granted…..and I mean this sincerely……both sides have incredibly valid points (especially theological depth versus next generations and such). But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what WE prefer. What matters most is our obedience to God and our response to WHO God is and WHAT He’s done for us! It’s our job, as worship leaders, to usher people into the presence of God through the Holy Spirit in order to further the Kingdom of God! If we have to change the way we do things in order for God to be glorified… be it! The fact is: we GET to use music as a tool to evoke emotional responses and tug heart strings that help connect people with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have to get to the point where we focus more on being led by the Holy Spirit so that we can lead others instead of focusing so much on the preferred style of music. If Millennial’s don’t really have a style preference, but instead would rather have rich content, authenticity and quality, like Dr. Rainer says, then we should be praising God for the opportunity to worship Him in Spirit and Truth, the way Jesus told us to! So, I say, let’s stop the bickering and get on our faces before the Lord!

    Thank you for such a great article, Dr. Rainer! – Blessings!

  84. Ken says

    Good article, but it does raise a question. If millennials are not that particular about style, why do we continue to do nothing but contemporary worship in our state and national conferences? In fairness, this year’s SBC meeting had a better balance in music style than I’ve seen in recent years, but the Pastors’ Conference was almost nothing but contemporary.

    Please understand that I’m not against contemporary worship per se, so I’m not at all asking that it be removed from such conferences. All I’m asking is, show a little more consideration to us traditionalists!

  85. Johnny says

    I find it odd we’re still using the words contemporary, traditional and blended. for almost 20 years, words like liturgical, lamenting and *modern* have been a regular part of the conversation.

    as a gen-x leader (with many millennial friends) my best experience had come when I genuinely develop mentoring relationships and friendships with people. ask what’s on their phone/iPod and LISTEN to it. ask what they like about it. then learn it – like learning a language before a mission trip. as a ‘seasoned’ musician and worshiper you should have no trouble a) giving up your style to serve them and b) learning their music language better than they can play it!

  86. Jaclyn says

    I’m a millennial (1981) who loves and prefers the traditional style of worship. I have attended nondenominational megachurches, small town Baptist churches, and Churches of Christ with acapella singing. I grew to love acapella and wish that worship leaders would incorporate more of it along with the instrumental worship–it focuses the congregation on the words like nothing else. I agree that yes, worship wars are corrosive and self-centered, but also think traditional hymns are dismissed too quickly these days.

    I believe that one thing that would help settle the divisions immensely is if worship leaders would take some time each to do a little teaching on the history of the music. I thought hymns were boring as a teenager until I learned the incredible stories behind “It Is Well With My Soul” and “Amazing Grace” and “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” They could do this for both contemporary and classic songs. A short history lesson or anecdote of how the author was inspired to write the words of that song would create both interest and depth and get the congregation to think more deeply about what they’re singing. It wouldn’t have to be long, or for every song at every service, but a conscious effort by worship pastors to study and impart the church’s music history is something I almost never see in churches today.

    • says

      It can be very enriching to learn about the circumstances a song was written in. Worship leaders can incorporate that into a service if time/scheduling, permit. This is not always possible. It is also important to know what the scriptures say about worship.

      In our day of easy access to info, congregants too, could bless others in doing some off-site searching and then bringing their findings to the congregation, perhaps in email or a bulletin board post!

  87. David Spaulding says

    I am very impressed by the deep spiritual and theological insight of these millennial Christians. They are unlike any generation that has ever gone before. Finally a generation has come along that is mature and selfless in its outlook on all things Christian. I hope to meet one of them someday.

  88. says

    In prepping to facilitate worship, this is kind of the way it has been going with me, and I don’t think this is about me one iota, nor am I telling others what to do:
    Prayer, scripture, prayer, (probably read scripture again, perhaps again), jot down songs that come to mind, and sometimes, in writing down the tune on ones heart, other tunes flow right in. Pray, practice, pray, practice more if time, pray whether time seems to permit or not. Be mindful of the congregation but fix eyes on Jesus. Pray for humility, reverence, repentance, God’s peace, wisdom, sensitivity and insight, blind eyes open, and to worship in spirit and truth–first within self and then others.

    Lifting up ones heart, recognize ones blessing in being able to be there, knowing that we are but dust and will likely err, knowing that other dust, created in God’s image, will also likely struggle and err. Praying and thanking God for Hesed and Shalom.

    During service, pray. Do not judge a brother or sisters heart by their presence in service or absence, nor whether their mouth opens or not, whether they lift their hands or not. I recently learned of one young woman, being under abuse at the time, who closed her mouth and hadn’t sung for a long time because her spouse had leaned in and hushed her, telling her she was embarrassing herself in singing in the congregation. Man looks on the outward appearance.

    God inhabits the praise of His people. Oh that we would set personal preference, opinions, judgements, and criticisms aside and LIFT HIGH the LORD from our hearts! Yes, with our mouths if we are able. If we don’t know the song? Permit the lyrics to permeate your heart and worship there. It is okay to not sing aloud!

    Michael Card once said, (perhaps a paraphrase but…) “The persecuted church doesn’t argue about the style of worship, song selections, and the things that folks in our country do. When they come together, it is often in secret and they are risking their lives. They do not have the luxury or these ‘arguments.'”

    Do we? Remember the prayer of the Publican. Remember that of the sinner. Eloquent speech, gifted oration, a polished song (though wonderful) is not the main thing. Deep rich lyrics are wonderful! A simple song, with one theme can help implant or restore a truth that may be simple, yet rich in it’s living out. (How many of my childhood Bible Club songs have come bubbling up in my soul and brought peace!) God is who we are to worship. We need to ask Him to guide us in doing so. Thank you for your consideration of what I have written. :)

  89. WarWeary says

    Let’s turn the tables a moment. What would you say about a Millennial component (in an existing church) that attempts to push out the older generation who pay most of the bills, and provided the existing facilities? Also, this particular Millennial leadership has only held church-music jobs in their very short careers.

    I’m reminded of this passage from John Newton’s correspondences (1725–1807, writer of “Amazing Grace”): “There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.”

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