Five Reasons Why Millennials Do Not Want to Be Pastors or Staff in Established Churches

Not all Millennials are averse to serving in leadership roles in established churches. But many of them are. And our churches are approaching a tipping point where many are unable to attract Millennial members or leaders. It will likely soon be a crisis.

What is it about established churches that push away Millennials? Let’s examine that question first, and then let’s look at some possible solutions.

  1. Millennials perceive established churches to have values that are entrenched in non-missional traditions. Millennials have values that focus on community, cooperation, and service to others. They see established churches as barriers to those values, institutions that are more concerned about maintaining the status quo rather than making a missional difference.
  2. They perceive that much time in established churches is wasted catering to members’ personal preferences. For a number of Millennials, the established church feels more like a religious country club rather than an outwardly-focused organization. Budgets, ministries, and activities seem to be focused on preferences of members rather than reaching out to others.
  3. Many established churches are denominationally loyal; but many Millennials see denominations as antiquated organizations. If a church is affiliated with a denomination, this younger generation views both the church and the denomination as anachronisms. They don’t see either as effective or relevant.
  4. Millennials don’t see established churches as community-centric. The men and women of this generation typically have a heart for their community. Many have become key to the revitalization of urban communities and other locales. But they see most established churches with a minimal focus at best on the community in which they are located
  5. Millennials see church planting as a far superior alternative. To use a well-worn phrase, they would rather have babies than raise the dead. They see futility in wasting precious resources of people, time, and money on churches that will not likely budge or change.

As a reminder, the Millennials are almost 80 million in number. While Christians comprise only about 15 percent of this generation, they still are an influential force in our churches. And, to this generation’s credit and defense, many of their concerns are valid.

But here is a dose of reality. There are about 350,000 established churches in America alone. They represent untold resources of people and time, not to mention billions of dollars in property. It would be a shame to abandon those churches at such a pivotal time in our world.

My plea to Millennials is not to abandon established churches. Not all of them are as bad as many think. Consider yourself to be a part of the solution.

Above all, look at these churches as mission fields just as you would a ministry in a distant continent. We need Millennials in established churches. Your present and future leadership is vital. Granted, church revitalization is messy and not easy. It is often slow, methodical, and frustrating.

But God loves the members of established churches just as He loves the members of new works. Prayerfully consider, my Millennial friends, if God might be calling you to this ministry. It might just become the mission field where you can make a huge difference.

Let me hear from you.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Posted on November 15, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom:

    I can completely understand the list above, but I will add another to it: The credentialing process…

    Some of us have not been able to go through standard credentialian processes (my church wont even entertain the idea without a seminary degree, never mind the fact that some us have more real ministry experience than our academic brethren.) It is tedious, oppresively dificult, and absolutely not found in the New Testament. Somehow we have gotten the idea that 8 years of college are necessary for people that want to minsiter.

    When Paul told Timothy to preach the word, I notice that he did not tell him to go study in Jerusalem first, just preach. Im not saying a candidate should not be examined by the elders, he/she absolutely should; Im just saying that not having been to seminary should not be an automatic disqualifier.

    I would welcome dialogue if you would like.

    • I agree that seminary education is not absolutely necessary for pastors or staff. Dr. Rainer is a Southern Baptist, as I am, and local churches determine a candidate’s qualifications for ministry, not the denominational leadership. Many pastors in our denomination have never been to seminary, and many of them are quite competent.

      That being said, I do recommend seminary training if a pastor has access to it. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it. No seminary can help a person who is not called of God into the ministry, but it does sharpen and refine the skills that God has already given you. As the president of our seminary used to say, a sharp ax cuts more wood than a dull one.

  • bryan geary says on

    I think you missed one other reason. Millenials want work life balance. When you watch what most churches ask of their staff and pastors, it is a crazy lifestyle. As we continue to burn out staff, we will continue to drive people away from wanting those positions.

  • Hello Dr. Rainer, met you at the Logan County (KY) Association meeting back in October. Was one of the guys twitter stalking you, haha. Just stumbled across this post and was very encouraged by it. I am 26 years old and just this month I have started serving as youth pastor in my home coach that I grew up in that’s been around for 150+ years. The church has the reputation in the community of being all those things you mentioned in this post. Not just among millennials, but among just about everyone. I am beyond excited that the Lord has called me back here to hopefully be part of a revitalization. Thank you for all your time and effort spent covering these topics. Many of these posts have been extremely valuable in my time serving here already.

  • As a Millennial, I can say I agree with all the points made. I also understand the plea to stay in established churches and help create the change we want to see. I have served in leadership roles in an established church and also felt the desire to step away from the organized church because I was so demoralized by the lack of active outreach by the (mostly) older generations, those in the Gen X and Baby Boomer groups.

    Like many in my generation, I’m not content to maintain the status quo in a pew. I am a do-er and find the most fulfillment in making a real difference in real lives: feeding the hungry, building churches/schools/clinics in mission fields, and reaching out to those who know little or nothing of God’s amazing love and grace.

    That said, the church is there to serve as our spiritual support group. Having a well-established church that can function as your safety net and provide you with guidance in your personal spiritual development is important as well. If the established church is truly being guided by God and following the movement of the Holy Spirit, then it can provide the leadership and ministry mentorship many of us need and crave, before we set out to do our community works.

    Whether we stay or go out into the community though needs to be dependent on where God calls us, not because one groups feels it is our duty to stay and raise a church congregation back from the dead. Some will be called to minister in established congregations, but there will be many who will be called to fields where there are no workers. It is the sole prerogative of the Holy Spirit to move us where he wants us and our sole duty to be ever-listening to God’s directions.

  • Let me preface this comment by saying that it’s based purely on my personal perceptions and experiences. I’ve not done any scientific study of millennials, so I readily admit my perceptions may not be entirely fair. Still, my biggest frustration with millennials has been their lack of commitment. They claim to be concerned about missions and evangelism, but when I give them an opportunity to participate in such activities, they invariably find an excuse why they can’t help out. They say established churches cater too much to personal preferences, but they’re often the first to bug out when the church doesn’t cater to their personal preferences. A few years ago a millennial couple bailed out on my church because the man wasn’t getting paid for working with the youth. He and his wife weren’t even at church half the time, but he wanted to be paid for the work he did? Who was he kidding?

    Forgive me for venting, but remember the words of Dr. Phil McGraw: “No matter how thin you cook a pancake, it still has two sides.” My experience has been that too many millennials fail to see any side but their own. That’s a mark of immaturity.

  • I really appreciate your post. I am not a pastor but see myself as one of those who works at leadership from the center. Being more than 65 years old puts me in the “Oh, no, they’re still here” group! And I do agree that in many ways the church has grown stale. On the other side I see this as one of the best times to be following Jesus! We are in the Post-Christendom era and I see a redefining of life in the church as turning from staid Christianity to following Jesus. This is a whole new mindset and for anyone over 35-40 it is also a real challenge because we cannot be comfortable continuing to milk-feed a congregation of people who are stalled! On the other hand we cannot abandon them either! We need to convince them they have a place in the mission of Jesus here on earthy.
    One thing that I sense is that sometimes there is a lack of appreciation for the folks in the pew who can swoop in and fund a “mission” when the resources just are not there. Many of those dear folks hear from God and have open hands and wallets, and even trust for the younger generations!

    Two of the good resources I have been challenged by are:
    Worship and Mission After Christendom by Eleanor Kreider and Alan Kreider; and
    Andy Stanley’s series “Christian – It’s Not What You Think!”

    What I am asking the “church” to do is give us oldies a chance to turn our thinking around and catch on to this new (well old) faith journey which has such realism and truth to it.
    I doubt that many people think about or realize that “Church”, the organization the way we know it, is historically in many cases an extension of government! We are in the age when there a great opportunity to break out of those molds and truly be the church of this age! God’s not done till Jesus Reigns!

  • Paul & Mitzi Zimmerle says on

    The article on “5 reasons why Millennials…..” seems to promote division. We were young at one time, and the church we joined did not have to do things our way. We assimilated into their body and went to work serving the Lord wherever we could. We are part of the established church. We have been with the same church since 1967, right after it was constituted. We have given of our tithe: money, time and talents, to grow this church and share God’s love with others. God has blessed us in many ways and we have seen many miracles. We are not dead! Why is so much focus on the Millennials? Born again Christians think we are all part of the body of Christ, each with his or her own gifts and abilities.

    Now we are considered out of date, out of touch. Yes, we believe our opinion should be listened to and that we just may have some wisdom in Biblical, financial, practical and mission matters. We have been around the block more than once. Doesn’t it say in I Peter 5:5 that the younger should submit to the elder, each submit to each other, and both should be clothed in humility? Why is it that the Millennials or any other generation deserve that only their group is important??? Aren’t we brothers and sisters in Christ? Maybe not. Beware of self-centered groups who only think of “me, my, self and I”. And who is it that is determining that a church is DEAD (needs to be revitalized)! We think that only God can be the judge of that.
    Established churches have many long-time members who are the financial base of tithes and offerings. Has anyone ever done a survey of what percent of the church budget is financed by the older members? What is going to happen when they leave or are run off because they are no longer valued or wanted?
    If established churches are dead, maybe the solution would be to close all the doors, sell all the church property and give the proceeds not to the pastor or church members or mega-churches or church planters, but only to missions. Then the Millennials can start over from square one. Then they can finance and build their own place of worship, buy all the furnishings and equipment, and get established.
    May God direct us.
    Paul & Mitzi

    • Bravo! That’s another one of my frustrations: millennials don’t often put their money where their mouths are. The most generous givers are those “old people” they love to criticize.

  • I agree with your article on how millennials like myself view established churches in America. I believe these are valid concerns. I currently work in an established church trying to help our 65 yr old church become national and community mined. However my ultimate goal is to plant a church. The reason I feel it is attractive for millennial to plant is because millennial want to be apart of something that is bigger than them. They want their life to matter and church plants are effective in outreach and are more agile in mission. Most established churches are in decline or stagnated and like people churches have a life span. Is it not more reasonable for established churches and leaders to pour resources into new leaders and churches then try and keep declining churches properties and debts maintained. We should raising up church plants because healthy churches plant churches and nacba has starts on how plants see more people saved not transfer growth in the first diff years then established 25+ churches have in the last ten. So let’s help each other plants need established churches for financial support and wisdom/advice. Established churches need plants to help remind them of mission and reignite passion

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