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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • There is a definate problem with a decline in church attendence. Young people view churches as nothing more than a small business. I agree with them. Church organizations are so worried about law suits and loss of income. Large numbers of them are crippled with debt. Almost all of them will not take an open public stand against sins such a homosexuality ect.
    They always have to preach and teach watering down Gods word, so they can be politically correct and not offend anyone in fear of losing members. I believe young people think church should not be a business and it should have a spine.
    I think independent small groups will be the way of true christians in the future. We may even need to go underground.

  • I have tried as an associate 15X to become a lead pastor. Well meaning people from my denomination have been recommending me since I was 26. I am now 38. Every time I try a board finds and excuse or reason to hire someone older. Finally I quit trying. Cause. as a Gen X married to a millennial. They simply don’t want me. I’m too young/ inexperienced…that’s what it almost always comes down to. I may try again when I turn 40. Maybe by then some of these people with have died off and will allow someone younger who can in fact be empowered by God to lead…lead. The problem is not so much that they don’t want to be a part. But I think if you were to sit down and have honest conversations with many millenials they would say…I tried! They didn’t want me though…

  • Ken,

    Maybe I should have said…

    “The Catholics EDITED the Bible”…

    Can you tell me when the Bible was officially Canonized?

    Can you tell me the (supposed) dates of the oldest extant copy of each book of the bible? Remember…there are NO ORIGINALS.

    Most people don’t even know this basic information on canon formation.

    It is funny to me that the apologists who treat Christianity as historical science…also apply the rules of court…and they treat the books of the bible as “eyewittness testimony”…in other words a deposition. However, we have NO ORIGINALS…so if we were in court these eyewitness testimonies would be immediately thrown out!

    And, btw, that Davinci Code line was a lame pot shot. You know when you committ a fallacy its an automatic win for me!

  • The answers are actually quite easy. For number #1,2,4, help change the perception, because the perception is not entirely accurate.
    Really, only those who have the denomination in their name are even known as deniminational churches, so that reduces the friction quite a bit.
    And isn’t church planting a calling to something verses a response/making a statement against something? But, I agree, planting has its own set of problems as does an established church.
    Last thing is so obvious – at what point does a millennial realize that they have established their traditions and are seen by others as the established church?

  • oops it’s still me tom ball…

    I left the church. I like to say I thought my way out of it.

    I studied philosophy…and yes I am very familiar with what Paul says about philosophy…in fact I agree with him…reason is not the tool for inderstanding Christianity…I am an existentialist… Which means that an understanding of Christianity is grounded in the born again experience…and it must be experienced to be understood. The experience of it is the basis for understanding not reason…take that all you apologists who try to use reason as a basis for understanding Christianity! They turn it into historical science and think that at the end of a long rational deliberation they can calculate the probability that the historical documents are reliable and come to a conclusion called a “belief”… A historical belief and on the basis of this rational deliberation have a “change of heart”. These apologists really just appeal to the rationalists among us and their appeal like all appeals is a personality test for finding the rationalists among us. But still they think they can get up on stage and impress people with historical studies and hocus pocus and understand being born again. Theirs is a change of mind not a change of heart. Transformation or “conversion” must be experienced to be understood… Reason can never understand transformation.

    The Protestants have coined a phrase for this “accepting Jesus into your heart”. It depends on being visited by a god. That gods name is Jesus (the Greeks would call it Athena) but Athens was their God of transformation that visited the individual much the same way Jesus “graces” one with his “presence”…but Jesus is not just transformed by wisdom but transformed by love. And any forest gump can do it…you don’t need a phd in historical studies to do it. In fact reason can actually interrupt the born again experience when one is visited by the God Jesus. If you stopped in the middle of your born again experience and reflected on what is happening and analyze it and ask “what is really going on?” You will prevent it from happening! And as Jesus said in john 3 you must be born again to be a Christian. That is why people who grow up in the church and socialized into a “belief system” as a perfectly reasonable rational system distiguish even among Christians between “born againers” and regular Christians…and the lucky few among socialized Christians who have the born again experience gave to literally put themselves in the gutter to “find Jesus”

    Now I think we are setup for the punchline. The punchline is what is called in religious studies the “transposition thesis”

    The transposition thesis really has its roots in the works of Fichte… The first to separate the different “worlds” of the history of the west. Something that Heidegger and Dreyfus have fleshed out in detail. We have “progressed” (of you can call it that) from the Greek world to the roman world to the medieval Christian (catholic) world to the modern world to the postmodern world.

    The transposition thesis states that each time the world changes the values stay the same yet find new practices that embody those values. They find new clothes.

    So for example churches are essentially gatherings and performed a valuable sociological function. Men women and children could all compare themselves to their peers to see “how they compared”. Now the majority gathers at public schools for social functions. Churches are essentially gatherings of “like minded individuals” and so now we gather at sports arenas or sports parties or music concerts. Now there are so many options.

    Instead of going to a priest for confession we go to a therapist for “talking therapy”…etc. the fun for religious studies is to find the analog.

    What is important to remember is that the sacred does not get lost…despite the fact that we are in a secular world. The secular version of Christianity turns out to be “family values”. Sometimes it is called post-Christian on a world where kids were not taken to church and have no church going practices but we’re raised by Christian parents who themselves have no church going practices but who still value family and lifelong devotion to one spouse. So they carry on the values and rose values are considered sacred ( ver important).

    So there really is no need for churches anymore…and all their complaints are just the death throes of a dying world and they know it’s dying…they are very aware of the statistics. It just doesn’t work on secular developed countries in North America and Europe. So Christianity, which is the modern (rationalist) version of historical science is taken to Africa and India etc where it works on them. We know now that as Winston Churchill said “history is written by the victors” the Catholics wrote the bible as historical fact and ruled for 1500 years.

    So Christianity has transposed into a secular version of anyone that has been transformed by love and has a Christ like unselfish, self sacrificing kind of love. Unfortunately most people who call themselves Christians do not have this kind of love and are not true Christians. Couple that with the fact that they will pay for being judgemental and we all hate judgemental “haters” and the churchgoing historical Christian is a dying breed and deserves to be so. Only those with the right kind of love carry on the Christian tradition in what Hegel and others called “the invisible church”

    • “the Catholics wrote the bible as historical fact”

      I think you could use a refresher course in history. Sounds like you learned history from “The DaVinci Code” – a book that is too rife with inaccuracies to be taken seriously.

    • I think you could use a refresher course in history. Sounds like you learned history from “The DaVinci Code” – a book that is too rife with inaccuracies to be taken seriously.

  • I am actually Gen X…I’m 40. Raised in the church…seventh day Adventist

    Graduated from Walla Walla Univ in engineering. Had religion class everyday for 16 years…very religious parents… Never missed church.

  • I think there are a number of other reasons that make it even more complex than those listed above. Here are a couple off the top of my head:

    1. Prioritizing freedom over responsibility. Millenials especially dislike ongoing time commitments. See Putnam’s Bowling Alone theory. The way Nadia Bolz-Weber describes her church in “Pastorix” seems to have taken this sociological shift into account.

    2. Right or wrong, Christianity is now defined in the minds of the young by what “Christians” hate. It’s seen as anti-intellectual, anti-homosexual and anti-feminist. Many churches are now also anti-liberal, dangerously confusing politics with Godliness (and Christian radio is a hostile environment to Democrats).

    The Barna Group research illustrates this problem, but they identify it only as a perception issue. I have had far too many personal experiences that showed it’s not just a perception. In my city this last year, pastors and priests used their pulpits to encourage church members to sign a petition allowing landlords to continue discriminating based on sexual orientation. It was a rousing success for their cause, and made those of us with LGBTI friends feel there was no place for us in communities of hate.

    I have sat through far too many sermons that I would be embarrassed to invite friends to attend. I have counted up to forty logical fallacies in just one sermon–delivered by a nationally renowned evangelist arguing why women aren’t equal to men in ministry. I have listened to the head of my denomination deliver a sermon that defined our church (my employer) so narrowly that I could not be part of it–if I were to accept his definition. The fewer sermons I hear, the longer I can continue identifying as Christian.

  • Thanks, Dr. Rainer for this article. As a recent seminary graduate, I have heard each of these reasons behind many of my fellow “millennials” (personally, I think that makes us sound like aliens) wanting to either (A) not work in an established church or a church at all or (B) plant a church. I, too, find this to be sad and a bit of an overreaction to the issues we perceive in the established church. Recently (two weeks ago), I begun my first pastorate in an established church in a rural area (also not a hip thing to do as a millennial), so I would like to offer 3 reasons why I did want to staff an established church:

    1) I love and value history. While many millennials may not share my love, I believe there is great value found in a church’s history. In studying this (which takes time), I believe some of the concern over denominational association and our distrust of these organizations may be helped. The study of my particular denomination helped me understand why and how we got where we are theologically and practically (whether good or bad) and how things may change in the future.

    2) I believe I have much to learn. Established churches give me room to learn and grow in a way that planting a church may not at first. The leaders in my church are older and wiser than I am and help me to learn how to be a pastor. To ignore this would be prideful. Someday, I hope to provide the same type of mentorship to young pastors that I have been given in the established churches.

    3) I see the established churches as a great resource for church planting and mission. While I agree with my fellow millennials that these are important missions of the church which have often gone neglected, I may disagree with the means to turning this tide. The resources of the established church in a community such as reputation, financial resources, and man power are too great for me to ignore. I think abandoning this is a huge mistake and, frankly, a bit of taking the easy way out. Instead, we can take the long and difficult task of teaching our people about God’s plan in church planting and missions in the established church.

    I too pray that my generation would not abandon the established church because God has, does, and will use these churches to spread His fame throughout the world.

    • Brother, your attitude is a breath of fresh air! As I said in one of my comments, I’ve had some bad experiences with millennial church members (I’m 47), but I’m glad to know that they’re not all like that. May God raise up more of them just like you!

  • Something I’ve noticed in these churches…preaching is really good, but they are only brought to the point of needing to make a decision to act…not to the point of acting. People need to be challenged to action if we ever expect to see changed lives. Churches where “fruit” is found are churches where there are challenges to act on the Biblical truths taught and preached.

1 5 6 7 8