Ten Ways Millennials Are Shaping Local Congregations Today


They are the largest generation in history. In the United States alone, they number more than 78 million, even larger than the seemingly ubiquitous Boomers. They are the Millennials. They are changing our nation, our world, and our churches.

For the purpose of today’s post, I want to focus on changes they are already bringing to our local churches. I have the benefit of a large research project on the Millennials, plus the ongoing conversations I have with members of this generation. And I have spoken with countless leaders in churches about their experiences with Millennials.

Keep in mind that the birth years of the Millennials: 1980 to 2000. So the oldest member of this generation is 34, while the youngest is only 14. But their impact is already noticeable, and it will be for years to come. Here are ten ways they are shaping local congregations today:

  1. More of them are attracted to smaller venues. They are thus one of the reasons for the incredible growth in the multi-venue model of churches and the growth of new churches. Leaders of smaller churches should be encouraged by this trend as well.
  2. They see culture as something to influence, rather than an enemy to denounce. Many Millennials truly have a missionary mindset. They are turned off by those who constantly rail against people.
  3. They like to cooperate with others. They do not view other churches and Christian organizations as competitors. They are attracted to congregations that are working with other congregations.
  4. They abhor worship wars. I have a previous post on this topic called “What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials?
  5. They love churches that love their communities. One of the first questions a Millennial will ask a church leader is, “What is the church doing to influence, impact, and minister to the community?”
  6. They are attracted to churches that emphasize groups. The Millennials want to be a part of a congregation that has healthy small groups, Sunday school classes, home groups, or other groups.
  7. They want to be trained on their schedule. The Millennials truly desire training. But they are accustomed to having that training available when they are able to hear it or view it. Such is the reason that many churches are going to video training while having “live” worship services and small groups.
  8. They will question almost everything. This generation will want to know why a church does what it does. The most unacceptable answer is, “We have always done it this way.”
  9. They are slow to join, and slow to leave. Church leaders are often frustrated that a Millennial takes so long to commit to a local congregation. But they are intentional and thorough. Once they commit to a church, they are less likely to leave, especially over petty issues.
  10. They want to be involved. If a church does not have an intentional plan to get Millennials involved in ministry quickly, they will not reach Millennials.

I love this generation. I love their enthusiasm, their commitment, and even their questions. They are one of the reasons I remain an obnoxious optimist about the revitalization of local congregations.

I would love to hear from some of you Millennials. And I would love to hear from some of the older folks like me who are interacting with this generation. Your comments are always more valuable than my posts.

Posted on August 13, 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 really appreciate this post. As a young 22 year old working my way into the ministry, I do my best to honor the generations before me, and respected what they have to offer… but I fell like that respect is not always returned.
    I love with my generation and how much we love our Jesus. All we want is to worship, serve, and see lives transformed with the Gospel. We want to change peoples lives with the massage of Grace, Hope and Love. I think we see the Word Of God is such a new and fresh way. And I believe we are all just jumping at the bit to share His Word.
    I think sometimes we lack the proper training. I strongly believe in having mentors and people from the elder generation to teach, guide, and hold us accountable. We can learn.. take what they have to offer.. mix in our new ways thinking.. and we can create something really effective & world changing.
    But a lot of time when we turn to someone with questions, we become stifled. Our creativeness is shutdown. We are told to do this whole ministry thing the same way its always been done. I feel like we are not always taken seriously. We are not dumb kids, we have visions and a heart after The Lord just as much as someone over 50. God can use Us just as much as anyone else.
    It is all about balance and respected from both parties. So Thank You! Thank you for taking the time and pointing out all the reasons why I love my Millennial peers. It is nice to see someone else notice that we are not just a bunch of punk kids messing up everything the previous generations did. 😉 That all we want to do, is come along the side of what they have already done and push the boundaries of what we can do next.

    – Ashley

  • Thom,

    Your research is spot-on. Our church, which focuses on the Cast Members of The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, is almost entirely made up of Millennials. Everything you propose is exactly what we are doing. Through trial and error, we have discovered what works for us. I would like to simply address each point you raised by giving examples of how we are living it out in our ministry.

    1. More of them are attracted to smaller venues.

    We have discipling groups (called “Communi-Ds) of 8-12 which meet all over the Disney property at different times and days according to a Cast Member’s unique schedule. Most of them see their Communi-D as their “church.” We do offer a worship service to bring everyone together for a meal, singing, baptism, and communion, but that only happens once a month. Most still prefer the intimacy of a smaller group dynamic.

    2. They see culture as something to influence, rather than an enemy to denounce.

    Cast Members are surrounded by an entertainment culture and everything that comes with it. Our Cast Members don’t see the large LBGT community at Disney as the enemy. They have compassion for them. They realize that for someone to trust Jesus, they have to first experience Him. I’m happy to say that by simply bringing a Kingdom influence into this environment, we have built a favorable reputation among communities that frankly, do not like Christians. This has all happened without compromising one letter of Scripture.

    3. They like to cooperate with others.

    Our Cast Members have built great relationships with other churches. They recognize the overwhelming odds of being a ministry that is an island. There is little or no competition among them, simply because they know that we are more effective serving Christ by working together than raising walls and building ministry silos.

    4. They abhor worship wars.

    We haven’t experienced a “worship war,” because most of our Cast Members are new believers, so they don’t bring a church history or preference to the table. In our experience, these new believers actually enjoy the richness and depth of hymnody because of its connection to something lasting. We encourage a broad variety of music, but that is what seems to be happening for us.

    5. They love churches that love their communities.

    Our millennial Cast Members have been attracted to us because of the things we are doing among the 67,000 who work at Walt Disney World. We have a food bank called “CM Grocery” that serves many who are struggling to make ends meet. We have a ministry that provides the right kind of shoes for a Cast Member who can’t afford to buy them for themselves and risks a reprimand. This is our reputation among those who work for Disney. One of the things that we are fond of saying is “The best way to ‘create magic’ (a Disney term) is to be the hands and feet of Jesus.” This is why the millennials are drawn to us.

    6. They are attracted to churches that emphasize groups. See #1

    7. They want to be trained on their schedule. See #1 again!

    8. They will question almost everything.

    It could be that this is because we are immersed in the Disney, but our Cast Members are constantly looking for ways to “plus” or improve how we do what we do. But the most important issue they wrestle with is “why” we do it. To them, “why” matters more than anything else. Once the “why” is settled… anything is possible.

    9. They are slow to join, and slow to leave.

    It has taken us three years… to even begin to build a reputation among the millennial Cast Members. They are skittish; skeptical; even cynical. But they will watch from a distance for a LONG time. They will kick the tires and then disappear for a bit. It’s almost as if they are testing our sincerity… or the validation of who Jesus is. However once they commit, they will champion the mission with every breath they have. They are far from complacent IF they believe they are making a difference (and that goes back to the “why”).

    10. They want to be involved.

    Once a Cast Member knows that Cast Member Church is where they want to serve Jesus, they do not hesitate to be asked to be put to work. They are our most passionate servants. Really, there is no stopping them… unless we don’t give them the opportunity to make a difference. Their passion for Jesus is simply amazing

    Please keep in mind, that we have contextualized our mission for this particular culture. It works for us. But what works for us, may not work in a different environment. In fact, I love the varying opinions expressed here. But I wanted to provide encouragement to those who may feel overwhelmed at the thought of learning how to have an influence upon this incredible generation. It can be done.

  • Thom,

    In your research did you have any significant findings about the perceived attraction of Millenials to traditional forms of Christian worship, particularly ancient forms of Christian worship. I have read a number of articles pointing to this trend but these articles have not produced any research data to support their claims, which appear to be largely anecdotal. As far as I can gather, the trend, if it is a trend, is regionalized and confined to a small segment of the Millenial population. It is not discernible here in western Kentucky. Millenials are not flocking to traditional or liturgical churches in the area. In fact, these churches are characterized by a dearth of Millenials. On his blog Ed Stetzer alluded to some research that he had done. His findings are that Millenials who go to church are by and large not attending traditional or liturgical churches. He has not yet released his findings. This would be consistent with what I have observed in this region.

    I am aware of traditional or liturgical churches that are banking on this trend to fill their pews. But I cannot help but wonder if they are building their outreach strategy on what may be wishful thinking. .

    • The traditional churches are not betting on this to increase their numbers. In fact many were surprised when they began to grow in the last few years. In Washington, which is a city full of young professionals, the liturgical churches as well as the old Baptist Church are growing.

      • They are in the denomination in which I had in mind in posing that question.

        What you are observing occurring in one urban area may not be occurring in other areas.

        It has also been long recognized that liturgical churches tend to grow with the population. So what you are seeing in Washington may not be related to a trend among Millennials but rather to the high population growth of that area and other factors.

        What I am looking for is hard data from methodical research not ancecdotal evidence which is apt to be unreliable for a number of reasons.

        A trend that may be observable in urban areas may also not be observable in non-urban areas.

        While I am not a Millennial, I am involved in a church that is targeted at Millennials and is enjoying a measure of success in reaching and engaging them.

        I also have a longstanding interest in church planting and evangelism. I am always on the lookout for trends and developments that may affect a church’s ability to reach and engage unchurched population groups in North America.

  • Craig Giddens says on

    What is the Millennial perspective on:

    1. The Bible?
    2. The Preaching and Teaching of the Bible?
    3. Importance of doctrine?
    4. Knowing the difference between God’s plan for the nation of Israel versus God’s plan for the church?

    If Millennials don’t like “worship wars” do they prefer praise and contemporary music, hymns, or both?
    What will Millennials do to pass the faith on to the their next generation?