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.

Posted on April 2, 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 *


  • 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. 🙂

  • David Spaulding says on

    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.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

1 9 10 11 12 13 14