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.
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  • Brent Rains says on

    Great article! This is actually my third time seeking this article out for it’s concise way of sharing such important information.

    I am a Worship Pastor. I desire, as a Worship Leader, only to see God glorified and honored by His people. As a Pastor, I desire to see God’s people develop into mature worshipers who are glorifying our God through biblical expressions of Praise and Worship.

    One point I feel needs to be highlighted is that as this generation gains a deeper theological understanding of congregational practices as prescribed in scripture, the more they will understand the importance of music.

    We don’t sing to entertain, or to “till soil for the planting of the seed.” We sing because it is an expression of a Spiritual condition. We sing because we love the one, true living God, and want to tell Him how we feel.

    I feel the essentials of Sunday Morning are bi-directional. Praise and Worship is time for us to tell God what we think of Him, and teaching/preaching is a time for God to instruct us according to how He sees us and the world in which we live.

    I pray to see the church – all generations – in that place. Sharing and hearing.

  • As a 35 year old who has led worship since I was 15, I can totally agree with these 3 statements. I have attended good performances and walked away empty. I even felt the pressure to try to produce the shallow product that many say attracts millennials to the church. At the end of the day, I really do want an authentic worship service with songs and preaching that is biblically accurate and deep. Thank you for sharing this! This generation isn’t as shallow as many proclaim.

  • Vic Nance says on

    Our church leadership team recently completed our winter training sessions and this year was reading and discussion on each chapter of The Millennials. This was a fascinating look at this generation, as I have a daughter graduating high school this year and is in that group. We now would like to proceed with surveying our own millennials for their response and how we can make changes to reach their friends and how we can better serve them. My question is for the survey you used for the 1,200 in your test group, is it available for us to use or some other form of survey you might have that is applicable to our group that are mostly college age 18~25. Please let me know what resources are available. Thanks!

  • This will be quick. Take a look at where churches ARE reaching millennials and the kind of music they use. On YouTube do a search for Speranta Media (Romania) Churches there appeal to the entire family and after a little more than 25 years (post the fall of the Berlin wall/communism) this newly freed people have flocked to the church and a brief glance at their congregations witnesses to us that they can reach millennials. In fact they fill the front of the church…I mean on stage. Look also at BBSO … Biserica Batista Speranta Oradea — the Hope Baptist Church of Oradea …. the size of the orchestra and the choir … almost all between the ages of 19-35.
    Some parts of the USA are catching on … see “Millennials choirs and Orchestras” also on YouTube. BTW …we will catch them all on YouTube … not on our websites … Where is the western church on YouTube …?????? not much!

  • WarWeary says on

    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.”

  • The question is the problem. Wrong focus and wrong standard.

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