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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251 Comments

  • Good starting point to understanding or feelin of millennials. but I think your painting millennials with a wide brush. It’s what the world dose too chrisainty.

    • That’s also a good point. Every generation is made up of individuals, and not all of them are the same. Thus, we have to be careful about how we label the “younger generation”.

  • You confuse worship with praise. You have concluded, wrongly so, that worship is about music. Praise is about music. Worship is a lifestyle. Re-do your research parameters.

    • Praise is about music? Really? I agree with you that worship is much broader than what we sing on Sunday morning, but so is Praise. Lets just call it singing.

  • Ray Nearhood says on

    Quoting the conclusion:
    “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.”

    If this is actually the case it is terribly encouraging!

  • I’m a Gen Xer but if my opinion still counts … I have to share that our LCMS church has the praise & worship team stand **BEHIND** the congregation. We sing to an empty altar. It is beautiful. I love it. Worship becomes transcendent. I highly recommend churches try it even one time & see how it affects the worship experience.

  • I’m a millennial and I find many of my friends couldn’t care less about the music. Some of them come late just to avoid it. I’d rather have great teaching and some form of genuine fellowship.

  • John Hoffacker says on

    Rich theology, authentic, high-quality worship – these are attractive, sure. But what about the lonely, the confused, those in pain, or hungry, or lost, or sick? What do they want from a church? What do they need from a church?

  • What a great post Dr. Rainer. At 52, I’m like my friend Mark Dance (except for the 52 part AND that he is way cooler than me). I was thinking of untucking my shirt but alas, my wife won’t give me the go ahead.

    I was reflecting on my youthful involvement in church and really don’t recall worship wars. Maybe it was my upbringing but I honestly remember that worship was simply about exalting God — lifting His name in praise — glorifying Him. Not about style. I am sure their must have been conflict but I don’t recall it. My parents probably protected me from any of that. However, as I read this article it struck me that too often my staff and I sit in a room and talk about how our worship will affect different demographics. I am all about relevance to be sure. But when was the last time I approached worship with an eye to pleasing deity rather then demographic. Trust me, this comment is definitely not about the speck in anyone else’s eye. It’s about the plank in my own. Lord, teach me to keep my eye on you and may my gaze draw other’s towards you as well.

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