Making Disciples in a Millennial Generation , Part 2

Read Part 1.

What can Baby Boomer church leaders do to develop growing disciples from the Millennial generation?

1. Motivate and train older people to build growing relationships with younger people in your church.

Godly older people can be a powerful positive influence, if they don’t become isolated, bitter and alone. This is why church leaders must make ministry to senior citizens a top priority, and not just to provide aging generations fellowship with other old people. An effective senior citizens program must be much more than that. Left alone, seniors are likely to feel put out to pasture, as if their days of effectiveness for ministry are long gone. They need to be motivated and trained to spend their retirement years being proactive about building positive relationships with the next generation. Emerging generations need to hear their stories and learn the lessons of living for Christ over the long haul. In fact, I encourage church leaders all over the country to recruit older people to be youth workers. Yes, their days of playing tackle football are long gone, but one never gets too old to build relationships. The generation gap is perhaps best bridged by older people taking the initiative to develop growing, encouraging relationships with young people.

2. Equip all believers to actively look for opportunities to share their faith in their daily lives.

It is true that Baby Boomers often think that sharing faith must involve a prescribed outline, and Millennials prefer to develop relationships with unsaved people. These different perspectives can be unified by an approach that equips people to share the Gospel individually. It usually doesn’t work to just tell people that they should share their faith. That approach can lead to guilt without motivating most people toward outreach. Instead, church leaders should train people of all generations to look for opportunities to share their faith, and tell their own salvation story, in day-to-day conversational opportunities. This approach can work with all generations.

3. Clearly communicate the purpose and philosophy of all church services and functions.

One of the major conflicts in the clash of generations is the seeming tension over the schedule and number of weekend church services. Baby Boomers came of age in an era of over-scheduled and over-programmed services. As mentioned above, their common Sunday church experience was a full day of classes, meetings, lectures and more lectures. Millennials have made it very clear that this structure is not what they want. They are more relational and want a more interactive experience. This fact does not mean that churches should water down the truth or provide an entertainment-driven approach. This is not want Millennials prefer, and it is certainly not what they need.1 More and more members of this cohort are indicating that they want church to be serious and important, and many are even wondering about a return to liturgy.2 Churches will need to figure out what specific programming methods and what number of weekend events will attract and keep emerging generations. But it will be increasingly imperative for churches to emphasize the relevant and life-related presentation of God’s Word that is creative, complete and well-crafted for new generations.

In an attempt to resolve this particular generational conflict, church leaders must be willing to clearly communicate the purpose of all church services and programs. It’s not enough to say that “we’ve always done it this way.” Millennials want to know why. They want to know that church is absolutely vital to their spiritual growth and maturity and that what they invest their lives in matters for eternity. Church must be much more than a weekend concert and lecture.

4. Be intentional about identifying the next generation of leaders in your church, and provide hands-on training for them.

To keep Millennials, churches will need to involve Millennials. Since they crave relationship building with significant older people, the church has a genuine and significant opportunity to identify and mentor younger leaders. I’d love to see all churches include the mentoring of next-generation leaders into the fabric of their culture. Teachers can and should mentor younger teachers; small group leaders can and should mentor younger small group leaders; deacons can and should mentor younger deacons, and so forth. This approach can work with any ministry position in the church. Millennials want to be involved, and their desire for relationships can be utilized effectively as an occasion to grow, learn and be active. Mentoring relationships can also be an ideal way for Millennials to have a voice in influencing the direction of the church as they have the ear of older mentors.

5. Organize inter-generational fellowships that provide opportunities for members of different generations to interact and share their stories.

It’s time to shatter the generational gap that exists in so many churches. Young people need older people, and older people need young people. But church leaders must realize that inter-generational connections will not happen without intentionality.

I believe that’s why the Apostle Paul gave Titus his familiar mentoring challenge in Titus 2 for older women to teach younger women and for older men to exhort younger men. Churches need to be intentional about providing opportunities for various generations to connect with each other. This can be as simple as senior citizens hosting a table‑game night for the youth group or as organized as inter-generational Sunday School classes or small groups.

6. Develop creative learning environments for God’s people to learn the Word of God and to see how Biblical principles apply to their lives today.

Traditional church programming does not appeal to many Millennials. They would much rather gather in a coffee shop than in an old-fashioned church classroom. But, this trend does not mean that they do not want or need the clear presentation of Scripture. Quite the contrary. Preaching will still be very important to them if it’s balanced with creative, life-related, interactive opportunities for them to personalize and apply what they are learning.

7. Create a church-wide climate of discipling leaders to disciple younger leaders.

As I mentioned above, Millennials want to do life together within a caring community. This is an ideal environment for real discipleship to take place. That is, if Baby Boomers are willing to set aside their busy, over-scheduled lives enough to make time for it. My experience tells me that this will be a major hurdle. Many boomers feel as if they are busier than ever. Churches need to navigate a balance between what weekly services to hold and how to provide real-life ways for older and younger believers to interact, serve and learn from each other.

God designed His church to be both cross-cultural and inter-generational. The generations need each other. The very best place for godly, older believers to encourage and mentor younger people to live for Him should be the local church—a local assembly of Christ-followers who are committed to reaching emerging generations with the Gospel and then helping them grow closer in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

“To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”3 (Ephesians 3:21).

Notes

3 Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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There are 24 Comments

Rob Fall's picture

HSBC has experienced many generational shifts since its founding in 1881.  The key at present is to organize for ministry not decision making.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The take away for me is do ministry the Bible way but with a special mindfulness of differences across generations.... or maybe better, just expect people to be different.

My personal experience has been that every individual I get to know has so many startling differences from my own view of things that... I have to assume relating to everyone with what feels like extreme flexibility is just an essential life skill. In the Body of Christ, we have to think this way as well, and doesn't 1 Cor. 12 encourage that?

One of the barriers I continually see between individuals and also between generations or between ethnic backgrounds or socioeconomic levels or education levels or what have you, is an excessive expectation of sameness--an unexamined assumption that others should share characteristics and are defective if they don't.

Of course, in the church, there are shared characteristics--really important ones. But too little thought is given to what those should be and what differences are "just different."

As I age, the the latter category (differences that are really not a problem) seems to grow and the "differences that matter" category seems to shrink.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Excerpt from "Why Church Leaders Will Never Understand Millennials":

 

The Choice for Church Leaders

Church leaders have a choice, with two options:

Option #1

Keep doing what we’ve been taught. What worked in a previous generation. What got us where we are, but won’t get us to the next place.

Keep designing churches and ministries that target people demographically. Keep teaching upcoming pastors that successful ministries are built by exploiting generational / cultural / socio-economic dynamics.

You might even gather a good number of millennials that way. Because a lot of millennials do follow the crowd. Just like their boomer parents.

But we’ll lose far more than we’ll gain.

Option #2

Get to know people as individuals. Listen first, talk later.

Stop looking for easy answers. And refuse to bite when they’re offered.

Give up on church-by-demographics and invest in people.

 

http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/may/why-church-leaders...

Bert Perry's picture

Seems to me that this is really what the Bible describes, no?  And if indeed we have tended to be taught to target people as demographics instead of as people, and to "run the system" instead of reaching people for Christ, wouldn't it be smart to figure out why we've done this?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I really don't worry about reaching any particular age group. Perhaps I'm just hopelessly naive, but I just try to develop relationships with . . . anybody. Articles like the CT Today piece (two above) seem like they're written by somebody from a foreign culture to me. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

It appears that the Bible-believing millennials are doing two things better than previous generations.

They seem to be better at building one-on-one relationships and discipleship in personal and small group settings.

They seem to be better at planting churches. I live in the suburbs of Washington D.C. that are prime territory for new churches. In the 10 years we've been here, there have been a good number (but not enough) new, doctrinally sound, churches planted by millennials but I know of none being planted by those with connections to the fundamentalism of the older generation. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

 

TylerR wrote:

I really don't worry about reaching any particular age group. Perhaps I'm just hopelessly naive, but I just try to develop relationships with . . . anybody. Articles like the CT Today piece (two above) seem like they're written by somebody from a foreign culture to me. 

 

I think we really need to go past/beyond age group distinctions.  We need to dive into understanding people based on cultural distinctions (which can transcend age group classifications).  We seem to understand the necessity of this when we are talking about foreign  missions: prospective missionaries purposefully study (and in many ways seek to acclimate themselves to) foreign cultures, as a springboard to building relationships with the people they want to reach.  When it comes to domestic  missions however, the conventional wisdom is that the "culture" (normally viewed or spoken of in monolithic terms) is abjectly corrupt/bad/evil, and therefore something from which to maintain a clear distance.  The existence of any common grace or the prospect of redeeming the culture in any way are dismissed, for all intents and purposes.

Douglas McLachlan, in his 1993 book Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, spoke of the dangers of excesses in both directions when dealing with "culture."  On one end of a continuum, he challenged fundamentalism to avoid falling into the trap of "Cultural Isolation," in which, while the message (i.e. the gospel) has been retained, the audience is lost.  On the opposite end is "Cultural Absorption," in which the audience is present, but the message is lost. His point is to strive to minister in the middle ground, where we have both the true message and  an audience to hear it.     

Joel Shaffer's picture

TylerR wrote:

I really don't worry about reaching any particular age group. Perhaps I'm just hopelessly naive, but I just try to develop relationships with . . . anybody. Articles like the CT Today piece (two above) seem like they're written by somebody from a foreign culture to me. 

Tyler,  

Count yourself fortunate that you weren't taught this in seminary.  I took a church growth class 22 years ago in seminary and Donald McGavran's Understanding Church Growth with its Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP) was being embraced without much critical thought.  The HUP states that "Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers."  McGavran, a former missionary to India, had observed that the church of India grew much more quickly when they didn't cross caste barriers.    However, this descriptive behavior quickly developed into a prescriptive principle as McGavran emphasized that the  “The normal clannishness of the new group being discipled must be cheerfully accepted and, indeed, encouraged.”  American Church growth experts and Church marketers in America such as  Peter Wagner and George Barna contextualized the HUP to America and soon age demographics (such as boomers) was added to the list of homogeneous groups that should be discipled and encouraged.  Unfortunately, the unintentional consequences of church marketing and the  HUP,  is that "churches have become a collection of consumers or tourists rather than a communion of saints and pilgrims" as Dr. Michael Horton has so eloquently observed.   

I think that the article in CT is a pushback against pigeonholing millennials as monolithic demographic group, which has been done by many of today's church growth authors.  By the way, I am not against the church gathering and using demographic and ethnographic information, but too many times evangelical churches allow it to drive their ministry rather than serve their ministry.  

Joel Shaffer's picture

I think we really need to go past/beyond age group distinctions.  We need to dive into understanding people based on cultural distinctions (which can transcend age group classifications). 

Yes!

Bert Perry's picture

Joel, reading through your characterization of HUP, I would dare suggest that some of the de facto segregation we see in churches is a result of this, if indeed we are to say "clannishness....must be cheerfully accepted and even encouraged".  Am I tracking with you correctly?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Joel, reading through your characterization of HUP, I would dare suggest that some of the de facto segregation we see in churches is a result of this, if indeed we are to say "clannishness....must be cheerfully accepted and even encouraged".  Am I tracking with you correctly?

Yes.  The HUP certainly hasn't helped.  Peter Wagner wrote a book in 1979 when the church growth movement was beginning to get traction in America called, "Our Kind of People."   In it he writes that a "sign of a healthy growing church is that its membership is composed of basically one kind of people."   What early church growth experts such as Wagner and McGavran were getting at was that congregations focused on racial separation waste energy better used for evangelizing non-Christians.   Fast forward 30 or so years and the church growth movement has weeded out many of its faults over the years, where they realized that the disciples they were producing weren't very healthy, and were quite racially, politically, socially, and economically separated from each other.    Yet I still see it in the missional movement today.  For instance almost all of the Acts 29 churches that were started talk a good talk about attempting to be multi-ethnic, but in practice they seem to be designing their ministry to reach the young urban white hipster crowd, many of which had a sprinkling of church background from their evangelical youth group days in the 1990's.    A  multi-ethnic church is like plowing concrete!  It is really hard to do!  No magic bullet exists to make it easier.  But the result is a powerful gospel witness of blacks and whites loving each other deeply because of their common union in Christ. 

Ron Bean's picture

Do your churches still have classes that are segregated by age or group (i.e. young couples, senior saints, college age, parents, etc.)?

As to ethnicity, I was reminded by a Korean Christian friend that his church doesn't aggressively seek to incorporate non-Koreans into their church. I suspect it's the same for other minorities/ethnicities.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Joel Shaffer's picture

Ron, 

Our church has no S.S. but rather small groups and they are not segregated by age or group.  

I am curious, is the primary language used in the church which your Korean Christian friend attends in Korean or English?  

Ron Bean's picture

I am curious, is the primary language used in the church which your Korean Christian friend attends in Korean or English?  

Great question. (I had to call him.) The hymns are in Korean. The AM sermon is usually in English. Smaller services are usually in Korean.

BTW, that led to a discussion about black churches and their outreach.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Joel Shaffer's picture

The reason I ask that is because often times ethnic churches such as this Korean church have a good number of 1st generation Koreans so there's not any intentionality towards reaching out to non-Koreans because of the language barrier.   

As for black churches and their outreach, most of the black churches I know are very friendly to white people that come to their church or to white people they are reaching out to, but most are not going to change their church culture/structure to accommodate white people that have started coming to their church.  

Bert Perry's picture

Joel, I'm a bit confused about what you mean by changing culture/structure for white people....they've got deacons and elders like us--might call someone a "bishop" or ordain someone younger than we do, but otherwise very similar....are you referring more to music style and the degree to which it's acceptable to move in the pews, respond to/encourage the pastor while he's teaching, etc..?

On the light side, the thought that came to mind was "Of course they won't.  What would they do--nail everybody's feet to the floor or something?".  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I've observed that most white Americans are not very comfortable in a typical black church, and vice versa.  We have several blacks who worship regularly with us, but it has taken years to acquire them.  I'm disappointed that we have not yet succeeded in reaching more.  I realize that our conservative style of worship is something of a barrier.  However, the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God overcome such barriers.  When the main focus is Christ and the greatest attraction is hearing God's Word, people of every background and culture can be drawn by God's Spirit.  We are beginning to make inroads into the Hispanic community, and have several Chinese who attend.  That seems to be pretty normal for Gentile churches in the book of Acts, and America is becoming more diverse every day.  May God help us to reach across cultural barriers.

I wouldn't expect black churches to change their worship style to accommodate whites, any more than I would expect predominantly white churches to adopt cultural styles to attract blacks.  Every church should engage in the worship practices they believe most glorify God and leave it to God to bring the people He wants to add to the church.

G. N. Barkman

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Quote:

. . . . .

I realize that our conservative style of worship is something of a barrier.  However, the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God overcome such barriers.  When the main focus is Christ and the greatest attraction is hearing God's Word, people of every background and culture can be drawn by God's Spirit. 

. . . . .

If the above is true (and I believe it is), why in practice does this so rarely work in reverse?  Why doesn't "the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God overcome...barriers"  to worshipping in a contemporary (or different) style for many whose preference is traditional?

It seems disingenuous to say that a traditional style of worship shouldn't be a barrier to attendance or fellowship when many who would say such a thing, conversely, themselves view a contemporary (or different) style as a barrier to attendance or fellowship.  

G. N. Barkman's picture

Why doesn't it work in reverse?  It does.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bro. Barkman wrote:

 I realize that our conservative style of worship is something of a barrier.  However, the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God overcome such barriers.  When the main focus is Christ and the greatest attraction is hearing God's Word, people of every background and culture can be drawn by God's Spirit.

I agree. It has worked for our church. Well said. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Instead of blanket saying that "it does" or "it does not" work in reverse--are those who love older music (guilty) willing to listen to newer music for the sake of the Gospel--perhaps we ought to say that some are, and some are not--our thread on music style not being the end-all to church growth or survival certainly bears witness to that, no?  And for that matter, I would bet a nickel that if I poked around certain parts of the movement that endorses contemporary music, I'd find some pretty strong opinions the other way.  

But that said, I'm going to take Bro. Tyler and Bro. Barkman at their word when they say it does work at their churches, and praise God for that.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I live in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where there are millions of millennials who are constantly moving into the area. There are a number of good churches that have been planted by millennials (I'm in one of those) but I know of none that have been planted by the traditional fundamentalists with which I am familiar.

 (Definitions: When I refer to "good" millennial churches, I mean churches that are doctrinally sound, separated from apostasy and liberalism, tending to casual dress (but not immodest), strong on church polity and discipline, using different translations than the KJV, and using a mixture of traditional and new hymnody with varying kinds of musical instruments. (No laser shows and smoke machines.) By traditional churches, I mean those that are doctrinally sound, separated from apostasy and liberalism, dress is usually suits, ties, and dresses, marked by Baptist polity but often not as aggressive on discipline, mostly KJV with some NASV and NKJV, and use essentially the same hymnody and Gospel songs that were used 60 years ago.)

While the millennial churches are growing, existing traditional fundamental churches are stagnant or shrinking. There are three with which I am familiar. All three have great facilities in great locations, no debt, and have been in existence for more than 30 years. While the communities around them are growing at a rapid rate, these churches are struggling to exist.

I, like many others, can only speculate why this is happening.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Crystal's picture

The next time somebody complains about millenials, maybe remind them which generation linoleumed over all those beautiful hardwood floors.

(Not original to me)  

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