Millennials and the Church: Strategies for engagement

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Stephanie Williams

Millennials - I dont know how to pray anymore“I don’t even know how to pray anymore,” I confided in a mentor when I was 21 years old.

I had grown up in a Christian home and gone to a Christian college. However, by the time I was 21, my heart and mind were so full of doubt that I could barely bring myself to utter a prayer.

Various experiences with the church had left me with little hope that it was the vehicle of God’s mission. I came to a crossroad: either I was going to give up on the church or be part of what God was doing to lead the church into the future.

I chose the latter. By the time I was 25, I was a church planter, serving as pastor at an urban church in the heart of Minneapolis. In my 30s now, I am seeing God do things that I had almost given up on believing could be possible.


We are the Millennials

Millennials are those between the ages of 20 and 34.

We are more educated than any other generation in American history. However, we also carry more student loan debt.

We are taking significantly longer to get married. We’ve also spent more on therapy to process the broken families we grew up in than our Baby Boomer counterparts.

One of the starker contrasts between our generation and others is our participation in the church. Many studies demonstrate that Millennials have considerably low participation in the church. Only 20% believe participating with a church is important.

One out of every five Millennials who grew up in our youth groups rejected Christianity all together. [1]

When the generation before us—Generation X—was coming into adulthood, they left the church for a while as well. However, by the time they had kids, they had come back in droves.

Many in my generation are well into their child-raising days—and they’re not coming back.

Faced with the same crossroad I faced, they made the opposite decision and rejected the church.

This is very concerning. I want my generation to be a part of the church but more importantly, I want them to know Jesus! I want them to experience powerful corporate worship. But more urgently, I want them to be a part of what God is doing in their neighborhoods and workplaces. I believe God is just as active there as He is in worship services and church buildings.

If you have this same hope for Millennials, I’d like to offer three strategies in engaging my generation.


1. Don’t invite us to church. Invite us into your lives.


For years, churches have been trying to find new and different tactics to bring young people into the church: better music, online connection points, apps, pizza, coffee, gift cards and candy at information booths.

I suggest that we’ve been offering the wrong invitation. My generation is much more interested in being invited into the lives of people who have gone before us than we are interested in corporate worship settings. We are much more likely to accept an invitation to talk about life and work over coffee than to go to a church service.

I have a neighbor who told me during one of our first conversations that he had no need for “churchy stuff” in his life. So I invited him to a block party and into my home. We stopped to talk every time we were both in our yards.

A few months later, his family received horrible news that a family member only had a few months to live. Guess who showed up at the worship service the next Sunday? The whole family.

I bet you already share a neighborhood, a workplace or an extended family with some Millennials. Invite them into your lives!

Share with them your successes and failures. Tell them stories about what you have seen God do around you. Invite them into what being the church looks like on a daily basis, not just on Sundays.

If God leads you to invite them to a worship service, great! But please, invite us into your life first.


2. Authenticity is our highest value.


Realize that we value authenticity over most other values. We want people to be real with us. Don’t try to cover up your failures and prop up your successes. That will only drive us away.

You don’t have to be a perfect example—just a living example.

Admitting to us that you don’t have it figured out and helping us ask the right questions will do much more than having all the right answers.


3. Realize “who” we are talking about when speaking of this generation.


It’s important to realize who is currently making up the Millennial generation.

We are pastors and teachers, lawyers and social workers, doctors, parents and even now the youngest of CEOs and executives. We are deans at liberal arts colleges and successful technology gurus. We are single parents working as full-time teachers and board members at influential companies. We are writers and PHDs.

Realizing where we are at is important if you want to engage us. If you approach us with what you have to offer without asking us what we bring to the table, we will walk away from the table all together.

We don’t always admit it, but we want to learn from the generations that have gone before us. But we have things we hope to teach you too—experiences we want to share, energy as we look toward the future.

There is hope!

Many Millennials have given up on “church,” but they haven’t given up on Jesus. You and I know Jesus has been in the business of leading His church through the ups and downs of cultures for thousands of years. I don’t believe He is finished!

Pastor Stephanie Williams
Pastor Stephanie Williams

Stephanie Williams is one of the pastors at Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis. She is passionate about equipping God’s people to live on mission, loving their communities in the name of Jesus. Follow her blog at:



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