Church that Engages the Next Generation
Engaging the next generation of the church is not an easy task, especially in a culture that is changing at such a fast pace. My church has launched a Research and Development team to create a worship experience engaging millennials with the truth of Jesus Christ. This worship service will act as a learning laboratory to experiment with different forms of worship in order to discover what truly connects with this generation. The results of this experiment is being recorded in this space as it happens. You can find the first of the series here. This is the second of the series.
In order for the church to truly engage and retain the millennials for Christ, two major shifts must be considered. First, the church needs to consider reconstructing traditional youth ministry. But, this first consideration only sets the table for the second one.
The next phase is to develop a worship experience in the church that actually includes 14-29 year olds. Notice that the focus is not creating a whole church for millennials, but instead a worship service that invites millenials to participate along with all of the generations of the congregation. Bob Whitesel and Kent Hunter have coined the term “Tri-generational Church” in their book, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church. This concept means that each church should always be working to bridge the gaps between the generations.
The Barna Group has identified 18-29 year olds who have a Christian background, as feeling stuck between faith and culture, as exiles. Thirty eight percent of those people say they want to follow Jesus in a way that connects with the world around them. If they cannot find a church that is helping them do that, they disengage. Simply put, church is not relevant enough to keep them interested.
What are they Missing?
Although every generation has the same need for Jesus, it seems that millennials feel stuck between faith and culture, as exiles. As the generations before them, they desire meaningful relationships. The difference with millennials is that they do not just desire to make friends with peers, they want an adult to mentor them.
Young millenials, especially teens, are more independent today than they have ever been. They do not want to be seen as having potential to impact the church someday, they want to get involved now. These young people are looking to make a difference in the church, but are prepared to leave when the congregation does not take them seriously. They are ready to go deep in their faith, but they are not satisfied with the depth of their connection with Jesus from church.
Furthermore, this generation is more and more interested in revisiting the ancient liturgy of the church than a church that seems polished and performance-driven. With the accessibility of technology, millennials can be entertained all week long. They are no longer looking to be entertained, but for authenticity.
Elements of a Millennial Worship Experience
Here are some key elements for creating a successful worship experience for millennials.
This generation needs to know that the church is much more about people than it is about an institution. Because of this, a worship experience must have a central focus on genuine community. It can be developed by creating space and time both inside and outside the worship service for relationship building. If someone does not feel connected to the community, they will not stick around.
People desire authenticity in relationships. There can be a perception from churches that people need to have it all together at church. Often, the church only displays stories of people who have struggled and then got over it, when the truth is that struggles do not disappear out of people’s lives.
One way to accomplish this to have live interviews in the service with people who can authentically share the current struggles of their faith journey. By doing this in front of others, it can act as a catalyst for others to begin identifying with and being more vulnerable with others. This sort of authenticity breeds the necessity for love, support, and accountability in the church and thus develops deeper relationships. Dan Kimball, in the book Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, describes this by explaining why the transformation of unbelievers has had little to do with lights and music, and mostly to do with witnessing the authenticity of the other believers in that church.
For generation X and even some previous generations, liturgy was perceived as impersonal and repetitive, but to the millennial Christians, ancient liturgy is seen as a great resource to be used to enhance worship experiences. Mike Cosper and Bob Kauflin from Soujourn Church, for instance, have moved to a liturgical template of worship that tells the gospel story each week.
Their worship includes sections of adoration, confession, assurance, and communion or commitment. Within each section, they leave room for creativity in their approach, but sticking with this plan has brought a fullness to their worship experience. In their words, “Worship that immerses the people of God in the rhythms of grace does not merely train them for gospel-centered worship; it trains them for gospel-centered lives.”
This generation does not just want to witness a worship service, but experience Jesus and worship God together. One of the ways this can happen is through multi-sensory worship.
Since music is a very powerful artistic expression, it is often the focal point of our worship services, but it is just one of many ways to express yourself artistically. The purpose of utilizing the creative arts is to enhance the message, not distract from it. Creativity can also be used to develop and deliver the message in a non-traditional way. Sitting through a 40 minute sermon every week can lose anyone’s focus in a culture where people are constantly moving from one thing to the next. A multi-sensory worship experience, however, presents the need to determine the teaching theme well in advance, in order to start with Scripture, plan ahead, and create more teams as creative gifts emerge.
Most importantly, the service must be constantly evaluated to assure that what is being done is still engaging those who attend yet not falling victim to the latest fad. With our culture rapidly changing and the next generation on the heels of the millennials, the worship experience might need to look drastically different in 5-10 years. The church must keep adjusting the timeless truth of the gospel to an ever-changing culture. Rather than trying to fit each generation into what currently works in the church, we must change what currently works to engage each new generation.
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