[Image by Noah Biddlecombe]
What Millennials Want From Church – Part 2
Millennials are leaving church. Fixing it is not simple. If it was, many churches and denominations would be beginning to build numbers again. We would not still be trying to solve the problem a decade after the problem was highlighted nationally, both in the United States and Canada.
Numbers are how we tend to quantify success. It’s easy to chart and graph and project numbers. But the problem with using numbers to quantify the success of a church is that church is a dynamic organization of people that expresses a culture within a culture. Numbers are not an accurate measure of Jesus in most cases. There are too many variables.
It is like happiness. “Happiness” is a concept that sociologists have a hard time quantifying, because what is happiness? Is there even a universal definition and measurement of happiness? Happiness for you is different than happiness for me; how we express it will depend on our local culture, how we define it will depend on our larger provincial or national culture, and how we pursue it will depend on our individual experiences and environments. There are so many variables at play that there can be no secret prescription for “happiness” that can be applied to every person across the globe that immediately results in happiness.
There are cultural factors. There are environmental factors. There are individual factors.
The same is true of attempting to measure “church success”. Except we need to add the values of Jesus to the equation.
There are so many variables, and sub-variables, that make it impossible to prescribe a fix to “the millennial problem”. What will be successful in rebuilding church in Dallas, Texas will probably look very different than what it looks like in Lethbridge, Alberta. The foundation – Jesus, is the same, and the goal – a church that engages faith – is the same. But the way to get to the goal will likely appear different in these different locations because of these individual, environmental and cultural factors before mentioned.
This problem has humans, cultures, society. Jesus.
It cannot be measured with numbers.
Coincidentally, Jesus didn’t measure his success with numbers either. He only had 12 followers. Plus, they all deserted him the night he gave himself to be crucified. They didn’t understand his death even though he had told them so many times beforehand. They didn’t come out of hiding even after Jesus came back to life. They were scared of the crowd. Scared of their culture.
But Jesus built the whole of the Christian church on those few.
Instead of aiming for numbers, we need to change our model of church success. What did Jesus consider success? Sharing his life day and night with 12 guys. Giving them chance after chance to understand his divinity. Sometimes patient, sometimes not. Always real.
What does that look like in real life?
Being content with the crowd or the couple you have with you right now. Discipling them well. Doing life alongside them. Eating together. Not aiming for a multitude, but teaching them with the same integrity and Christology if more happen to show up.
Not just in regards to millennials, but the success of church in any form cannot be measured in numbers. Measuring church in numbers is a human fallacy. It is us taking church into our own hands and trying to mold it like a secular organization. It is us scripting 5-year plans and trying to control membership and financials like any other institution.
As soon as we are focused on numbers, we are no longer focusing on the people. As soon as we focus on our worldly vision of “success”, we are no longer focusing on the gospel.
And if we aren’t focused on the people or the gospel, what is the purpose of doing church?
Why is it you are concerned about millennials’ absence from church? Is your congregation aging out? Is your traditional place to spend Sunday in danger of closing? Or are you seriously concerned that young people are growing up not knowing the goodness of Jesus?
Stop focusing on numbers. Focus on who you have in front of you right now. Make sure you show them who Jesus is. Be content with a humble crowd. Trust that millennials will be drawn to Truth. That Jesus is in charge of your program, not member projections. That your church is just the vessel of Absolute Truth, not Absolute Truth itself. That the church is not actually yours.
And then you will be doing it well.
How can you measure church success differently in your neighborhood?