As a preacher’s kid, you would think I would be prepared for this. My mom sat in church with me her whole pregnancy. I cooed along to hymns as a toddler. I may or may not have raced my friends by military crawling under the pews. As a teenager, I joined every activity and almost every leadership team imaginable at a small church.
I know this church thing. I’ve done it my whole life.
But being a millennial in church is a whole different story.
The Comical Side
I often laugh that the church doesn’t know what to do with young singles. Having moved to a new area, I’ve recently started church shopping and it’s been nothing short of a comical adventure.
There was the time the lady at the visitor’s center (in answering my question about the young singles class) blurted out “Well…it sucks!”
Or the time I asked someone how many young singles attended their church. There were two: one guy and one girl. And they were dating each other.
Or the time the pastor announced from stage how their fairly new church had people from the ‘70s, ‘80s and NOW had one person from the ‘90s – since they hired their youth pastor!
The Inevitable “Well”
It felt so odd. Here I was a bubbly young single looking for a place to lay down roots and serve, but repeatedly walking away discouraged and deciding to look elsewhere.
I began to understand why so many of my friends have stopped going to church altogether…why as millennials we’re disappearing in droves.
I was visiting great Jesus-loving churches. I was meeting amazing people – people who wanted millennials at their church. Yet every answer I received about the young singles group started with “Well…” and ended with something along the lines of “We don’t have many…but you can start a movement!”
The Secret to Keeping a Millennial (or Anyone for That Matter)
The explanations I have heard for the “millennial void” often seem to miss the point.
No – it is not because you don’t have contemporary worship.
No – it is not because young singles just want to be around young singles and you don’t have a large group.
No – it is not because young singles are simply uninterested in church.
Yes, those reasons may be accurate for some but the conversations I have had point to a different problem.
Often the church is not “single friendly.”
Now this is a two-way street. As singles we are responsible for reaching out and being intentional.
We need to step out of our comfort zone and introduce ourselves to the people around us. We need to go to church meetings where we may know no one. We need to attend small groups to build those connections.
Yet it’s really hard to talk myself into getting out of bed and going to church when it feels one-sided.
…when I sit in the same place in church every week and keep trying to initiate conversations with those around me and seem to make no progress.
…when I’m in a class with those who have not yet reached my season of life. Those who have no idea yet about work stress, financial pressures and the difficulty of finding community while balancing a full-time job.
…when I go to the church picnic and see everyone sitting by families and feel like I truly belong nowhere.
I have often shown up and can’t find where I belong…and I’m not alone.
The secret to keeping millennials in your church is to make room for us.
It’s hard finding where we fit into the church as young singles. I am not a college student. I also don’t belong to a physical family unit.
Yet I am supposed to belong to the body of Christ.
And just like every other soul sitting in a chair I am searching and longing for community. I don’t need your life to look like mine. I don’t mind your messy, kid-filled busy life. I would actually love to be a part of it. I can come over and help you fold laundry. I can laugh with you about the crazy comment your kid said over dinner. I can tag along at the grocery store or in the car during school pick-up.
As a part of Christ’s family, I want to share my life with you too. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The successes at work. The fears of not measuring up. The failures I need to say out loud to know someone will still love me despite them.
As a millennial, I want to be a part of your life and am hoping you want to be a part of mine as well.
A Thought for the Millennial
To the millennial who is thinking of leaving the church (or who has already left) – I know this church thing is hard. You would laugh if you saw my cheerleading sessions in the car on Sunday mornings before church – a pep talk on how this is going to be a good morning and a great step. GOOO KATIE!!!!
Then on the mornings I still want to pull out of the parking lot and leave, I soberly remind myself – if I don’t find happiness doing things God’s way, I definitely won’t find happiness not doing it His way.
The bottom line is He has commanded me not to leave the church (Hebrews 10:25). And so out of love for Him, I keep getting out of the car.
I choose to trust His way is best.
I choose to believe that no time or effort is wasted in obedience.
I choose to wait for the good that will eventually come.
I show up knowing that He sees. He knows. He cares. And thankfully the ending is not always the same.
My Happy “Ending”
I went back to a church a couple weeks ago. It was another trip to a visitor’s center where I ended up awkwardly smiling as the greeters tried to figure out where the young singles class actually was.
Yet minutes later – something changed. I was introduced to the teacher of the class who then connected me to his wife. After a few intentional questions, she asked if she could get my number because she would love to do coffee or lunch sometime. It was intentionality at its finest.
While I’ve made no final decisions about where I’ll settle long-term, I know I’ll be meeting her in the coming weeks. And as far as that church goes – because of her – I’ll be back.