June 26, 2019

Rethinking Evangelism to Millennials

It is not uncommon to hear the question: “How do we get Millennials (aka Young Adults) into our church(es)?” This question, however, misses the goal if you are a faith community trying to connect with young adults and invite them to join you in following Jesus. The motivation behind this question is misguided. Masked as an attempt at evangelism, the real question being asked is “how do we get young adults to buy/invest/tithe into our communities and the work of our church institution.” My response to this is to re-think the question.

Why not try these on instead: What is it about my experience of faith in this community that I want to share with young adults? What are we doing here in this church, at this time and place, that young adults would want to be a part of, be companions in, be leaders of? How is my relationship with God leading me to invite others to know the joy of following Jesus? And how does inviting young adults to be a part of this faith community nourish, equip, encourage me to do that?

These reflection questions orient the asker away from the place of an external focused attraction model. An attraction model wonders what we should be doing inside this building so that young adults will walk in and fall right into step with maintaining the church experience that we currently produce (so that when I die, the funeral will be exactly the way I want it…”). The alternative is about finding ways to come alongside of young adults where they are, growing in understanding of them in or order to imagine how the faith community might provide companionship and engagement of their stories and faith lives.

Evangelism, sharing the Good News of God’s loving presence in the world and in our lives, is most authentic and most compelling when it comes from a place deeply rooted in wanting to share the experience of the love of God in community and in action, so much so that you want to invite others to be a part of it. Evangelism with young adults is, quite simply, sharing that part of ourselves with a particular group of people (20-somethings) in mind. A commitment to doing this “out”reach also means allowing the experiences and knowledge that young adults bring with them to be lifted up and heard in the larger community. In other words, rather than commodifying the achievement of having the young adult demographic in the room, authentically seeking to be open to the possibility of change upon hearing new wisdom when young adults are given a platform to be heard.

The next step is equipping ourselves to see, hear and grow in relationship with young adults present in your context.

Look: Look around you, at every person you meet or interact with. Friends, co-workers, baristas, librarians, neighbors, public servants, support staff, dental hygienists, your young adult children, etc. There are (young) people in your life with whom you interact with in a variety of ways. Pay attention to where you see them, what they are doing, and where you do not see them.

Listen: Strike up a conversation, ask questions that invite that person to share about who they are, what they care about. What their needs/desires/hopes are for the current moment, for the big picture, for the one wild life they have to live?

Learn: Upon discovering the passion that they have, perhaps you’ll recognize that it is a shared value of your faith community and invite them to attend a related conversation, event, or service day that connects to their interest. Upon discovering that they care about something you know nothing about, invite them to bring their knowledge to your community and give them the opportunity to teach, to lead your community in work that needs to be done. How do we get Millennials into our churches? By getting ourselves in a place where we can see and hear and learn from the generation that we hope to connect with, that we hope will join us on our journey together in the Jesus Movement. Look, Listen, Learn. And discover where and how God is leading you and your community to be a space that is not only welcoming of young adults, but authentically striving to build the community of God with a place for all of God’s children to be seen, heard and recognized as valued and valuable companions on the Way.