Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meeting with Millennials

Other notes/reactions from this lecture series ⇐click

An anecdote:
A youth leader went to a conference. There, a workshop leader commented that a sports-based youth outreach was a poor basis for lasting faith commitments (or something like this). The youth leader went back home and canceled the volleyball program -- the only youth activity with growing participation. It had provided a community service and was actually working to bring interested families into a place where they could experience the gospel.

Many teens left, and within a year so did the youth leader.

So, Dr. Nishioka said, beware of formulas. Don't cancel the volleyball on the basis of a comment made in one workshop! In other words: Distrust formulas.

That said, here are some things that should help build an outreach to Millennials.


First, pray! Also, recruit individuals and groups to pray for this ministry. Prayer is the most significant act any believer can undertake. But you already knew that.

Meet away from a church building

and preferably in a home setting. Why meet away from the church building? Church buildings represent institutions, which Millennials don't particularly trust. They also may have an unspoken (and unconscious) desire to recover a sense of home; indeed in the congregation I worship with, we have identified "isolated living" as a key characteristic of our geographical area. (In SF, a restaurant called "Home", which features comfort food from the midwest [think meatloaf], is routinely packed with Millennials -- many of whom never ate those particular dishes growing up.)

At First Presbyterian in Dallas, the church buildings are up a hill from a lot of new condominiums. Like 20 yards uphill. They created a pastor position for young adults, a terrific idea. Where does this pastor live? In the condos down the hill.

Where does the young-adult group meet? In a common area (clubhouse) at the condo complex. "But we're 20 yards up the hill!" This pastor tried moving the meeting 20 yards up the hill, and attendance fell off.

What time does the group meet? 9:30 AM. Saturdays. The pastor determined, after some experimentation, that this time worked best for the most participants. They loved having all of Sunday free from commitments. And because they were done Saturday at 11:00, they had Saturday afternoon to run errands. And they could stay out late Saturday night.

Work at building relationships

Apparently both Saddleback and Willow Creek are abandoning the sort of "seeker-friendly" services we've all heard about, because they aren't "sticky." That is, people come for a visit, then a lot of them leave.

How many? "About 1/3 annually." (I don't know how that's calculated.) Where do they go?

They go to mainline protestant congregations, with smaller, less glitzy/polished meetings. They're looking for a place where they can share their gifts. Congregations with overly slick services -- 3D projection video for example -- make it hard for the average congregant to feel they have something to contribute.

What are Saddleback and Willow Creek doing instead? Small groups! The pastors have several small group leaders as their congregations, and the small group leaders work at establishing relationships with the generic attendee; this is where the 17 hours come in.

Don't call them "singles"

There's a stigma attached to that word -- as though "not married yet" were a deficiency. Though singles are not literally "a persecuted minority" in the church, it sometimes feels that way.

The bigger divide is between with/without children, because of the impact that children have on their lives. The issues people worry about, talk about, pray about, are drastically different for parents than for non-parents.

And among parents, there's another divide -- between those with a stay-at-home parent, as distinct from dual-income or single parents. Not that these groups have nothing in common, but that their top-of-mind concerns differ.

Biblical content

Rather than some discussion guide about "Issues Facing Young People Today," many Millennials would like to learn about the Bible. But they're not looking for a half-hour (or longer) lecture on the 27 uses of this word in the Greek New Testament; instead, give them some background and then ask, "What do you think about this?"

Text, food, coffee

Remember to have good food and good coffee, and communicate with them regularly -- text messaging seems to be the preferred mode because it's asynchronous; it doesn't demand that they stop what they're doing to take a call (or even to listen to voicemail); if busy, they can surreptitiously glance at their phones and be reminded of tonight's meeting or whatever. It needn't (and probably shouldn't) demand a response, but they can reply later if they want.

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