A Millennial's Open Essay to Black Pastors part II | Suggestions for Consideration
The first part of the essay focused on defining who Millennials are, and how our developmental years has impacted our relationship to and view of the church (CLICK HERE to read). From my experiences, I offer a few insights as suggestions to consider under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances. The posts following this series will focus on suggestions with the virtual worship experience in mind.
1. The church must focus on who is there.
While this may appear on the surface to be unrelated to attracting Millennials, it is of great import that this is the first step. By focusing on the members present, pastors and ministry leaders give a sign to people who are absent. That sign is that the church cares about the people she serves. If there are a majority of seniors in the church, the senior ministry must be booming. Leadership should invest in making sure these faithful and loyal members are taken care of and have their needs met. People naturally are attracted to organizations and institutions where people are genuinely happy and fulfilled. If this is done, those served will rave about the ministry and share their experiences with their friends and family without prompting. Community members who are naturally attracted to the church by a member’s excited testimony fit into the culture of the church easily.
To that end, pastors should:
Assess needs of members using surveys and one-on-one conversations.
Discover any holes in the ministry and explore creative ways to fill them.
Literally and personally minister to the members and families who attend regularly.
2. The church must reinvigorate Christian Education.
People love preaching. And those who appreciate the art of Black preaching, probably love preaching more than the average person who loves preaching. As true as this is, people are thirsty for good teaching. Let me be clear. I understand that good preaching includes good teaching. There is a nexus between preaching and teaching that one should not abandon; but there are significant responses to teaching as a standalone that are lost if we replace mid-week Bible study because segments of teaching have been included in a sermon. Education is more formational and foundational to the development of Christians than the inspiration of a Sunday service—which is why the early church had strong Christian Education Ministries.
In more cases than not, Millennials are not as much moved by a preacher preaching at them as generations have been in the past—criticizing them and telling them why their life is in shambles. People want to know how to live their best lives. A simple YouTube search will help substantiate truth.
Follow the steps below:
In the YouTube search bar, type: “How to be more”.
Then, go through the alphabet, typing only the first letter for the next word. For example, “How to be more A”.
Allow the predictive search feature to display the most common searches.
Look at the top five suggestions.
Repeat with other letters of the alphabet. For example, “How to be more B, or How to be more G”.
From this experiment, ministry leaders will discover that Millennials and other generations are using the internet to seriously inquire how to improve themselves. People are still reading self-help books. People are still tuning into Oprah’s special tours to discover more about their “super” souls. My hypothesis is that the world is filling in spaces where the church has left gaps. If the church begins to fill in its own gaps and teach people how to do/be what they are looking to do/become, the church will retain and even attract new members/ followers.
To this end, pastors should:
Reevaluate the format of Bible Study; making sure it is not a mid-week worship service or tagged at the end of a prayer meeting.
Expand your personal study of GOD to include more than the Bible (whether you agree or disagree with the philosophy). You cannot be ignorant of what’s out there.
Study popular culture (movies, music, etc.), world cultures, world religions, conspiracy theories, and spirituality.
Enroll in a teaching class at a local community college /university or Seminary to learn methods of teaching that will take current abilities to the next level.
Talk to your congregants about matters of life that are causing them to stumble and really be present for the conversation and generally speak to their concerns in the week’s bible study lesson or sermon (keep anonymous).
3. The church must be a safe place.
Believe it or not, many people don’t feel safe in church. They don’t feel like they will be truly accepted. They feel like they will be judged, criticized, looked at funny, or talked about. Some people, as an example, have expressed a feeling like they have the “right” clothes to wear to church which speaks to masks and people feeling like they have to present themselves in a certain way to gain acceptance of people, preachers, and ultimately GOD.
Safety, in this sense, is expanded to include emotional safety. Millennials want to be confident that our darkest thoughts and secrets are safe in your heart—judgment free; and that you and your team would send up prayers on our behalf. We want to be loved as we are—into what we will become.
“Don’t love me to death. Love me to life— my best one.” –said a proverbial Millennial who doesn’t go to church, but thinks about going from time to time.
To this end, pastors should:
Make hospitality a priority for every service-oriented ministry
People expect ministry leaders to demonstrate, by their actions, the love of God in every interaction.
Even if the ministry leader is justified in responding to an unpleasant interaction with a natural human reaction like a slick comment or a provocative face, they should not. They must take the high ground every time. When they cannot do that, they should not serve.
Consider customer service training for all service-oriented ministries in the church.
4. The church must be a knowledgeable place.
The church must expand its expertise beyond Jesus and the Christian doctrine. Millennials are exposed to so many philosophies and teachings that contradict the teachings of the church. We feel dissatisfaction when we go to the church to seek clarity for our cloudy thoughts because whomever we speak to is only going to talk to us about content in the Bible. We are interested in creating a dialogue between the Bible and other doctrines to which we have been exposed.
In the minds of too many Millennials, the church is seen as a barrier between GOD and people instead of a bridge. Churches have achieved levels of notoriety for the past thousand years by distinguishing itself from the world. The common thought was to dedicate one’s life to GOD in exchange for an eternity with Him in heaven after death. Today, people are asking if dedication to GOD means a life separated from the beauty and coveted experiences this world offers. Can we want both material things and GOD? Can we have sex before marriage and still go to heaven when we die? Can we practice yoga, meditate and pray? There is a lot of gray in the poles of these questions. Most people live and die in that gray. Most church leaders live and die in that gray. But is the gray the “broad road to Hell” or is it covered by the blood? The church has to become more comfortable grappling with the gray—instead of taking the easy way out by preaching the black and white.
To this end, pastors should:
Expand personal study to include philosophies and doctrines outside of the Christian Faith.
Be prayerful about such expansion in order to receive fresh responses and deeper interpretations of Scripture.
Read the Bible with an open mind for interpretation. (If the Bible is a living document and meaning is revealed at different stations of your life, consider the possibilities of interpretation of foundational passages of scripture as well.)
I’ve been in the church all my life. I’ve been interested in activist organizations that speak to the plight of the disadvantaged and underprivileged for as long as I can remember. I see much value in church and in many of these organizations.
Much of my talent was honed in the church. Many of my gifts were developed in the church. I was afforded opportunities to lead, speak, sing, and express myself in ways that have distinguished me from my peers who did not have as many opportunities in other places. I was also affirmed in the church which gave me a sense of confidence and pride I would not have had otherwise.
I am naturally disappointed, then, when I see the decline of participation of my generation and the generations around mine in church and other social organizations. Interesting as it may sound, I can understand many of my peers who are tired of “church as usual.” I can sympathize with their desire to take a break from the weekly routine of going to church to sit in the pew for a few hours, often fighting sleep. From a place of understanding both worlds, I intended to present this information.
It was not my intention to attack the church itself or affix blame for this decrease to any position in the church, specifically ministry leaders. My aim, in its purest form, was to give an unadulterated explanation to the way I think as a Millennial who grew up in the church and has been called to serve the in the church—and to offer suggestions, based upon my experiences and the philosophies that influence me, of how to best bridge the gap between the Church and it’s missing generation, Millennials.
I pray I have helped.