A thriving church must reach millennials
Any church that wants to thrive in The Bahamas must reach young families, according to a youth pastor.
“In fact, I’d go as far as to say any church that wants to exist in the future, must reach young families,” said Ricardo Miller, youth pastor and host of “Ask the Children’s Ministry Guy Talk Radio Show” — a weekly broadcast of Fishbowl Radio Network.
“A vibrant and thriving church is made up of all generations, just like a family is — young children, teenagers, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.”
The founder of The Bahamas’ National Children’s Ministry Day initiative, who resides in Dallas, Texas, but returns home frequently, said during his travels throughout the Family Islands, he has noticed large numbers of churches with less than a dozen individuals gathered inside worshipping together in dilapidated edifices.
“A number of churches throughout the Family Islands are now having to combine their services in order to continue to have a presence on the island,” said Miller. “This is sad, frustrating and very unnecessary. Realizing that if a church only has grandparents and great-grandparents, it will eventually die as the members die. Young parents and their children must be a substantial part of a congregation for it to have a future.”
The youth pastor said that across The Bahamas, church leaders have to ask the tough questions: How can we reach young families? How can our church bustle with the energy that young families need?
“If you are going to reach today’s young families, the starting point is to know who they are. Today’s young parents are primarily made up of millennials, and the sad fact is many churches don’t have any millennials. Studies by George Barna Research Group show that church attendance is the lowest in recent history, especially among millennials.”
The research group statistics said 59 percent of millennials who were raised in church have dropped out, and 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance — to the point that they believe the church does more harm than good.
“Millennials are the least likely adult generation to attend church. Just go to your average church around the island and have a look around. You will notice this truth. But before we place the blame on a new generation of parents, I think, as the church, we have to take a hard look in the mirror.”
Miller said if church leaders are going to reach those persons who have dropped out, he believes a change needs to happen to what caused them to drop out in the first place.
“And if we are going to reach millennials who have no previous church background, then we must be willing to gear our ministries to meet the needs of today’s young parents rather than continuing to do ministry like we have [been] for the past 40 years. There was a time when everyone in The Bahamas was affiliated with a church. Those days are now gone.”
He said there are seven keys to reaching today’s millennial families, which include giving them a voice, keeping it simple, giving them something worth giving their time to, balancing Bible study and worship with serving throughout the island, focusing on what you’re for just as much as what you’re against, being a community rather than a hate group and being transparent.
The youth pastor encourages giving millennials a voice, because he says rather than being told what to do, millennials want to speak into what they are involved in.
“Communication must happen through collaboration if we want to engage young parents. Are you giving millennial parents the opportunity to provide input and insight into the ministry? When you combine the wisdom of the older generation with the fresh ideas and creativity of millennials, you get a dynamic that can’t happen if you leave one out.”
Miller said many of them might have dropped out because they wanted to do more than just sit on a pew for two-and-a-half hours a week and be lectured to.
“With thousands of online sermon options, they can sit home and do that. Millennials do not appreciate or value dictators. They don’t want to be talked down to. They want to be invited to the table. It’s not the sermon alone that is going to bring millennials in. It’s giving them the opportunity to speak into the ministry and help build it.”
He encouraged church leaders to keep it simple because today’s young families are bombarded with messages.
“Social media and technology sends hundreds, if not thousands of messages their way every day. This creates a noisy buzz that is hard to break through, especially if you complicate the message you are trying to get through to them. Use a few key points that are easy to remember, and be interactive with the audience.”
Millennials, he said, also want to make a difference, hence the need to give them something worth giving their time to.
“They are not interested in playing church. When a church is nothing more than a social club, they check out. Millennials care deeply about helping those in need. They will give their time, energy and resources to those who are involved with this. You can see this in their engagement with companies who donate some of their profit to charitable causes. Let them find causes through your ministry and they will engage — planting trees, building houses, clothing/food donations, raising money for medical causes, etc.”
Miller also encouraged the balance of Bible study and worship with serving throughout the island, which he said entails balancing being inside the walls of the church with serving the people outside the walls of the edifice.
“Millennials want to change the world, so show them how they can change the world through the church and they will be drawn to it.”
Focusing on what they’re for, just as much as what they’re against, he said, is also important.
“Millennials see the church as narrow-minded, judgmental and hypocritical. That’s what we’ve become known for, but that’s the opposite of what Jesus said we should be known for. He said the world should know us because of our love for one another. We can hate the sin yet reach out in Christ’s love to the sinner.”
The youth pastor also encourages being a community rather than a hate group.
“Take a peek inside many of the dying churches in The Bahamas and you will find a lot of angry, bitter and unhappy people who have gotten it twisted when it comes to accurately studying the Bible. We must become serious about reaching young families.”
Miller, who is also a parent, said he would not attend a church that does not have a children’s ministry and a vision centered around the spiritual development of his entire family.
“If you are going to reach millennial families, then you must create a church community where new people are welcomed and can get connected quickly. Millennials are longing to get connected and develop relationships — someone they can do life with.”
Transparency, he said, is also important, as millennials are tired of seeing hypocrisy in the church.
“When church leaders are involved in adultery, fraud, lying, abuse and other scandals, it causes millennials to run the other way. Can you blame them? Even I don’t want that from my church leaders. If we’re going to reach young families, then we must stop covering up these things and confront them head on. We must practice what we preach and live above board. Our words must match our actions,” he said.
Miller said church finances must be made available to every member so they can see where the money is being spent, and that leaders must be committed to upholding their integrity and going the second mile to avoid even the appearance of evil.
“For vibrancy and growth to come back into our culture, we must stop denying the hypocrisy and be prepared to answer the tough questions and make the necessary adjustments. Denial is a tool of the devil from which we all must be delivered,” he said.