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How millennials will change the church

How millennials will change the church

Other generations may be leaving in large numbers, but millennials (the surveys say) are staying away in droves. But not all of them are, and more are in the church than we think. Sari Rice says that the millennials who stay will change the church in fundamental ways, mainly because they don’t behave like members of the other generations.


For example, older adults in congregations all over the country have been waiting for years for the younger generation to “step up” and take their turn running the committees that run the church. Well, not actually running the committees because the younger generation is clearly too young to actually run things yet, but at least they should step up and do the work!

Unfortunately, very little “stepping up” is ever going to happen because younger families, usually made up of adults with careers and children with activities, have very little time for committees. Frankly, they barely have enough time for church. And furthermore, they aren’t likely to view committee work as the kind of “work of the church” to which they’re willing to commit time. Occasional teaching? Sure. A food-packing event that they can do with the kids? Definitely. Worship Committee meetings? Not so much.

The thing is, millennials have a different, and in many ways admirable, understanding of the nature of work.

For example, Jeff Goldsmith, who has spent his life working in healthcare management, described boomers as having “a near obsession with consensus, along with decision cycles on major points sometimes stretching into years.” I don’t know about consensus—Presbyterians always appreciate a good vote!—but decision cycles that take years sound like the church. I can remember endless hours of discussion (some of which may still be going on) about the color of the new choir robes or whether pea gravel is preferable to rubber mulch on the playground.

So what are the implications for our common life?

I already see the effect of continuous horizontal communication on life in the church. For example:

  • Fewer face-to-face meetings at night at church, but more email and social media-based organization and decision-making
  • Less willingness to serve on committees, especially for three-year “terms,” but more willingness to help organize and participate in project-based or event-based mission activities
  • Fewer “standing committees” because fewer people are willing to serve in this way
  • More people involved, but doing smaller pieces of the work

There are other differences in the way millennials work, too. For example:

  • Little interest in doing “busy work” like recruiting rosters of acolytes—because this work can be done via apps or staff time rather than by volunteers walking around with clipboards or making phone calls

  • A higher degree of creativity and innovation—because there’s no interest in doing the same thing over and over again, whether it’s a curriculum or a mission project

  • More “professionalization” of the boards and committees that do exist—because most members are working adults with professional skills like fundraising, personnel, financial management, information systems, which they fully expect to use in the context of their congregation

  • Higher expectations for the skill level of the congregation’s professional staff

  • A strong commitment to all the most up-to-date forms of technology and software

  • Little patience for congregational systems that expect them to wait their turn as leaders or that disregard their expertise about today’s culture because they don’t understand or sufficiently care about yesterday’s


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john gregory

To develop thru the church our christian family it is necessary to come together and to interact by sharing and joining in events and activities which ,as Jesus showed usually includes food, often messy and not as precise as a visit to the dentist but affording opportunities to develop bonds of affection. A bit hard to do via a offhand blog. Efficiency is to be desired but important undertakings do require time and effort. I find I am usually able to fit in those things I really want to do.

Anne Bay

The church I grew up in is far different than the one we have today. For one thing when I was young many wives were full-time mothers and spent a lot of time working at the church. And one income families were common. The time we are living in and have been living in for over 25 years is that it will now take two incomes to provide for a family and the time a family can spend at church will be very restricted. It’s neither good or bad, it’s just the way it is and will permanently be. I’m guessing that many things will be done online rather than go into the office or work place. I’m glad to see the new changes come. I think life should have more of a balanced activity level. So, that will be a good change. I’m also very happy to see women in the work place and getting degrees and having their own life, even if they have a partner/ and or children. In our society when a person gets to retirement age, whether man or woman, to have worked and have savings and a retirement fund is a real necessity for everyone’s well being, in my opinion. Church volunteer work will continue to be a welcomed activity, but the days are gone when a person can spend inordinate hours volunteering.

Jane Dawson

I’m a war baby, born in 01/1945. The values expressed certainly
fit with those of competent folks in my generation. I think the
people who embody the values that are here attributed to an
“older generation” consist mostly of people who came of age before ‘the social revolution that was not televised’, but nonetheless happened, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. So glad to know that ‘millennials’ will join me in contributing on an “as needed” limited time basis to Church management endeavors.
Since I turned 70 (still working), I could really use your help.

Eric Bonetti

Cynthia is, I think, spot on. The issue may be less about which generation one is from, and more about trends in society. Gone are the days when a good sermon and warm fellowship were enough. Today, we expect the church to operate efficiently and professionally, to implement best practices, and to draw upon the skillsets that we bring from other jobs, careers and experiences. And yes, inclusion needs to extend to include young people….if we think the average 20-something is going to wait to age 50 to make a contribution, we are going to have a serious problem 15 years from now.

Philip B. Spivey

Sounds promising on the ground: less cronyism; less “but we’ve never done it this way before”; fewer turf battles (?)—the jury’s still out on that one; and less time wasted by interminable deliberation. I might give us more time and energy for the work of Jesus.

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