Cracking The Millennial Code


Every where you look there are people who are discussing, trying to figure out, and mostly complaining about Millennials.

If you are over 40 then there is a great chance that Millennials frustrate you to no end.

The common criticisms are…

  • They are entitled.
  • They are lazy.
  • They are overconfident.
  • They demand.
  • They believe they can achieve anything, but want it to be handed to them.
  • They get a trophy just for participating.

The criticisms seem endless.

And yet, one of the most popular questions we get at ChurchBOOM is how do church leaders reach Millennials?

Church attendance is shrinking across the board and a major reason is the disconnect between church leadership and the Millennial generation.

So how do we reach the next generation?

How To Crack The Millennial Code

1. Be The Voice That Encourages Millennials.

Millennials are easy targets. Often in comedy a comedian will take the easy route to make people laugh. It may be easy but it’s lazy. Stick with me on this. The true genius of a comedian is when they can make us laugh without taking easy targets. Anyone can be crass or gross. Anyone can cuss or try to shock someone. A genius comedian doesn’t rely on those easy targets. Jerry Seinfeld is a brilliant comedian. I saw him a few years ago and he didn’t cuss once. He wasn’t crass or gross. I was absolutely blown away by his genius because he never took the easy way out.

In your communication resist the urge to make Millennials the butt of the joke. They are an easy target, but what we are communicating to them is that they are an outsider who doesn’t really fit in.

What if instead of making them a joke, we found out what they were great at and encouraged them publicly? Who knows, they may want to come back to an environment like that.

It’s been well noted that Millennials are the encouragement generation. In an attempt to build self esteem their parents encouraged them for menial tasks that took little effort. It produced in many a desire to be praised for very little effort.

We can’t change that. What we can do is use what we know to build a bridge towards them. Millennials are the most cause driven generation in the history of America. Let’s encourage that. And then let’s inspire them to do something about what they are passionate about.

They will give, serve, and do something about a cause. Ultimately we know that Jesus is the answer to every cause. If we can encourage Millennials and then connect them to Jesus they will do more for our world than any of the past generations.

But we have to encourage them instead of joking on them.

2. Be Intentional With Building Relationships With Millennials.

I’ve worked in the local church full time since I was 18 years old. I never had anyone teach me how to do my job. Sure I had a job description, but knowing how to do the job is different than seeing what the job is.

I learned because I made a lot of mistakes, had drive, and sought out amazing coaching.

Since you are reading this I’m going to assume your story is somewhat similar. You are a self starter, and a learner. You have made mistakes, but you are where you are because you were willing to learn.

Not all Millennials are wired like you. Stereotypically they come into jobs (paid or volunteer) thinking they know everything and then quitting when they realize they don’t.

Today, most Millennials don’t care what you know until they know you care.

Millennials don't care about what you know until they know you care. Click To Tweet

To just bark an order, command, or Scripture to them won’t cut it.

With a lot of patience, a little grace, and a bunch of encouragement we can help Millennials learn how to do any job.

Because of their parents encouragement Millennials are often overly confident, but because of their lack of accomplishment that confidence is often matched with insecurity.

It seems like the two don’t go together, but with Millennials it does.

They believe they can do whatever they want, but at the same time are afraid to fail so they often resist new challenges.

Millennials grew up getting medals for participating and at times getting high levels of achievement because there parents complained. Specifically, a driven parent could complain loud enough to get their kid into an honors program they had no business being in. This environment left them feeling entitled and worthy of greatness. But…

Then they get into a job, relationship, or church where their parents can’t rescue them. The confidence is still there, but the insecurity now becomes intense. They realize they aren’t as great as they think and the common solution is to set the bar low and stick to things they will be great at.

As a leader you have to put your arm around a Millennial and show them that a new task isn’t as scary as they think it is. You have to show them that you believe they can accomplish something, but then stick with them through the growing pain.

Author Simon Sinek has some amazing insight on this. He says,

“They will admit that many of their relationships are superficial, they will admit that they don’t count on their friends, they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know that their friends will cancel on them when something better comes along.”

When you cannot count on your community it leads to anxiety, depression, and other major issues. Be a person that Millennials can count on and show them what true community is.

We can complain about Millennials or we can help lead them to be everything God has wired them to be.

3. Be Present On Social Media.

One of the biggest complaints about Millennials is that they are addicted to their phones, and specifically social media.

Complaining about that won’t change anything. And…it seems social media is here to stay.

Instead of complaining figure out ways to engage Millennials on social media.

As a Church leader this means you have to pay just as much about your website as you do your Sunday service.

You will be looked at online before you are visited on a Sunday.

It means you have to be active on social media. Now, this may not be in your comfort zone, but you better find someone who can connect with others online.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently made controversial statements about Facebook replacing the sense of community that used to be found in the church.

His point was that church attendance is declining and therefore people are no longer connected in meaningful communities. He is trying to change that be creating communities within Facebook for his 2 million plus users.

Now, as church leaders, we can get upset about this or figure out a way to be a part of what is already happening.

Every Sunday it is important to let your church know how to connect on social media.

And before you say, “I don’t have a full time staff to do that” please know I don’t either.

I have a volunteer run our website. We have recently recruited millennials to run our social media.

We developed clear guidelines, and a handbook, and are partnering with 20 somethings in our church with giving them our social media.

To not be online is like trying to fish in the desert. It just doesn’t make sense.

If you are not into social media, find someone to help. And then find some things online that you can do. Start a blog, have someone post a quote from your sermon once a week, get someone to teach you how to use Instagram or Snapchat.

One major complaint I’ve heard from the older generation is that nobody brings a Bible to church anymore. We put verses on the screens so there isn’t a need to bring a Bible. Thankfully there’s an app for that.

Every week we encourage people to check out YouVersion where we provide Bible verses, notes, and ways to get connected to the church. I often talk about how I do devotions through YouVersion. How cool is it that in a day and age where people are addicted to their phones there is an amazing app for the Bible?!!!

If we want to reach Millennials we have to go where they are. Sure social media is not all good, and people spend way too much time on their phones, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

4. Be Authentic.

Every generation rebels against the previous generation. In the church world it is no different.

My generation (I’m 38) rebelled against the traditional church and created contemporary churches. Lights, fog, small groups in homes instead of Sunday school, and jeans instead of a suit. My generation focused on excellence and production in church.


Every generation rebels against the previous generation.

For Millennials the rebellion comes in the form of rejecting anything that doesn’t feel authentic.

A well oiled service seems rehearsed.

That doesn’t mean we throw out excellence or planning. It does mean we have to work extra hard to show how Jesus is really changing our life.

To throw out well crafted statements about Jesus without connecting it to how it’s impacted our life will not work.

Millennials are not anti production, but they are anti formulaic answers.

We have to show them how Jesus is the answer in our life.

We have to show the why behind the verses. We have to show our humanity and how Jesus is continually redeeming us.

This doesn’t mean that you have to share all of your dirty laundry, but it does mean you have to show that you don’t have all the answers, and that you are imperfect.

Through sharing common struggles you will connect with not only Millennials, but other generations.

5. Be A Source Of Emotional Intelligence.

The dynamic of unmatched confidence with unparalleled insecurity has led many Millennials to live in a state of chaos. They haven’t learned how to cope with the challenges in life and often times the answer is to take a pill or other form of medicine.

I’m not anti medicine, but I do think we have become quick to prescribe a pill when there may be another solution.

In talking to many Millennials what they perceive as Level 10 is more like a Level 2 problem. A little stress, a little set back, or a little issue become major and often debilitating situations for many Millennials.

Emotional Intelligence Or EQ is something that we can all grow in. With God’s help we can learn to control our emotions instead of letting them control us.

I love the quote by Peter Scazzero,

“Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
― Peter Scazzero

As Shepherds we have to understand the Millennial generation and then help lead them to greener pastures. Jesus isn’t just the answer to our physical needs, He is the answer to our emotional needs.

We can’t dismiss the strong feelings that others have, but we can show empathy. We can help support them to know that Jesus is just as present in a difficult situation as He is in a victorious one.

And at times, through love, we have to encourage them to embrace the difficulties of life. Because of social media we often have people who know how to filter out less than perfect on their pictures, but don’t know how to filter their negative feelings.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

The Apostle Paul walked the spiritually baby Christian Corinthians through how to have a mind after Jesus. As pastors to Millennials we must do the same.

Help Millennials deal with their problems in healthy ways and you’ll find they want to be a part of what you are doing.

6. Be The Person Who Gives Millennials Leadership.

Everyone has to start somewhere. As leaders we have to know that we won’t be around forever. To wait to recruit a leader until we are ready to retire is way too late. To wait until someone is fully equipped to take on a leadership position is naive.

George Barna released some alarming research. According to Barna,

“When it comes to church leadership, this is one of the more significant findings that we will talk about today … the average age of today’s Protestant leader in the last 25 years has gotten 10 years older. In 1991  the typical pastor was 44 years old. And now, just 25 years later, the typical pastor is 54 years old.”

One of the best ways to recruit a leader is to see potential in someone, ask them to join you in accomplishing a specific mission, give them some guidelines, and then release them to lead.

Will they make mistakes? YES! But so did you. The best way to learn is to have hands on experience.

Millennials have great potential and we have to view them as being the church, and not just the future of the church.

Ask a Millennial to be on your Elder team, board, or leadership team.

Millennials long to make a difference in the world. Give them a chance too and you might just see them do it.

When I was a senior in high school some how I was voted onto a team of adults to pick the Interim Pastor at my church. It was me and a bunch of 40 to 50 year olds. One of those on the team was the Executive Pastor. I learned more by watching him than any class in seminary. That was an invaluable experience that I didn’t deserve and I wasn’t ready for.

What if you provided a leadership spot for Millennials and actually valued what they had to say? You might find they aren’t that hard to reach.

What are your thoughts about reaching Millennials? What questions do you have for us? 

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