Do we have a problem in reaching millennials?
This is a question that continues to be asked and researched. And it’s one that has risen to the top once again as LifeWay Christian Resources recently announced that for the seventh straight year, the Southern Baptist Convention’s overall membership declined.
One of the reasons for such decline is apparently due to the lack of growth among the millennials.
It has been reported that 46,000 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are baptizing fewer people this year, and most of our churches are not baptizing any millennials (which means, depending on generational calculations, people between the ages of 14-34, or, teenagers through early thirties).
So why is this happening?
According to a recent task force of pastors, evangelists, and other leaders, there are 5 reasons for the problem of low baptisms…
Spiritual: We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.
Leadership: Many pastors have confessed to being overwhelmed in the operation and ministries of the church to the neglect of being involved in regular personal evangelism.
Discipleship: Many pastors have confessed to focusing on attendance while giving little attention to reproducing fruit-bearing disciples who are involved in intentional evangelism.
The Next Generation: Although our churches have increasingly provided programs for children, students and young adults, we are not being effective in winning and discipling the next generation to follow Christ.
Celebration: Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.
So what is to be done?
Should we go into crisis mode? Maybe. Maybe not. I still trust in the power of the gospel and know personally that God is working and calling people unto Himself. And He is doing so among the millennials as well.
However, these reports are cause for reflection. They should lead us to think beyond our methods to what we are actually trusting in to reach today’s young people.
First and foremost, we need to ensure that we are preaching, teaching, and conversing about what Paul saw as “first importance” which is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Thomas Kidd writes that if we are going to reach the next generation, we must “offer the transcendent, compelling message of the gospel.” He adds that “people have to see why church is so compelling that they would bother to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Moralistic pabulum and vague niceties don’t cut it. Pastors and teachers need to constantly trumpet the shocking claims of the gospel.”
Ensuring the gospel is proclaimed does include a reexamination of our methods however. We want to speak in a way to be understood. We need to be able to relate to those around us.
Once again, Kidd offers a good word. He writes that though “getting a Twitter account and providing free wi-fi at your church is not going to win the adherence battle for you alone, neither will refusing to adjust methods and style be of any help. Churches should adopt a generous, outward-focused attitude toward young people who are making faith and church decisions, and ‘cater’ to the forms of communication that speak to them.”
I want to mention one final thought concerning reaching the millennials. It comes from Trevin Wax. He writes that “Southern Baptists have a millennial problem because Southern Baptist millennials have an evangelism problem.”
Wax, therefore, urges his fellow millennials “to repent of [their] evangelistic apathy, step up [their] efforts at personal evangelism, and get [their] hands dirty serving people in Jesus’ name.”
Such words from Wax however, cause me to think about why millennials have an “evangelism problem?” Is it because evangelism hasn’t been modeled for them? Have they seen evangelism as more of a program than a way of life? Or could it be that their abandonment of evangelism is a reaction to past methods they deem as non-personal and obtrusive?
Regardless, we as the church, in this day and age, need to allow this SBC report to push us to pray and encourage each other in reaching future generations. We have much we can learn from each other.