GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In an ever-changing world where technology is king, institutions that have been central to communities are seeing a decline. Churches, especially, are in a time of transition.
One study found that only two out of 10 millennials believe going to church is important. Pastors we spoke with say that means they have to change the way they do church if church is going to be around for future generations.
“Even when I started pastoring here, I had to ask myself the question ‘What does Evangel Fellowship Church look like in the 21st Century?’ We know what it looked like in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s,” Pastor Otis Lockett Jr. said.
Upgraded technology and new lighting to go with an increased focus on the digital presentation are part of Evangel Fellowship’s 2019 look.
At Daystar Church, where the target group is 25- to 35-year-olds, Pastor Allen Holmes says being relevant means packaging the church experience in a way that makes sense to a generation that spends hours glued to a screen every day.
“So when they come to church, if they don’t have a similar experience, there’s a disconnect there that I think just makes it easier for them to write off,” Holmes said. “So we don’t want that to be an unnecessary stumbling block. There’s nothing about that that’s spiritual. We just want to package it in a way that removes any barriers to what God is trying to do in that moment.”
While pastors like Holmes and Lockett try to figure out that perfect balance to create an environment that keeps young people coming back, they’re dealing with a different beast.
“There’s too many cliques and at the same time people don’t want to tell the truth,” Daystar Church member Rochelle Mesubed said. “So they feel they can be themselves somewhere else and instead of just talking about the good things they have, they can also talk about the bad things that they go through and be open and people accept them the way they are.”
“The generation before us pretty much was do as you’re told, don’t ask questions,” Jamel Womack said. “Our generation is, ‘You’re telling me to do what we’re told, but I’m going to verify what you’re telling me.’ And a lot of us, stuff doesn’t match up. So a lot of us, a lot of friends I know have left church altogether.”
“This is the most educated generation in American history. We can be listening to the sermon and Google what you said to make sure you’re speaking correctly,” Dr. Joshua L. Mitchell said.
Mitchell is the college minister at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. He wrote a book about the millennial exodus. In his research that included interviews and surveys from more than 600 millennials in 34 states and two U.S. territories, he found this generation isn’t leaving church. They’re leaving traditional religion and religious institutions for several reasons. For starters, there’s competition for their presence.
Mitchell says there’s still a desire to be engaged in faith conversations. Many millennials still respect the institution, but they want to be used.
“I’m a CEO. I’m somebody who balances budgets for a Fortune 500 company but I can’t be a trustee in the church. That doesn’t make sense to us. So we’ll go somewhere, and we’ll also financially support places where our voices and our talents are valued,” Mitchell said.
More than the lights, cameras and action these pastors say millennials want something to believe in.
“They need to see life change,” Holmes said. “If you go to church week after week after week and you never see or hear about people’s lives being changed in that setting, then you begin to wonder what’s the point.”
“I believe millennials want authenticity,” Lockett said. “Millennials desire community but they sometimes reject the organizational structure. So it’s important that you provide a place where they can feel safe, where they can grow, where they can feel fulfilled and be all God has desired them to be.”