Churches Reaching Millennials: Causes For Celebration And Concern

What can we learn from the research about the churches that are effectively reaching millennials?

The Present at the Expense of the Eternal In the chapter on taking Jesus’s message seriously, the researchers say “there was very little focus on going to heaven and hardly any talk of hell. Salvation was a major theme, but a kind of salvation that is more focused on life in the present than something way off in the future.” (141) The authors say these findings are “refreshing.” I find them worrisome.


I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines—the dire predictions that Christianity is on the verge of collapsing in North America, due primarily to a declining religiosity among younger generations.

The situation is more complex than the impression you’d get from the doomsday writers. But many of the surveys are indeed alarming. Large numbers of those in the millennial generation have yet to be effectively engaged with the gospel. And fewer millennials claim an affiliation with Christianity compared to older generations.

But some churches are overflowing with young people. They don’t fit the stereotype of the aging, slowly declining church. They’ve figured out ways to help young people thrive in their congregation.

What do we learn from the churches that are effectively reaching millennials?

Researchers Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin have compiled their findings in a new book, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.They’ve researched a wide variety of congregations that have seen success in reaching and involving 15- to 29-year-olds. The book is filled with hope-filled suggestions based on this research, and these suggestions deserve your consideration.

My main takeaway? There are reasons to celebrate and a major cause for concern in what these churches are doing to engage young people. Let’s start with what’s good.


You don’t have to be the flashiest church in town, have the coolest pastor, or the most contemporary music to reach young people. The churches in this research come in all shapes and styles and sizes. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model.

  1. The Gospel vs. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

What you do need to do is to “take Jesus’s message seriously,” as the title of chapter 4 indicates.

These churches are doing a better job than most at differentiating between the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (click here for a definition) that pervades our culture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The researchers also noted how a “Golden Rule” gospel that emphasizes “right living” instead of “right believing” eventually leads to behavior modification that often leaves Jesus out of the picture.

The good news in the research is that only 5 percent of the college-age or 24- to 29-year-olds interviewed gave a Golden Rule themed explanation of the gospel. And while Moralistic Therapeutic Deism still distracts many churchgoing young people from Jesus, it is not as prevalent in these congregations as it is in others.

The takeaway, then, is that the one thing that still engages young people is the one thing that makes Christianity distinct: the good news of Jesus Christ. Taking that message seriously is vital.

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