Every church looks different when it gathers to worship. I’m not talking about whether a church uses pews or folding chairs; whether the lead instrument is an organ or a bass guitar ; or whether it’s casual dress or suit and tie. I’m talking about the vast difference in the ages represented in church congregations.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been interacting with the question of where are the college students and young adults in modern-day churches? Recent reports have indicated a steady decline in Millennials being present in churches, and there has been a significant amount of discussion about why that is happening.
In developing a ministry within your church to connect with Millennials, there are four essential markers that you must focus on (Community, Depth, Responsibility, Connection). Those can be found in the research done by Lifeway and included in the book Context.
Millennials are asking the questions of faith, and many are genuinely looking for opportunities to be involved in the church. However, they simply don’t feel like they belong. The fourth marker important to collegiates and young adults is Connection – because I want to learn from someone else’s experiences.
Millennials desire to have people in their lives who can give them direction, be a friend, and walk with them on their journey. Many Millennials are coming from backgrounds where they may have had very little spiritual guidance from those who are older than they are. There’s an opportunity for churches to fill a very significant gap in reaching college students and young adults.
According to the research, 45% of unchurched young adults and 68% of churched young adults identified the opportunity to receive advice from people with similar life experiences as very important. Those numbers are significant, and church leaders must take notice.
So how are we fostering a mentoring culture in our churches? There’s nothing new about mentoring. In fact, it’s very biblical. There are countless relationships highlighted within the Bible that illustrate a mentoring friendship. Paul models a friendship with Timothy that’s about investment and life journey. I would anticipate that there were some very honest conversations with their friendship. This is one of many mentor relationships found within the pages of Scripture.
Here are three things leaders should think about when including Connection in the overall emphasis of a collegiate and young adult ministry:
1. Get multiple generations in the same room as often as you can.
In many churches, we’ve segmented our ages in such a way that there’s never an opportunity for multiple generations to gather in the same space. As a leader, it’s beneficial for you to foster ways in which Millennials can build relationships with those who are older than them in life and in faith.
Explore and implement methods and events that allow multiple generations to interact. This could be through a Saturday mission project, a social event at someone’s home, or by combining Sunday School classes or small groups for a few Sundays through the year. It’s a good thing to get the generations to intermingle.
You might need to do some coaching with both crowds. Give them tips on how to interact with each other. Plan times for both generations to get in groups and talk about what they think about certain topics.
2. Implement a church-wide focus on mentoring.
What would it look like for a church to take a few weeks to emphasize the importance of mentoring? In order for a church to begin to develop a culture of mentoring, they must understand the mandate in Scripture for investment in those who are younger than us in the faith. Talk with your pastor to see if your church could do a series of messages or sermons on mentoring.
Many hear the word mentor and are intimidated by what that means. Allow people the opportunity to study and understand the biblical basis for mentoring.
If you are looking for a good resource for your church to walk through together, take a look at Mentor by Chuck Lawless. This would be an excellent Bible study to emphasize the importance of investing in each other as a church.
3. Model mentoring relationships in your own ministry.
It’s important to have those relationships in our own ministry where we’re investing in people and being invested in by others. I often tell people that everyone needs a Paul, a Timothy, and at least a few Barnabas-type friends. We’re all on a journey in our walk with Christ, and we all need to be investing in others and have those who are investing in us.
If we desire to see a culture of mentoring explode in our churches, we must be modeling that in our own ministries. Never be too busy to find individuals to connect with, speak truth into their lives, be honest with them, and simply enjoy doing life with them. And allow those who are further along in life’s journey to do the same with you. Remember, you haven’t learned it all yet.
Millennials are hungry for genuine relationships with those outside of their generation. They’re eager to learn from those who have more life experience, and they desire to have those people where the real life questions can be asked without being judged or belittled.
When genuine and honest Connections are being made in our churches, we will begin to see more Millennials present, plugged in, and growing in discipleship in our midst.
Mark Whitt is the Collegiate and Young Adult Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. Before joining Lifeway, he spent many years on the campus of Murray State University as a campus minister. Connect with Mark via Twitter.