From the Pastor:
As a pastor I can hardly go one day without some email, snail mail, or advertisement to purchase a product that promises they have the solution for how to get the millennial generation to come to church. There is little wonder why this happens. The statistics on the number of millennials who claim no religion or open atheism recently topped 25%. We look around on Sunday and see that millennials make up a smaller percentage than other age ranges in the pews. (Although that happens to be less true at St. Paul’s.)
The LCMS recently did a study of 1,800 randomly chosen congregations on this exact issue, to shed some light on actual numbers and not just perceptions, that is quite eye opening. The study found four key factors that keep children in church from baptism all the way through adulthood.
1. If the current pastor was present for the confirmation class of 2004-2006, the average retention of millennials in that church was 21%. If the current pastor was not present for their conformation the numbers dip to 14%!! ONLY ONE CHILD IN SEVEN IS RETAINED year after year. ONE IN SEVEN! (Yes, I find this both shocking and humbling.)
2. Having church leaders in the same age bracket is important to millennials. This means actively involved in some way, not necessarily as paid staff. If a church cultivates leadership and participation in their youth, the number retained through high school jumps to over 30% in LCMS churches. If a church has a history of a few people holding onto control their whole live, retention numbers drop to under 22%.
3. Having a large group of youth who regularly attend church through high school also has a strong correlation with retention and attracting new millennial members. Relationships do matter! Seeing people like you matters! This also means the larger the congregation the more are retained as a percentage.
4. Having a LCMS school resulted in an 8% bump in retention rates.
What didn’t matter to retention was changing the confirmation program. Churches that changed their program of confirmation saw no increase in retention. Also, the age of the pastor made no difference. Calling a young pastor will not make young people like him. Young people want authenticity and calling a man only because of his age screams
This quote was very interesting.
“None of the church leaders asked me to help serve in the church at all. No one asked me to teach Sunday school when I had just gotten out of college studying to be a DCE.”
“I go to [a major public university]. There are a ton of churches here, and one LCMS Lutheran Church. I spent my first semester going there…There were maybe 20 people in the congregation and not one said hi to me the entire time I was there. The pastor never learned my name, even though I would shake his hand and talk to him before and after church every week.”
Are these concerns we can address? Yes. In a large sense the needs of millennials are the same needs of all people. Knowing God loves them and being part of something bigger than them that will last beyond them. They need God. Just like all of us.