Get with the times: 10 “Millennialisms” to engage with your congregation

People born between 1981 and 1996 are quickly becoming the dominant demographic in our society, even surpassing the Baby Boomers by 8 million. Known as Millennials, they make up more than one-third of the work force, and many from the earlier years of this generational window are now having families of their own.

As Millennials leave their mark on society and re-shape its values, it is vital to keep up with this ever-evolving generation in order to keep young people coming to your church.

To learn more about the needs and methods for engaging Millennials, Church Executive recently partnered with Kristine Miller, partner and senior vice president at Horizons Stewardship, and Len Wilson, creative and communications director at St. Andrew UMC in Plano, Texas, to host a webinar: “10 Lit Ways to Engage with Millennials in Ministry & Giving.” In it, Miller and Wilson take a light-hearted look at trends in giving among Millennials, explain some slang terms created by those of the Millennial generation and use them as a lens for analyzing the generational values.

In addition, Miller and Wilson offer advice for how to best appeal to these values. The 10 words and phrases explained and analyzed are:

1) “The struggle is real”

2) “Preach!”

3) “On fleek”

4) “YOLO”

5) “FOMO”

6) “Mobile is a thing”

7) “Insta-worthy”

8) “Get woke”

9) “#blessed”

10) “Squad goals”

Kristine Miller, CFRE
Partner &
Senior Vice President
Horizons Stewardship

Some of the colloquialisms above might seem random or downright nonsensical. (What in the world is a “fleek” in the first place?) However, the deeper meaning and nuances that have come to be associated with these terms by Millennials offer a picture of what’s going through the mind of the average 22– to 37-year-old. By learning how to take these messages and apply them to your church, you can keep Millennials interested in being part of your congregation and bringing their friends and families with them.

Some church leaders might wonder why they should bother adapting their message for the people known as “the entitled generation.” How necessary is it really to understand and engage Millennials?

As mentioned above, Millennials are of a broad age range, and many are already in the process of bringing up the next generation of churchgoers. It’s important to give them a reason to engage with your church and encourage their children to attend with them.

Another reason it’s necessary to appeal to Millennials is because some have called them “the impact generation.” Millennials believe they can bring about change, and that is exactly what they want to do. If your church does not contribute to their desire to have an effect on the world around them, they are likely to lose interest and go elsewhere.

“The traditional model of getting dressed up and going to church on a Sunday morning is probably not going to work for most Millennials,” Miller said in the webinar. “It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to come; it just means that they don’t care as much about the institution. They care more about the cause.”

Len Wilson
Creative &
Communications Director
St. Andrew UMC (Plano, Texas)

So, what does this new language and these non-traditional ideas say about the impact generation? Here are some key takeaways for how to engage with Millennials:

Many Millennials have been or are currently struggling financially. As Miller pointed out in the webinar, Millennials carry $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and 35 percent say their top stressor is not saving enough.

As such, they must able to “afford life” before they can become generous givers to the church. Hosting financial education classes would, therefore, be very well received by Millennials.

Millennials support causes, not institutions. For this generation, it’s not sufficient to just hand them a pledge card and expect a gift to your church. You have to appeal to their desire to create change and make an impact.

Millennials are all about experiences. The impact generation values memories and experiences over material objects — they also prefer sharing this with their friends. If you want to appeal to Millennials and get them to bring their friends to church with them, you have to offer them worthwhile experiences.

To get these experiences, Millennials are also all about work/life balance. Just like Millennials value experiences, they also value their time. Show them why engaging with your church, spiritually and financially, will be worth their time.

We live in the age of technology. The new millennium has seen a rise in technological advancement like no other era has ever seen — and Millennials grew up with that surrounding them every day. Being mobile is a normal part of their reality, and churches must keep up or risk being left behind.

We live in the age of information. Because technology allows us to have access to loads of information at our fingertips, the choices your church makes for getting information to the Millennial members must be more strategic. Otherwise, it will get bogged down in the barrage of information they are used to receiving on a daily basis.

There are multiple types of Millennials. Cultural awareness and diversity are two of the highest values in this generation. Your church cannot rely on one method for attracting a population that has grown up with so many different people and sets of values around them. Churches that do not diversify and appeal to young people in multiple ways risk being labeled irrelevant and losing Millennials’ interest.

Millennials want their voices to be heard. Part of the reason Millennials are called the entitled generation is because they expect to be listened to. They want to be involved in decisions and have a say in what goes on around them. It’s important for them to feel involved and listened to at your church; otherwise, they’ll look elsewhere for that feeling.

Millennials have become vital and prominent to our world in so many ways, including to the long-term growth of churches. Now is the time to accommodate their culture to ensure and protect the legacy of your church.

— Reporting by Skylar Griego

View the webinar!

“10 Lit Ways to Engage with Millennials in Ministry & Giving”

In this informative, fun 1-hour webinar, learn how to reach and connect with Millennials from ministry experts Kristine Miller and Len Wilson.

Available now at

Questions? Readers ask, experts answer.

What guidelines can you offer regarding sizing of communications and technology budgets, particularly communications? Maybe as a percentage of the operating budget? Our church has 675 members — more than 100 with kids and non-member spouses — with a 25-hours-per-week communications director. But, we’d like to get that position to 35 hours per week.

Wilson: I don’t have a specific percentage of operating budget to offer as a rule of thumb. But, at your church’s current size, you’re going to need at least one full-time person, or to ensure that your part-time person is funded by a good amount of contract money or operations money relative to your budget — probably a little more than what you’re already allocating.

Most churches are not addressing this issue, and it’s crucially important.

In this webinar, you both described Millennials in depth. So, what’s next, generationally?

Wilson: Gen Z. I’ve got several of them in my house right now. My oldest is 16. She was born in 2001, so she was very much affected by the great recession.

There has been talk about this next generation being the first for which it’s not assumed that the standard of living will rise, the way it has for the last several generations. This generation is more used to the idea of economic trouble — even more so than Millennials, because they experienced it as young people.

Miller: An interesting difference between Gen Z and Millennials is that social media is so much a part of how they communicate. That’s how they build community. Gen Z is finding ways to pull out of that, and they want to be physically in communities. So, rather than teleworking — a really important Millennial value — Gen Z shows a preference for working with each other in community. This has some very strong implications for the church, as well.

Wilson: To illustrate Kristine’s point, from 2013 to 2018, the average age of the first mobile user dropped one year every year. In 2013, the average age of the first mobile user was 15, and now it’s 10.

My wife is an educator. She has talked to me for years about the difficulty of maintaining control of the classroom because of the ubiquitous presence of mobile technology. Now, my kids’ high school has instituted a policy that requires them to drop their phones in a box or a bucket when they walk into the classroom. There was a lot of trepidation about instituting this policy; they thought it would be a controversy. Yet, when they announced it at a school assembly with parents and students, applause erupted throughout.

So, absolutely, digital technology is ubiquitous and present. But, there’s also this strong counterculture that says, ‘We’re tired of this, and we want to have physical life IRL, in real life, with each other.’


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