By Walter B. Fenton
Just when many local churches in the United States despaired of ever attracting Millennials (26 – 41 year olds) to their worship services, a recent survey released by Barna Group revealed a surprise: since 2019, the percentage of Millennials reporting weekly church attendance has increased from 21 percent to 39.
To be sure, the ability to “attend” worship services online has played a role in driving Millennial increase, but not dramatically more than other age groups.
“Despite all of the disruptions of 2020, the opportunity of online worship actually helped to boost attendance across all generations,” said Daniel Copeland, Associate Vice President of Research at Barna Group. “However, in 2021, the novelty seemed to have worn off and people’s church attendance declined significantly. Now, in 2022, younger generations especially are re-engaging in church, a shift that might potentially mark a new chapter in church attendance.”
Not surprisingly, when people were asked where they attend church, “digital options accounted for more than ever before. Millennial churched adults are most likely to have embraced hybrid options, with one in three attending both online and in person.”
The Barna Group’s study lends some credence to what Ms. Elizabeth Fink is discovering among her peers. Fink, 34, finds herself right in the middle of the Millennial demographic. Raised as a “preacher’s kid” for as long as she can remember, she’s currently a student at Asbury Theological Seminary pursing a master’s in ministry.
“I believe what Millennials and young adults really want is a church community that is authentic, honest, and makes personal connections,” she said. “We want to know that our presence matters, our gifts and skills can be used, and more than anything we want to be discipled and mentored.”
Fink recently launched the Young Adult Methodist Connection (YAMC), which presently consists of approximately 200 members from around the world who meet as a Facebook group. It’s mission, she says, is to “help connect clergy and laity who are under the age of 40, interested in joining the Global Methodist Church, and who crave a deep relationship with the living Christ.”
No stranger to the conflict in The United Methodist Church, she attended both the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis as a delegate from the Arkansas Annual Conference. And since the denomination’s 2020 General Conference has been postponed three times, she will represent her conference again at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference next week when it elects three new bishops.
However, Fink longs to put the divisions engendered by irreconcilable differences behind her so she can join with other Millennials and young adult who are “motivated to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
Over the past few years, Fink has been a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Council, serving as its secretary. The experience has given her the opportunity to connect with Millennials and young adults all around the world. At Seedbed’s recent New Room Conference, she convened a lunch meeting connecting 20 clergy and laity together who share her passion for helping young adults and Millennials get connected to local churches and become a lively witness for Gospel.
“Right now, we are continuing to make connections, gather names, and having conversations about what we all would want to see from a young adult ministry,” she said. “We are also working to connect young adults not just in the U.S., but we have begun connecting with those in Africa as well. it is critical that the church have a global perspective. We want to feel connected to our brothers and sisters around the world and have opportunities to develop relationships where we support one another, learn from one another, and pray together. Our global connections give us hope and breed an excitement amongst local congregations.”
Echoing the recent Barna survey, Fink believes young adult and Millennials are seeking a church community, discipleship, and vibrant worship. And she advises local churches to accept that there is no “one plan fits all” when it comes to welcoming and integrating them into their congregations.
“Some Millennials and young adults want long messages with shorter praise and worship, and then others want 20 minute sermons with a lot of music. Some prefer traditional and liturgical worship, and some contemporary,” she said. “This is good news for churches! They do not need to try so hard to tailor worship to attract us. We’re tired of celebrity church culture, shallow teaching, and getting caught up in the politics of a denomination. We want to learn and grow in our relationship with Christ, and to be challenged within a community we trust. We just want to be a part of a multigenerational community where all ages learn and grow together in the faith.”
The latest Barna report reminds pastors and local churches that “Millennials are not the ‘up and coming’ generation anymore. They currently make up the majority of the adult population and workforce. [And] They are also the most racially, socially and culturally diverse generation in modern history.”
And according to Fink, “Many are starved for personal connections with others, and hungry for discipleship. In the age of the internet and social media, many are missing opportunities to connect in a deeper way. The Global Methodist can offer that if it speaks the Truth, shows grace, and helps people understand what it means to be obedient and a joyful disciples of Jesus Christ!”
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.