In an age where millennials can access motivational messages online, countless young adults are uninterested in attending church. Instead of giving up on their age demographic, high-profile millennials in the Christian community are discussing what can be done to draw young adults into places of worship.
According to the highly publicized 2015 Pew Research Center poll, less than 6 out of 10 millennials identify with Christianity. Last year, The Christian Post reported that David Cox, PRRI's director of research, revealed that an estimated 39 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 identify themselves as nones, or religiously unaffiliated.
Here are five tips that some millennials and ministry leaders have offered to help bring more millennials to church and keep them coming back.
1. BE AUTHENTIC
From reality television to social media, 29-year-old gospel singer Kierra Sheard notices that people in her demographic are attracted to authenticity.
In an interview with The Christian Post, the singer and designer of the Eleven60 clothing line said she believes when people speak to genuine believers, they are less likely to feel judged.
"What goes viral is when someone is actually being themselves and they're being honest with their audience. I think that's what will encourage millennials to come back [to church] because we eliminate the element of judging others," she told The Christian Post. "I think that we're so quick to judge people. I think that our approach is heavy and it allows us to push people away."
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine last month, rapper Lecrae Moore, 37, was asked about millennials leaving the church. According to the rapper who founded Reach Records, the young adult generation is less interested in church because of a lack of authenticity presented by many in the Christian faith.
"I think a lot of times we've seen faith equated with patriotism, nationalism or southern conservatism and those are more akin to American culture than they are to authentic faith," Lecrae told Rolling Stone. "I think when you start adopting those, you're throwing away what really matters and adopting this kind of cultural thing that really has nothing to do with the faith component."
2. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Apologist Alex McFarland, co-author of Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials Are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home, previously told The Christian Post that the breaking apart of families is one of the leading causes of millennials born around 1982 to 2004 falling away from the church.
For this reason, McFarland believes a key to drawing millennials closer to God is building genuine relationships with them and gaining their trust in the process.
"We have to love people, build relationships, cultivate that trust, honesty and respect even if they never come to Christ," McFarland said. "But the more our culture has drifted from any acknowledgment of a Christian foundation, the more you have to build a trust, a respectful relationship before you begin to even hope to share any content."
Sarah Jakes Roberts, the millennial first lady who co-pastors megachurch One Church LA in Los Angeles, California, and is scheduled to release her book Don't Settle for Safe: Embracing the Uncomfortable to Become Unstoppable on April 18, told CP that she prays for church leaders and members to be mindful of how they relate to others.
"I just pray that God continues to challenge the hearts of our church leaders and our church members to be a more gracious body of people, [so] that we become more appealing and irresistible to our hurting world," she said.
3. FIND THE RIGHT BAIT
In Matthew 4:19, Jesus tells Peter and Andrew that he will make them "fishers of men." Sheard's father, Bishop John Drew Sheard, who leads the Greater Emmanuel Institutional COGIC in Detroit, Michigan, told the singer about using the right bait to hook people to the faith.
When it comes to millennials, Sheard couldn't agree more.
"We have to study the strategy of being fishers of men. My father teaches us that you have to have bait," she told CP. "It has to be something that the fish like. They're not going to like the hook, but they will like the bait."
While that bait may seem unconventional to some, Sheard said those with a true relationship with God will not be offended by the bait used outside of traditional church culture.
"The bait is what will get them on the hook," she said. "Unfortunately, our bait may be offensive to religious people. But people who actually have a relationship, they'll understand it."
As the daughter of Bishop T.D. Jakes, Sarah Jakes Roberts has grown up deeply embedded in church. Still, she understands how people can feel excluded from some places of worship that only cater to a certain type of people.
"I went to a church a couple of weeks ago as I was working out of town. I walked away feeling the service was wonderful, the message was powerful, but you have to have understood church to be there," Jakes Roberts told CP. "I think there are churches where unfortunately they don't do an incredible job of reaching people who just walk in off of the street. You don't understand their customs, if you don't understand their wardrobe protocol, this or that then you feel like 'man, I don't really fit there.'"
Instead of giving up on church all together, Jakes Roberts believes that people who haven't had the best church experience can still find a place of worship that suits them.
"There's all different types of ways to do church," she said. "Don't let one experience at one church or two churches keep you from trying out different churches until you get a fit."
4. BE TRANSPARENT
When he spoke to various students about their faith, Shane Pruitt, director of Missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, discovered the importance of transparency.
"The more transparent and vulnerable a communicator is, the more students connect. There was a time when speakers/teachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations; however, this generation wants to hear those personal stories," he stressed. "As adults, if we act as those who have it all figured out and not in desperate need of God's grace daily, we'll lose their attention because they won't believe that we're 'being real' and that our faith is unattainable for them."
In addition to church leaders, members of the church should also be transparent with one another as it encourages people to open up more, Sheard noted. She gave an example of a fictional member of a church whose life experiences could help others.
"I think in this church we have to be transparent. We have to be open because at the end of the day we're still questioning mothers on the front row who have five kids from five different men [but] we're not going to ask them [about it]," she said. "We're discussing it amongst ourselves [saying], 'well, she knows about the nasty. She knows what I'm struggling with because she's been with five different men, but she's the mother of the church.'"
When this type of person isn't transparent about their issues, Sheard believes younger people in the church start to question, "how come we can't talk to her about this?"
Sheard doesn't believe transparency means that people have to share every detail of their personal life, but help others learn through their experiences.
"Transparency and being open and honest is not [about] saying all of your business, but how God saw you through this," she explained.
5. INTERACTIVE ENGAGEMENT
Millennial Pastor Matt Chewning of Netcast Church in Beverly, Massachusetts, believes the younger generation doesn't want to just attend church so that people can preach to them. They want to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
"They're not content with just sitting in a pew or just attending," the pastor told CBN last year. "They want to be a part of something, they want to take ownership, they want to be given responsibility. I think the more we're able to involve our generation, the more excited our generation is about the mission of God."
Sheard believes young people will pay more attention to messages in church if they teach young adults about God in a conversational and engaging way.
"I've learned this generation enjoys teaching more than talking at them or preaching at them. They like more conversational presentation. Don't tell me and talk to me with the manner of, 'don't touch the soap because I said so,'" she told CP. "This generation is going to touch the soap because why are you saying no to it. Don't just tell me not to touch it."
Simply put, Sheard believes people need to know "why do I need to know your God?"
If people can draw millennials into church, Jakes Roberts believes her generation can experience something greater than any event they've ever been to.
"What I can say is when you're in a room of believers who have come together with one sole mission and one sole purpose, it's better than any football game or any basketball game that you'd ever go to," she said.