Millennials in Church – an Excerpt from Effective Generational Ministry

The following is an excerpt from Effective Generational Ministry, by Elisabeth Nesbit Sbanotto and Craig Blomberg.


Millennials carry with them an apparent contradiction when exploring topics of religion and belief. On the one hand, they have a deep appreciation and value for things that have a history and a heritage that are bigger than themselves. On the other hand, the Millennial values of individualism and the personal nature of truth often push them to question anything that has an established history.

In my conversations with Boomers, Xers, and Millennials, I have seen a misunderstanding occur across the cohorts as to why Millennials question established history. From a Boomer perspective, the questioning often arises out of a distrust of the institution or organization being looked at. From a Millennial perspective, the questioning arises out of a desire to understand the whys behind a given tradition or practice, and to appease their own need to feel as if they have made a decision out of an informed space.

Cover Art…Millennials have been raised to question any and all claims presented to them, or to at least not be surprised if anything presented as truth gets changed over time. As such, they come into religion with similar uncertainty and skepticism.

Where Xers pushed against the waning beliefs and philosophies of the early twentieth century, ushering in a more mainstream acceptance of postmodernism, Millennials have known no other framework than a relativistic and personally designed way of seeing the world. Everything else in the lives of Millennials was rooted in choice, options, freedom, individuality, and subjective experience, so why wouldn’t religion be the same?

A generation that places high value on relationships and personal experience, Millennials often struggle to find their place within organized religion where hierarchical structure abounds, rules and regulations are expected to be universally followed, and the individual is not elevated above the collective.

The Millennial value of egalitarian relationships, as modeled by their parents, is a telling lens through which to understand their religious nonaffiliation. Simultaneously, this generation brings with it a value of history, context, experience, and culture that could prove to be an inroad for churches that offer a more traditional or liturgical framework for their worship.

Where Gen-Xers’ cultural values and framework lead them to an emergent church model, many are finding that Millennials who do religiously affiliate are being drawn into Christian denominations with a more high-church model that has long-standing traditions, and into non-Christian faiths with ancient roots (e.g., Buddhism, Hinduism, and Wicca). In a society that is constantly pushing the “now” and emphasizing the individual pursuit of happiness, Millennials carry with them a tension to keep in step with the ethos around them while also desiring to find something that connects their lives to something greater, giving them meaning and purpose beyond their temporary sense of self.

©2015 by Elisabeth A. Nesbit Sbanotto and Craig L. Blomberg. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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