Six Effective Ways to Reach Millennials

Jonathan Pokluda | November 02, 2018

The Porch, a ministry for 20 and 30 somethings, meets at the Dallas campus of Watermark Community Church, where 3,500+ young adults fight through traffic each week to worship, learn, and to be reminded that their most fulfilling life is found in Christ and belonging to His Church. In addition to our main gathering, we stream to a half-dozen other campuses, with an additional 35,000+ around the world listening online. We’ve heard it’s become the largest ministry of its kind (but who really knows). I am still amazed that God would choose to work through us like this.

Ten years ago, we showed up each week wondering if anyone else would be there, and we were thrilled if 100 people came on a Tuesday. We’ve made so many mistakes along the way. While I  believe that God has moved through The Porch despite our missteps, there have been some unique discoveries along the journey. We do not have it all figured out, however, I know one thing with certainty: there is a cost to not reaching this generation. If you do not go ‘all in’ to reach the future of the Church, your church has no future. It’s a math problem, really. Where will your church be in ten years if you do not reach Millennials today?

God has allowed me to spend my adult life ministering to Millennials. Because Millennials gave rise to the concept of “the nones,” much of the talk around young adults and the Church is negative. There are all kinds of statistics about them. It’s been said that Millennials are uncommitted, lazy, and leaving the Church in droves. That has not been my experience. Millennials are not uncommitted; they are simply bored. They’re not hard to reach; they just respond to different strategies (which I discuss below). I pray this is a resource for you as you seek to reach and unleash the future of the Church in your local context.

Six Effective Ways to Reach Millennials

1. Be real. Be honest about your imperfections. I recently spoke at a seminary about reaching Millennials, and I shared about my own struggle with pornography before I began working in full-time ministry. I encouraged the pastors to be real about how they’ve struggled with sin, and the freedom they’ve found in Jesus. I was saddened by the pushback I received. People asked, “how can we influence others if they know our sin and struggles?” I’d discourage anyone who is asking this question from ministering to anyone. The world does not need one more inauthentic pastor. Authenticity is an advantage (and a prerequisite) in ministry. Millennials can spot inauthenticity a mile away. It builds trust when you let them know how and when you struggle. If dependence on Christ is your goal, then your weakness is an advantage. Jesus can take your mess and makes it both your message and your ministry, but only when you are real.

2. Teach the whole truth. The Church has done Millennials a disservice by side-stepping social issues. Is homosexuality a sin? If so, how do we treat sinners? What about sex before marriage? Cohabitation? What about masturbation? Should I travel with my girlfriend? Millennials have many questions, but primarily they are asking, “does the Bible address real issues in my life? Can it be trusted?” If an issue is addressed clearly in the Bible, tell them so. If an issue isn’t as clear, help them understand how God’s wisdom can be applied in the situation. They don’t want your opinion when they can have God’s. They also know if you’re afraid to address something just because it is uncomfortable. God has given us what we need to know in His Word. Teach all of it.

3. Hold traditions loosely. Your church is likely marked by customs and ways of doing things that inform your unique culture. These are likely the things you’ve done for so long that you don’t remember why you started doing them in the first place: You’ve always given out cookies after the service. You’ve always taken up an offering. The same guy always makes the announcements and always tells the same jokes. Be willing to change anything that is not mandated by the Bible if it will help you break down barriers to reach and resonate with Millennials. This may mean that some of your traditions need to change. We had cookies at The Porch every week until someone pointed out that it was a $5,000 a year budget item. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I was afraid to do away with the cookies. When we finally did, no one missed them. Turns out, the cookies made our young adult gathering feel like a grade school mixer. Good riddance. If you are afraid of change, this may be an area of growth for you.

4. Stop trying to “sell them” on church. Millennials are “sold to” all day long on social media and through advertising. They don’t want or need that from their church. They are tired of churches that spend more energy on their Instagram account and concert-like worship sets than on creating a space for an authentic interaction with the living God. Worry less about the packaging, and more about the substance. Early on at The Porch, we would beg people to come. We would spend all of our budget trying to get them in the door. Then, when they showed up, we didn’t have any resources left to “wow” them with. They wouldn’t come back. Then, we changed the model. We spent all of our budget making the event as excellent as possible. Even if only two people showed up, they were going to love it! The next week they’d bring two others with them. When we invested in excellence rather than marketing, The Porch began to grow. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Instead, deliver excellence to whoever shows up.

5. Call people to greatness. Early on at The Porch, we fired all our greeters and ushers. Why? Because “greeting” and “ushering” were too low a bar. It was uninspiring. Instead, we asked if they wanted to be evangelists and pastors. These were the real roles that needed to be filled. Many of the same people ended up performing the same basic duties (greeting and ushering), but with a brand new mindset. Every one of our volunteers (of which now there are 200+) is required to know the Bible and be able to counsel their peers through situations like abortion, eating disorders, pornography, suicidal thoughts, and other struggles. All of our volunteers are expected to own the mission with us. Before raising the bar, it was a struggle to find people to serve. Now, young adults are lining up to serve faster than we can place them on teams. 

These are the same men and women that corporate America is exploiting for a profit. They are being sold the American Dream in exchange for their souls, and that’s a bad trade. Offer them a better one – show them how their ability to influence others was given to them by God, for God. I’ve been told time and time again by people who are deployed in this way, “I’ve never felt so ALIVE.” I always respond, “that’s because for the first time, you are living as you were intended by your Creator.”

6. Give the ministry away. Once you have qualified people serving with you, let them do the fun stuff. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law rebukes him for trying to minister to everyone himself and encourages Moses to set up a structure of leadership under him. If you are in ministry, you probably struggle with control. It’s a good time to grow through that. Take your leaders to important meetings with you. Let them respond to the situations before you do. Show them what success looks like, and then unleash them. Trust them with a budget. Some of the most gifted “pastors” I know serve as volunteers while still having full-time secular jobs. The best ministries at Watermark have all been started by volunteers. Be committed to doing ministry through people, not to people. Let them do what God made them to do!

Your turn. How is your church doing at reaching Millennials? If you are a Millennial, what are other things we should know to better reach and serve you?

Jonathan Pokluda is the Teaching Pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX and leads The Porch. In May 25-27, 2019, JP will be at the AWAKEN Conference, a national conference for young adults from Watermark and The Porch. He is the author of Welcome to Adulting, available now where books are sold.

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