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How to reach Millennials: Think and act like a missionary

“How can we reach Millennials?” I was asked this question recently after leading a presentation of data from the 2017 research of the unchurched from our new book, The Hidden Harvest: Discovering Oklahoma’s Unchurched.  The pastor lamented, “I want to reach Millennials in our community because we don’t have any!” The pastor is not alone, the Millennial Generation (individuals age 21 to 37 years old) is notably absent in many churches in our state.

This is actually part of a trend. Our research shows a clear decline of Christian identity among Oklahoma’s younger generations who responded in our survey. Only 47 percent of Millennials identified themselves as Christian. Certainly the Church needs to do something to reach them. But what?

Looking at the data below feels a bit like looking at the kind of information you see from our overseas missionaries talking about their unreached people groups. Instead of feeling unsteady about the future of the faith in our state, let’s approach this as an incredible missions opportunity right at our doorstep.

If there is one piece of advice I can give to ministry leaders who want to reach Millennials, it would be to learn to think and act like a missionary. Here are some things missionaries do that would help your church reach young people.  I know it will work because it is how missionaries reach any people group.

Missionaries pray for open doors and receptive people. A missionary recruits others to join them in fervent prayer, asking God to specifically send them a receptive person who can help them open doors and cross barriers they cannot cross themselves. Ask God to send you a person of peace to help you. You have not because you ask not.

Missionaries change themselves to reach people. A missionary doesn’t expect people to adapt to them or their preferences. When Lottie Moon went to Pingtu, China, she was rejected and avoided by the people there until she learned to live like a Chinese person. When Lottie showed that she truly respected Chinese culture, they became open to her witness. Millennials respect authentic, honest people. It could be that merely being more vulnerable and open with them would be what opens them up to you.

Missionaries work to understand the people they want to reach. A missionary is willing to study hard to learn as much as possible about the people. This takes more effort than reading a couple of books or doing a few Google searches for articles. For the missionary, it becomes their holy obsession to look for bridges and barriers to the Gospel among their people group. What barriers do you face in reaching your community?

Missionaries learn the language and culture of the people they want to reach. A missionary has to learn to speak a new language. It takes work to learn how to communicate the Gospel to people who think differently than we do. There is no simple way to make the Gospel understandable to Millennials; you have to put in the work to learn how to talk to them. 

Missionaries quickly put the ministry into the hands of the disciples they make. A missionary is on a disciple-making mission. They Model, Assist, Watch and Leave. Many churches would experience more effective outreach if they would decide that their most important role is to mentor new disciples and put ministry fully into the hands of Millennials to lead. Millennials are ages 21-37; they are not kids, and they are ready to lead. Let them.

Visit OklahomaChurchPlanting.com to download a free copy of the ebook, Hidden Harvest: Discovering Oklahoma’s Unchurched.

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“How can we reach Millennials?” I was asked this question recently after leading a presentation of data from the 2017 research of the unchurched from our new book, The Hidden Harvest: Discovering Oklahoma’s Unchurched.  The pastor lamented, “I want to reach Millennials in our community because we don’t have any!” The pastor is not alone, the Millennial Generation (individuals age 21 to 37 years old) is notably absent in many churches in our state.

This is actually part of a trend. Our research shows a clear decline of Christian identity among Oklahoma’s younger generations who responded in our survey. Only 47 percent of Millennials identified themselves as Christian. Certainly the Church needs to do something to reach them. But what?

Looking at the data below feels a bit like looking at the kind of information you see from our overseas missionaries talking about their unreached people groups. Instead of feeling unsteady about the future of the faith in our state, let’s approach this as an incredible missions opportunity right at our doorstep.

If there is one piece of advice I can give to ministry leaders who want to reach Millennials, it would be to learn to think and act like a missionary. Here are some things missionaries do that would help your church reach young people.  I know it will work because it is how missionaries reach any people group.

Missionaries pray for open doors and receptive people. A missionary recruits others to join them in fervent prayer, asking God to specifically send them a receptive person who can help them open doors and cross barriers they cannot cross themselves. Ask God to send you a person of peace to help you. You have not because you ask not.

Missionaries change themselves to reach people. A missionary doesn’t expect people to adapt to them or their preferences. When Lottie Moon went to Pingtu, China, she was rejected and avoided by the people there until she learned to live like a Chinese person. When Lottie showed that she truly respected Chinese culture, they became open to her witness. Millennials respect authentic, honest people. It could be that merely being more vulnerable and open with them would be what opens them up to you.

Missionaries work to understand the people they want to reach. A missionary is willing to study hard to learn as much as possible about the people. This takes more effort than reading a couple of books or doing a few Google searches for articles. For the missionary, it becomes their holy obsession to look for bridges and barriers to the Gospel among their people group. What barriers do you face in reaching your community?

Missionaries learn the language and culture of the people they want to reach. A missionary has to learn to speak a new language. It takes work to learn how to communicate the Gospel to people who think differently than we do. There is no simple way to make the Gospel understandable to Millennials; you have to put in the work to learn how to talk to them. 

Missionaries quickly put the ministry into the hands of the disciples they make. A missionary is on a disciple-making mission. They Model, Assist, Watch and Leave. Many churches would experience more effective outreach if they would decide that their most important role is to mentor new disciples and put ministry fully into the hands of Millennials to lead. Millennials are ages 21-37; they are not kids, and they are ready to lead. Let them.

Visit OklahomaChurchPlanting.com to download a free copy of the ebook, Hidden Harvest: Discovering Oklahoma’s Unchurched.

Author: Chris Forbes

BGCO Church Planting Strategist

View more articles by Chris Forbes.

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