Preaching and teaching is one of the most vitally important tasks of the church today. We have a generation that are leading entire industries and driving a digital revolution – yet they live in an increasingly secular (some would say ‘post-Christian, post-church’) culture. Most studies on Biblical literacy shows an alarming need with Millennials and Gen Z.
So, how do we provide Biblical foundations without alienating this generation?
Some of the widespread conclusions regarding Millennials are simply not backed up by the facts. When it comes to preaching, these myths includes the following:
“Millennials want style over substance”
“I have to preach shorter sermons to retain attention”
“Millennials are not interested in theology and prefer a 'Ted Talk' style”
“Millennials would prefer to just follow ‘celebrity-style’ preachers on social media, instead of their local pastor”
“I have to be extra entertaining and use gimmicks, props, and technology to keep attention”
In reality, you will find millennials are experiencing ‘cool fatigue’ in church culture. Millennials are not really looking for their 62 year old pastor to wear skinny jeans and bling to relate to them. What they really want is this - authenticity and substance.
I’m all for excellence - our music, facilities, production - they need to be good. But excellence is now just a baseline. Excellence is not the goal, and nor is it the primary language Millennials speak.
If we are creating a culture that does not relate to Millennials and Gen Z, and doing it in an excellent fashion, then are we not just excellently ineffective?
My favourite coffee place in Brisbane is a dingy, messy cafe, in a non-descript backstreet. The chairs and tables are all mis-matched, old, and worn. There is no sign out the front. In fact, there is honestly nothing nice about the cafe at all. But they roast their own beans on site. The baristas have tattoos (an essential signpost to someone who can make coffee). And the coffee is fantastic.
Think about it. I will drive past modern, expensive, beautiful new cafes, to this ramshackle outfit because I like the substance of what they do. Their product matters to me more than the facility.
I’m convinced that Millennials and Gen Z are more obsessed with substance than what we realise. And this has major implications for how and what we preach.
Here are some ideas about preaching to Millennials and Gen Z:
1: Bring them into the kitchen.
Instead of bringing a finished meal to the table, bring listeners into the back kitchen. Show them how you made the meal. Reveal the ingredients. If you have a revelation on a scripture - don’t just give them the end idea, take them on the journey, show them how you arrived there. Did you go through a season of life that made you think about this? Did you have a question that you couldn’t figure out the answer? This way, we are not just giving people a Bible thought - we are teaching people how to read and study the Bible for themselves.
2: Don’t preach at them, or preach down to them.
This has everything to do about the place that you preach from emotionally. It is less about word choice, and even what you say. It is about where what you say comes from. Your vantage point is the unspoken posture you speak from. With Millennials, approach them as a trusted guide, not a spiritual ruler.
My self-talk when I am preaching to Millennials is this, “I’m one of you. I’m coming alongside you to serve in your journey. Let’s learn together. I don’t have all the answers, but I have clear biblical convictions. I want to relate to you, not speak at you.”
3: Give them doctrine.
You can come at it from an angle, and approach essential doctrines in nuanced ways. But don’t just give them lifestyle messages that are all practical and lack the theological content. If we give them 5 practical keys, but don’t bring them into our process earlier to show them the theological underpinnings that our end-result life tips come from, we rob them of the full learning process. As I said in my White Paper on Millennials - "In a superficial culture, depth is attractive."
4: Approach key subjects with empathy and sensitivity - but still approach them.
Avoiding talking about money, morality, sacrifice, the cross, and repentance, won’t make their questions jut magically go away. Millennials want to learn. Show them why these subjects matter and make sense from Scripture - but do so from a posture of humility.
5: Read scripture in your sermons.
Don’t be afraid of reading an extended passage out of fear Millennials will get bored. The more we engage scripture, explain who wrote it, what the context was, the more we build credibility with Millennials.
6: Bring a challenge.
The idea that Millennials want to be wrapped in cottonwool, given trophies for coming 5th, and treated like they are over-sensitive and fragile is a false narrative. Maybe they have been treated too softly in certain stages of their lives, but that’s why there is a cry from this generation to “tell it to me straight”. I’m amazed at how often I get the most positive feedback from sermons that I was the most nervous to preach because I wasn’t sure how Millennials would take it. So, don’t be afraid to have moments where you bring them to forks in the road where you are essentially saying, “Change this. Cross this line. Choose this path. And here’s why."
Preaching to 5 generations simultaneously is a great challenge. Every week I feel like I could have said something better, or been more effective. I believe there is a love and respect that Millennials have for their local pastors that teach them. You don’t need to have 500,000 followers on Instagram to have credibility – your credibility is the love they feel from you.
I’d love your thoughts on preaching to Millennials. What other ideas or suggestions do you have on this subject?