Millennials want to be the church, not go to church

Grant Skeldon is founder and director of Initiative, a ministry by Millennials to reach Millennials.

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DALLAS—When it comes to reaching young adults with the gospel, things are not as bleak as some suggest, a young minister told Dallas Baptist Association pastors.

All Millennials want is to change the world, and the church is the perfect partner for that endeavor, said Grant Skeldon, founder and director of Initiative, a ministry by Millennials to reach Millennials.

grant skeldon150Grant SkeldonAt age 25, Skeldon speaks about Millennials—young people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s—from personal experience. However, he emphasized, “It’s hard to put every young adult in the same box.”

Churches successful in drawing young adults strongly emphasize discipleship and missions, he noted. 

“Discipleship is often the missing link that would bring the young-adult generation into the church, but also to be the church, because they are not concerned with just coming to the church. They also want to go out and be the church,” he said. 

Since Millenials crave meaningful relationships, the greatest asset traditional churches have in reaching young adults is the wisdom of older members, Skeldon stressed.

He cited First Baptist Church in Irving as a good example of a congregation in which Millennials love and learn from older members. 

“But some churches don’t have the possibility of that because they don’t have many people more than 35 or 40 years old,” Skeldon said.

Focus on discipleship

“When I talk to some young adult ministries, I think they want us to help them make their events better,” he said. “But my thing is, I’d rather not do the event and do something more focused on discipleship. But here’s their problem: They don’t have people who could disciple their young adults, because all they have is young adults.”

He disputed the often-repeated assertion that young adults are leaving the church.

“I keep hearing that all the time. I would say young adults are leaving the over-glorification of an event,” Skeldon said.

Traditional churches primarily focuse on bringing people to an event—Sunday morning worship, he explained. Young adults are more concerned with going out and being the church outside the walls. 

Gathering vs. scattering

Traditional churches are focused on gathering, while young adults are focused on scattering, he said.

Skeldon noted two recent studies. One said seven of 10 young adults leave the church. The other said the only demographic that was increasing in evangelism was young adults, and every other age group was either static or declining. 

“So, 70 percent of them are leaving the church, but as soon as they get out the door, they are sharing the gospel with all their friends. How does that make sense that they want to leave the church, but they want to share the gospel?” he asked.

It is not that Christ no longer is relevant to young adults, but that they don’t perceive the church as active enough in living out its teachings, Skeldon said.

Edwin Robinson, young adult pastor at Concord Baptist Church in Dallas, works closely with Initiative and offered his own insight.

“If we want young adults and Millennials active in our church, then we have to already have decided we don’t know what it is going to look like and be OK with that,” Robinson said. 

“If  you haven’t made that decision, you don’t want young adults and Millennials serving at your church. You want change that looks like yesterday. And that will never work, because we’ll leave and go create our own organization.”

Many young adults leave the church because they are not trusted with responsibility. Skeldon pointed out if they join the armed forces, they can be sent around the world to a foreign country with a weapon and are seen as an authority. If they join a nonprofit, they can have a lead role in running an orphanage or feeding center. Often, when they say want to serve in the church, they are sent to the nursery, the parking lot or are made a greeter to hand out bulletins.

‘They want to change the world’

“Remember, they want to change the world,” he said. “Young adults are thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to hand out enough bulletins to change the world or park enough cars to change the world.’

“They see Jesus, read the red letters (in the Gospels) and see what he and his disciples did, and then they see the opportunities given by the church. They are given bigger responsibilities in the world than they are given in the church. That’s a problem.

“The church is the right place but with the wrong message toward young adults, and the world is the wrong place with the right message: ‘Do it now; go now.’ That urgency was definitely preached by Jesus. That message is not preached by the church so much toward young adults. The message from the church often is, ‘Wait, be patient.’”

Jesus didn’t wait until his disciples were mature before allowing them to be his followers, Skeldon said.

“He didn’t say, ‘Once you’re there, I’ll let you follow me and go do these things.’ He let them do them knowing they were going to fail. He believed in them when they were at their worst,” Skeldon pointed out. 

Churches that will disciple young adults will see their ministry to Millennials grow, he said. But discipleship is not a weekly meeting, a Bible study or a small group, or a class for new believers, he cautioned.

Skeldon defined discipleship as involving someone else in your mission, empowering them in their calling and ultimately equipping them to disciple someone else.

He offered four stages of discipleship:

• I do. You watch. 

• I do. You help. 

• You do. I watch. 

• You do. Someone else watches.

“If what we produce are disciples, shouldn’t we know how many disciples we are making?” he asked. “What you count and what you celebrate are what create your culture.”

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