5 Reasons Millennials are Drawn to Mainline Churches


Don’t assume your church doesn’t have anything to offer the millennial generation, says Andrew Ponder Williams. He outlines five ways that mainline churches are distinctively called and gifted to connect with younger generations and offers tips on how your church can maximize these advantages.

I consistently encounter the presumption in congregations of all sizes that millennials don’t like mainline churches. I believe this assumption arises from a deep fear that our local churches don’t have anything to offer my generation. The truth is that millennials desire and actively seek intergenerational, welcoming communities of faith. I know from firsthand experience with ministries across mainline traditions that our congregations have a lot to offer younger people.

Here are five reasons why mainline churches are distinctively called to minister with millennials and tips for how your church can better connect with this generation.

1. We share our faith authentically.

Our consumer culture has hijacked the word authentic to describe guacamole, toilet bowel cleaners, and everything in between. The term has lost a lot of its impact and we have become immune to its true meaning.

True authenticity is something that forms within us when we are centered with God and with our neighbors. Authenticity requires vulnerability with God and with each other.

TIP: Millennials are a generation seeking authenticity. In other words, local churches should not pretend to be something that they aren’t. For example, if your church is small then don’t pretend to be big. Authentically embracing who you are as a community of faith will draw others to you.

2. We are rooted in traditions.

Please disregard everything you have been told about how your traditional church has nothing to offer young people. God has equipped you to minister to millennials through the traditions you share and the relationships you offer. In a world that changes every five minutes, my generation understands that for something to last hundreds of years it must be pretty special.

Furthermore, traditional has gone from meaning “old” to meaning “mystical.” We millennials grew up on stories of a young wizard named Harry Potter who escaped a locked closet under the stairs, came of age in a giant gothic castle, and was shaped by much older professors and mentors. The Harry Potter Effect, as I call it, has shaped our minds to see gothic spaces as places of great intrigue and even opportunity. It explains, in part, why millennials are more open to traditional expressions of faith than you might think.

TIP: Embrace and showcase your traditions through creative and meaningful worship. Invoke a sense of the sacred in worship through candles, hymns, and don’t try to overly modernize your worship space.

3. We give generously.

The clearest conclusion about the millennial generation is that we are generous in our giving to and support of impactful nonprofits. Mainline faith traditions are well positioned to engage millennials because of our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all God’s children through missions and service. The most generous generation in history is the perfect match for the most generous churches in the world.

TIP: This is one area of ministry where it is okay to not be humble. Be bold in sharing your commitment to missions and the impact on the lives of others. Invite young people in your congregation to lead your church in its mission and service. 

4. We live purposefully.

I learned from an experience with a former campus ministry student that the thoughtful theology of the mainline gives young people the opportunity to develop a distinct purpose for their lives. Our group had spent the day exploring Yosemite National Park only to discover it was too crowded to see much of anything. We took a back road away from the crowd and discovered an incredible mountain vista where we prayed.

This student shared that her day at Yosemite was like her experience with our mainline campus ministry. Her point was that most people travel just to the most famous spot within a park or destination, take a selfie, and miss the richness of what lies off the beaten path. She believed that most students at her school were joining campus ministries that narrowed their perspectives instead of helping them discover their distinct purposes.

TIP: Make mentorship a core function of your ministry whether your church has one young adult to guide or hundreds. Mentorship leads to meaningful relationships and spiritual growth for the mentor and the mentee.

5. We are based in grace.

Our theological emphasis on grace has always been especially inspiring and is more important than ever in this time of division. The grace God has for us and the grace we have for each other is something we are called to share widely. Mainline traditions emphasis grace in distinct and transformative ways. Our belief in God’s commitment to perpetual love and forgiveness for us all is something truly distinct and comforting.

TIP: Practice a life of grace inside and outside the walls of your church. Seize this opportunity to model grace for our divided society and for my generation. Embracing grace will distinguish your church as a nurturing intergenerational community of faith.

Related Resources


About Author

Andrew Ponder Williams

Andrew Ponder Williams is a Member-in-Discernment in the United Church of Christ and serves as a Youth and Young Adult Minister and a Church Administrator in Scottsdale, Arizona. www.andrewponderwilliams.com.

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The Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit will help you develop a congregation-wide ethos of hospitality and institute best practices for greeting newcomers, making them feel at home, and encouraging them to return. The resource includes engaging videos, a Study and Discussion Guide, and more. Be the Welcoming Church may be used for hospitality training or in adult classes or groups. more. Learn more and watch introductory videos now.