Reaching the millennial generation
A new network that aims to resource millennials within Baptist churches and those with a passion for reaching them is beginning to come together
The millennial generation loosely refers to those aged between 18 and 35, a generation that’s under-represented not just in Baptist churches, but across denominations.
To discover common themes about how Baptist churches can engage this group, 10 millennials from a variety of backgrounds across Baptists Together met recently for 24 hours at the International Mission Centre (IMC) in Birmingham.
Key features of millennial culture
Daniel Hatfield, the Assistant Minister for Community and Discipleship at Rayleigh Baptist Church in Essex, organised the agenda and facilitated the discussions.
He explained that it was encouraging simply to gather and share experiences with others millennials.
‘People of the millennial generation intuitively understand many of the same things, but perhaps won’t be able to articulate them on their own. When you get a group of people together talking about what they value, the same kind of stuff comes up, and this was at different levels of leadership, from different parts of the country.
‘It encourages you – you’re not alone.’
He added that four key features of millennial culture had emerged from the discussions. Millennials want authenticity and depth. ‘People are not satisfied with friendly,’ said Daniel. ‘They want friends.’
There is a passion for moving beyond the church walls, putting words into practice. They want to share Jesus with those who do not know him.
They also want experience, not just theory, and value the arts in speaking the prophetic.
This can be summed up in the acronym EPIC: Experiential; Participatory; Image Rich, Community Hungry.
Another theme emerged: the value of genuine conversation; the capacity to disagree but remain friends because of the value of the relationship. ‘There were theological differences, among the group, but we were able to talk about them,’ said Daniel.
The structure of the day
The time together at IMC began with worship, followed by testimonies, where each person shared their story in response to the following questions:
What about your experience of church has helped keep you part of it? What barriers has your faith encountered that you’ve had to overcome to stay in a church?
What do you long to see in your church that, as a millennial, would make you excited to be a part of it?
Reflections were shared on each other’s stories, before a session sharing ideas and stories about how churches (of any denomination) are effectively empowering millennials in their churches.
There was a discussion about whether there is anything distinctive from Baptist theology that supports how God is trying to reach this demographic in the UK?
The final two hour session focused on a network: what can be done to reach and empower church leaders and millennials in churches to engage with Jesus in a way that is relevant to millennials within and beyond local church communities? Is there some kind of network/gathering/online presence that would help facilitate this?
Initial steps include the creation of a new Facebook group – Baptists Together Millennials – and it is hoped more networking will emerge, said Daniel.
‘My hope is that Baptists who have a passion to reach that culture realise they are not alone. There is a significant and growing movement within the Baptist Union, who want to support and empower the mission to reach and disciple that generation.
‘And this movement is open to anyone with a passion for this generation. We want to hear from you, and know that this is not a closed thing. We want to connect you into networks as they develop.’
The Revd Carl Smethurst, a regional minister in the South West Baptist Association, was one of the facilitators. He was encouraged by the gathering, saying there was a deep desire among 18-35s to create communities to which those in their generation can belong and explore faith, sometimes using well established methods, sometimes in creative new ways.
In addition there was a genuine commitment to Baptistic principles and a desire to re-interpret what they look like for their generation.
‘The beginning of a new network of millennials started here,’ he said.
‘This felt like a generation of leaders that God has blessed us with coming together for the first time - at least the first time in a long time. They have a passion and desire for the Kingdom of God and a willingness to follow where he leads.
‘I think that it will develop in to a group that will be an essential part of helping to discern how God is leading us in the future and who have the creativity and energy to engage with a generation that is hugely under-represented in our churches at present.’