Everyone in church leadership is talking about the millennial puzzle: how do we reach this generation of people who seem utterly disinterested in our churches? Before we can start answering that question, we need to understand why the question exists in the first place.
Most educational institutions in Western Culture rely heavily on Collaborative and Cooperative Learning. From elementary schools to universities students are put together in teams for a magnitude of learning experiences. If you’re like me, you bay be scratching your head thinking, “It wasn’t like that when I was in school. What’s wrong with good old individual learning?”
Meta-analysis from multiple studies clearly demonstrate that students in cooperative learning settings (compared to those in individualistic-learning settings) gain higher self-esteem, achieve more, reason better, like classmates and the learning tasks more and have more perceived social support.* For this reason, over that last several decades educators have consistently adopted cooperative/collaborative learning as an integral part of their teaching philosophies.
The vast majority of people born after around 1982 (millennials) have been educated in collaborative learning environments. This means they learn differently than the generations that came before. The word I learned for this in seminary is “epistemology,” which is a fancy word for “the way people learn.” Regardless of one’s opinions about collaborative learning, the fact is that this is producing a huge cultural shift. In the next 20-25 years the majority of our population will have been brought up in collaborative learning environments.
So here’s why millennials are not interested in our churches: almost everything in our churches are structured for an epistemology that is vastly different than their own. We are well-practiced at teaching and discipling people who learn well in an individual learning environment. Therefore, our curriculums, sermons, Bible studies, sunday school classes and small groups are structured to teach in a way that is largely foreign to millennials. That is why we find ourselves asking why we aren’t reaching millennials. In fact, I personally believe this is the number one reason millennials are less and less interested in our churches.
So what do we do about it?
We have to change the way we do church.
No I don’t mean we throw out everything we currently do in favor of new methods. I mean we need venues where cooperative/collaborative teaching is the primary vehicle for evangelism and making disciples. Your mind might immediately jump to small groups as the place for collaborative learning, and you’re right; small groups are a great place for this new epistemology. But how do we change weekend worship services to employ collaborative learning?
I don’t have all the answers but I do have one: consider starting a conversation service.
Go ahead, click that link a learn a little more about conversation services. Then ask me how LifeTogether and I can help your church make this new way of teaching a prominent part of your ministry and church life.
Contact me and let us help you set your church up for a future of growth and success rather than a slow decline.
*Source: Johnson, D.W. (2009). “An Educational Psychology Success Story: Social Interdependence Theory and Cooperative Learning”. Educational Researcher. 38 (5): 365–379