Small Churches, Big Buildings, and Millennials

In the last few days, I’ve seen at least two articles speculate about how Millennials might just be important to the future of the Church and radically change the nature of the Church. Apparently, my age-peers and I are not the natural heirs the Baby Boomers and do not want to merely continue what was built. (1)

May I invite you to take a deep breath?

As I have said before, we are not going to be the end of the Church.

Mr Vaters writes:

Some people have written off the current generation spiritually.
That is a mistake – for the church and for the Millennials.
There’s growing evidence that this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for Small Church ministry in 2,000 years.
Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worship – what Small Churches do best – will matter more to them than it did to their parents.
But this opportunity comes with one, big condition.
They won’t give up quality to gain intimacy.
(emphasis in original)

Mr Vaters gets several things right about Millennials in this article. There is a generational tendency toward genuine relationship and–I disagree slightly here–genuine worship. Vaters does go on to discuss the need to be healthy and, as his blog exists as a platform to promote his pro small church (this is not a complaint, just an observation), I expect him to find a connection between small churches and Millennials.

On his blog Thom Rainer in a post titled “The Death of the Mall and the Future of Church Buildings” makes some similar observation, “Among the Christian Millennials there is a desire for greater intimacy in church. They are in many ways triggering a new small group revolution. And though they may not have an explicit aversion to large church facilities, neither are they attracted to them.

I tend to think that Rainer (and may I recommend his book Simple Church) is closer to the mark here–the size of a Church is probably going to become a neutral factor.

It is a romantic notion to think that size guarantees healthy live-giving relationships and intimate or genuine worship. As with all romantic notions, this is often wrong. The Church, of any size, can be a place of beautifully broken people who occasionally act that brokenness out on one another.

Millennials, or any other person, may find much to love in a Church that can offer relationships grounded in Gospel, proclamation of God who is gracious and loving, and space where all of our brokenness is loved.

Having been around more than one size of Church, I know that our ability to do this has less to do with our size and more do to with our health. I know that our health has everything to do with our devotion to the Gospel, our constancy in loving our community, praying for each other, our discipline in coming together to celebrate the Risen Lord.

This isn’t anything new. When we are at our best the Church is doing this, from the very beginning: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day The Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

(1) This is supported by Dr Rodger Nishioka’s presentation to ECCC Mosaics and Millennials: Ministry with Young Adults

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An Anglican/Episcopal priest, bibliophile, dog owner, and Montanan

One thought on “Small Churches, Big Buildings, and Millennials

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on my post, Robyn. Just to clarify for your readers, my pro-Small-Church leanings don’t mean either that I’m against big churches (I’m not) or that I think Small Churches carry some kind of guarantee of intimacy (I don’t). In fact, feeling alone in a Small Church is probably harder than feeling alone in a big one.

    Instead, I agree with you that church size will likely be a more neutral factor in the future than it has been in the past. As I said in my post, “…alongside megachurches I see a growing hunger for healthy, high-quality, innovative Small Churches to meet the needs of upcoming generations.”

    We’re all in this together. Thanks again for your insight.

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