How do churches reach Millennials online? The short answer is through Mobile Devices and Social Media. The long answer is what this article is about.
We explore how to create and place online content that is likely to be noticed by unchurched millennials. We also explore what kinds of church events and messages that millennials are likely to be responsive to and what they have an aversion to.
Research by Barna Group shows that Millennials are fairly responsive to events:
One out of every five unchurched people indicated that they would be much more interested in considering a church if they attended an appealing event, such as a concert or seminar, that was sponsored by a nearby church.
George Barna and David Kinnaman
Be Intentional With Online Church Advertising
As stewards of God’s resources, churches must be careful where they spend their money. Generic church advertising is not nearly as effective as carefully planned promotions that speak to the collective conscience of unchurched people. According to David Kinnaman, “assistance to the poor and mentoring the young are two ministry areas that most impress unchurched people”. Therefore a church must be deliberate about what to make known outside the walls of the church.
Another goal of this article is to summarize the latest research and information about trends among the unchurched as it applies to Millennials. Barna Group has published three important books that we refer to extensively. The titles of these books are Churchless, Unchristian, and You Lost Me. We encourage all church growers to read these important books.
Ministries That Attract Millennials
This article also explores what kind of ministry events attract Millennials. Barna Group’s article titled What Millennials Want When They Visit Church may be helpful for those churches that wish to gear ministry toward millennials. It is important for a church to understand how their ministries and activities are perceived by millennials, so that they can get the word out about those things that they are already doing that appeal to this group.
We’re seeing a steady rise in churchless people that has been examined in the book Churchless by George Barna and David Kinnaman. According to their research, 30% of the people were churchless in the 1990s, 33% were churchless in the 2000s, and 43% were churchless in 2014. Of the churchless 43%, 33% were once active in a church but are no longer, and 10% have never attended a church.
We’re the first to admit that advertising in and of itself will not grow a church. It is however a tool that can be effectively used by churches. It is notable that Barna Group’s research shows that all forms of outreach are losing traction. This means that a church needs to be visible in more media channels than ever before. In the good old days, all churches had to do was buy a Yellow Page ad, a newspaper ad, and a billboard. Those days are over. Churches need to be visible in Google Searches, online banner ads, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. But they need to be careful about what they are pushing out through those channels.
The research shows that Millennials are looking for churches that make a difference in their communities. Therefore, from an advertising standpoint, it is wise to identify community programs that are underway in your church and advertise them. For example a millennial is more likely to respond to an advertisement about a food packing event than an ad that invites them to church.
How Churches Reach Millennials Online
Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. Barna Group refers to this same group as Mosaics who were born between 1982 and 2002.This means they are between 16 and 38 years old. They are a very large group as discussed in an article titled Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers As America’s Largest Generation that was based on US Census data.
Of course church advertising should be targeted to people who are unchurched because attracting people from other churches is just a shell game that doesn’t build God’s Kingdom. There is the demographic element of targeting and there is message element of targeting.
For digital advertising purposes, millennials should be broken Into subgroups. This is because there is a big difference between a 16 year old, a 26 year old, and a 36 year old. Also church ministries and events will appeal to some and not to others so the churches ministries should be aligned with the demographic group the church is aiming to grow.
With regard to the messaging element of targeting, there are two broad unchurched Millennial groups;
- Those who have abandoned church.
- Those who were never church attenders
Millennials That Abandoned Church
David Kinnaman, the President of Barna Group, explores why young Christians are leaving church and rethinking faith in his book titled You Lost Me. In this book he breaks down those who have abandoned church into Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles. Here is a description of each subgroup:
- Nomads walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians.
- Prodigals lose their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian.”
- Exiles are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and church.
Millennials that abandoned church are easier to reach than Millennials who never attended church with the exception that Prodigals are as hare to reach as those who never attended church.
There is an very high dropout rate that happens to people in their twenties.
Here the reasons that young people drop out that George Barna and David Kinnaman have identified in Churchless:
- Churches seem restrictive and over protective
- Christianity as practiced is too shallow
- Churches seem antagonistic to science
- Churches are judgmental and rigid about sexuality
- The exclusivity of Christianity is a turnoff
- Churches are unfriendly to those who doubt
Millennials Who Never Attended Church
Those who have never been church attenders are much harder to to move toward Jesus. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore this group’s skepticism in their book titled Unchristian where they describe how many outsiders see Christians as hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.
A common theme in church growth literature is that church growth should be accelerated by focusing on people who are easier to reach and then train them up to build relationships with and disciple to the harder to reach people who are their friends and family. This has been discussed extensively by Donald A. McGavran, C. Peter Wagner, George Barna, Rick Warren, Thom S. Rainer, and others. Chapter 25 in Thom S. Rainer’s The Book of Church Growth explores the subject of Receptivity and Church Growth in depth.
For the reasons that are put forth by these thinkers, a church that is aiming to grow it’s number of Millennials may be wise to focus their advertising dollars on those who have abandoned the church.
Match the Message to the Audience
Online church Millennial advertising campaigns should feature multiple messages that speak to each of these groups.
Care must be taken however to not go overboard making church seem hip and cool. Rachel Held Evans wrote a good article in the Washington Post about how making church cool actually irks millennials. Erin S. Lane wrote another article about Why so many young Christians are leaving their churches — and coming back again. Brett McCracken raises some excellent points about how being cool can backfire in his article titled How to Keep Millennials in the Church? Let’s Keep Church Un-cool.
It’s certainly important to remind the church that efforts to be cool will do little if anything to keep young people engaged. It often has the opposite effect.
Millennials seek authenticity.
According to in-depth research that is explored in Barna Group’s books titled Churchless; below are lists of what attracts unchurched people and what doesn’t attract unchurched people.
Church Activities that Attract Unchurched People
Here is a list of church activities that Barna Group’s research shows to be effective for reaching the unchurched:
- Appealing events such as a concert or a seminar hosted at the church
- Ministries that regularly and effectively serve the poor
- Mentoring and development opportunities for young adults
- An invitation from a trusted friend
- An in-home visit from a pastor or church member
Church Activities that Don’t Attract Unchurched People
Here is a list of church activities that Barna Group’s research shows to be ineffective for reaching the unchurched:
- Direct mailings from the church
- TV, newspaper, billboard, or radio advertisements
- Unsolicited phone calls
- Relying on the church website
- Celebrity guest speakers at the worship service
In light of Barna’s research we will now explore ideas that churches could pursue. We’ll start with Appealing Events and Seminars.
Each event would be digitally supported with online advertising, conversion tracking code, calls-to-action, and event sign-up pages.
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Sample Ads Where Churches Reach Millennials
Here are a couple of examples of online ads that are aimed at reaching unchurched Millennials.
Millennials were born into a digital world. They were brought up in schools that taught them the importance of recycling trash. They see traditional print methods as irresponsible and hard on the planet.
They actively use social media. Pew Research Center produced a report titled The Demographics of Social Media Users.
YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are all places where churches reach Millennials online.
Churches Reach Millennials on Mobile Devices
Last year search volume from mobile devices exceeded search volume from computers for the first time.
The chart below shows smartphone growth as reported by KPCB
Churches Reach Millennials On YouTube
Millennials spend a lot of time on YouTube as shown on the two charts below. You can also read an interesting article titled The demographics of YouTube, in 5 charts. So churches should consider advertising on YouTube.
Churches Reach Millennials On Facebook
Churches Reach Millennials On Instagram
According to eMarketer, “Instagram usage is particularly strong among Millennials. This year, there will be 48.2 million Millennial Instagram users in the US. By 2019, nearly two-thirds of all Millennial smartphone users will use Instagram”.
We Help Churches Reach Millennials
With our help your church can launch a technically advanced online advertising campaign aimed at Millennials that features the following:
- Includes Facebook, Google, Instagram, and YouTube
- Filters the messaging and demographics to reach the Millennial subgroups with an appeal that speaks to them
- Properly allocates the budget among the channels, messages, and demographics
- Reports activity
For More Information
Here at Missional Marketing we are excited about helping churches reach Millennials online. For more information please contact Jason Hamrock or Karen Fitzgerald.
Karen Fitzgerald – Phone: 602.427.0990 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Hamrock – Phone: 480-773-9115 | Email: email@example.com
Missional Marketing by Gdirect, 4801 E. McKellips Road | Mesa, AZ 85215