Thom Rainer on Reaching Millennials – a Millennial Pastor Responds

Hi. I’m a millennial. My generation is abundantly unChristian. Countless articles and books are focused on reaching people like me. I should also mention, as many of you already know, I’m also a Christ follower and a pastor. I didn’t grow up in the church. In fact, God rescued me just eight years ago. So, what did it take to “reach” me? What does it take to reach my generation?

Thom Rainer on Reaching Millennials - a Millennial Pastor Responds

In November, my wife and I attended the National Disciple Making Forum and got to hear Thom Rainer present a talk on reaching millennials. Here I’m going to interact with his main points and his research. Let’s jump in.

Thom Rainer on Reaching Millennials – a Millennial Pastor Responds

First, who are the Millennials? Rainer identifies millennials as those born in the years 1980 – 2000. There’s a bit of variation here among researchers, but this is the simplest and easiest classification.

Now that we’ve defined who they are, let’s look at how to reach them.

1. “Don’t think it’s too difficult.”

Don’t forget this truth…


Millennials are people. They’re not aliens.

We deal with sin just like you do. We are navigating this world with difficulty just like you are.

If you think your church isn’t hip enough to reach millennials, think again. The attractional movement of the past isn’t the answer. Jesus is.

Preach Jesus. Preach the gospel.

God is at work. Your church, no matter your story, no matter your excuses, can reach millennials.


Do you believe it?

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Rainer on this.

If you want to reach millennials, don’t think it’s too difficult. God is able, so let’s stop with sounding the freak-out siren of the millennial generation as if the kingdom of God is going to incinerate out of existence.

2. “Remember the importance of relationships.”

It doesn’t matter your age, the millennials I know (and this is true for me as well) desire to learn from those who have gone before them. If you know any millennials, take them out for coffee (many of us love coffee – especially the free kind) and ask them about their lives. Take an interest in what they are doing. Listen and ask more questions.

No matter how cool you think you are or aren’t, they’ll think you’re the coolest person in the world (hint: this is true for any generation).


Because you’re showing them that you care. And that’s the key to relationships.

Millennials are used to being marketed to and sold to in every nook and cranny of life. What we need, just like anyone else, are real relationships with real people in real life.

As the pastor, you can change the culture of your congregation by remembering the importance of relationships.

Be a connector.

Be connected.

Just to prove this to you…

My wife and I (we were dating at the time) started attending church because of a relationship we built with a couple older than us who were following Jesus. We saw their lives. We wanted what they had.

Here’s story of when we decided to ask them if we could go to church with them – yes, we invited ourselves!

We brought an idea to them…

We were thinking of moving in together to save money on housing costs at the college we were attending. We wanted to know what they thought of the idea. We pretty much knew what they were going to say, but we still wanted to ask (they were mentors to us).

Would they stay true to their biblical convictions or would they bend the rules to appease us?

They told us they didn’t believe in that and advised us against it.

The amount of respect we had for them increased exponentially in that moment.

And then it happened…

We asked them if we could attend church with them.

That was about nine years ago. I’m grateful that they saw the importance of relationships.

3. “Value and display corporate authenticity.”

Yes and amen.

Too often, people (not just millennials) see church as a place where everyone puts on their happy face. A couple years ago, I wrote about how much harm the “church face” does to us.

In order for millennials and every other generation of people who don’t attend church to see the church as it truly is, the people who make up a given church must value and display authenticity as a group.

But how?

Preach on it – be real about your own sin.

Encourage it – get people sitting in circles, sharing their stories.

4. “Value and actively pursue community and world impact.”

Yes. Millennials want to make a difference.

Be an asset to your community.

Support missions.

Go on mission trips.

Tell stories of all three of those things happening in the congregation.

But even more than that…

Develop a theology of mission and work to solve genuine problems, no matter how complex they are.

Get millennials around the table.

Be salt. Be light.

Take what is normally done in the community and the world and raise the stakes.

Pick a problem and work to solve it as if you believed that Jesus really did mean it when he quoted Isaiah when He said:

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… – Isaiah 61:1-2a, CSB

Your church may not be able to address every problem in your community, but you certainly can pick one.

Some Encouraging Research

In addition to offering these points of emphasis to reach millennials, Dr. Rainer also provided some encouraging research around some key questions.

What is their receptivity to the gospel?

Probably high.

What is their receptivity to personal discipling?

High and radical.

With whom do millennials wish to engage?

Everyone and anyone.

What really matters in relationships to millennials?

Authenticity, humility, transparency, and integrity.

A Final Word From This Millennial

Follow Jesus and believe that God is still at work – even among those hard-to-classify millennials.

And did you notice what really matters in relationships to millennials?

Authenticity, humility, transparency, and integrity. Christ followers have these traits, yes? They should.

So follow Jesus.

Your church can reach millennials because God is at work.

Be gracious. Be truthful.

Move forward with confidence and go talk with some millennials.

And don’ forget… Millennials are people. They’re not aliens.

What has your experience been with millennials? Are you a fellow millennial?

Join the conversation and let us know. You can do so on social media: Join our Facebook Group, tweet us, or post on our Facebook Page.

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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