When I was in high school, my youth group did its best to make our church sanctuary look relevant on Thursday nights. With foam insulation panels, pipe and drape made with umbrella stands, and the cheapest can lights that money could buy, we set out to create a space that our millennial peers would appreciate. What we got was a lesson in DIY (Do It Yourself) church design. Frankly, it looked like Home Depot threw up in our sanctuary.
Designing a space for millennials is a challenge many churches are up against. With the generation (20-35 yrs old) hitting a prime “come-back-to-church” stage of life, leaders should be rethinking their spaces. But since most have a building from a previous generation, many can easily feel like there is little they can do. So what will it take to re-engage millennials with our buildings? Just last year, the Barna Group asked millennials to select words that described their ideal church. Here are a few word preferences that may surprise you…
- Sanctuary, not Auditorium (77% vs 23%)
- Classic, not Trendy (67% vs 33%)
- Quiet, not Loud (67% vs 33%)
Along with a few words you might expect…
- Casual, not Dignified (64% vs 36%)
- Modern, not Traditional (60% vs 40%)
And the word most often chosen by millennials…
- Community, not Private (78% vs 22%)
There’s no doubt that some of these preferences seem contradictory. Sanctuary and Classic appear in contrast to Modern. So what does this research mean for the local church?
- You’ll never appeal to everyone. Millennials are way more complex than they are often assumed to be. One church could never appeal to an entire generation. Take time to understand the millennials in your community. Then be clear about the type of person you are working to reach.
- An older building should be seen as a resource, not a restraint. Many leaders view their aging building as a detractor to millennials. But the truth is that many prefer a more traditional space. If you have the privilege of leading in an older building, leverage its character. The worship and teaching must offer relevant meaning, but a traditional space can be a resource for relevance.
- Create space for relationships. More than anything else, millennials valued community. Most buildings from past generations were not designed with this in mind. Small lobbies and tight hallways make it difficult to hold a conversation. If this is your situation, get creative and develop space for relationships. Dedicate a visible area as a cafe or remove a wall to open up nearby classrooms. I once saw a church utilize its front lawn by adding tents and patio furniture.
- Don’t forget about families. Many millennials are beginning to have children. As you develop space for relationships, make sure they are comfortable leaving their kids in your hands. Walk a few parents through your space and ask them how you could make it feel more exciting, comfortable, and secure. Use wall space to artistically show the values you’re teaching.
Regardless of the age or style of your church building, you have the opportunity to create a space that engages millennials. Will you be intentional with your building to connect with America’s youngest adult generation?