Conquering the Challenges of the 21st Century Church

By June 28, 2014 News No Comments
Conquering the Challenges of the 21st Century Church

When asked about the biggest challenges facing the church of the 21st century, church missiologist and president of Lifeway Research Ed Stetzer replied:

I think the two biggest challenges are nominalism and secularism. Nominalism is the idea that people are Christians in name only (Nominal Christians). As that category begins to decline, and in a sense, I am glad to see it go, it means that people will either move towards secularism, or be reached for the gospel, or for some other religious value. One of the challenges is that the church is not readily equipped to engage secular people and will have to do more to train people to evangelize the “far-unchurched.” We are accustomed to evangelizing the “near-unchurched:” people who have perhaps been to church, dropped out because of a bad experience, but are familiar with terms, language, and emphases.

Healthy growing churches of the future must learn to connect with and engage “far-unchurched” and “near-unchurched” Millennials (18-35 year olds). These Millennials have grown up with a plethora of options and opinions. As Stetzer advises, church leaders must equip their congregations to engage Millennials in fresh, purposeful ways that connect uniquely with them and their struggles.

What Millennials Believe

Aspen Group recently engaged Barna Research to help clarify how Millennials are processing their faith, how we can more effectively engage them, and how physical space helps us do so. Here are some encouraging findings from the more than 800 responses we received from Millennials across the U.S.:

  • Millennials believe it’s a spiritual world
    • Fewer than 20% believe Satan is merely a symbol of evil
    • Fewer than 20% believe being good gets you to heaven
  • The Christian faith matters to Millennials
    • 50-80% feel faith is important
    • 61-81% feel spiritual needs can be met by Christianity
  • The decline in their attendance is more about distraction and living in a modularized world
    • They are informed and have options
    • They look for clues to discern if they’ll fit in at church, and whether the church adds clarity to their life
  • Ministry space matters
    • Space must be authentic; any sense of bait and switch is a turn-off
    • Space must accommodate their need for reflection and connection
  • How we connect with them is critical
    • 65-95% do not want to share e-mail, cell numbers, or social media on first visit
    • Give them room to tell us how to connect to meet their needs

Millennials desire conversation about spiritual matters. They believe the Jesus we know and trust may have answers for them. But they are overwhelmed, distracted, exhausted, and mistrusting. Finding faith must be on their terms.

A Great and Urgent Opportunity

Faced with this powerful opportunity to reach Millennials, church leaders must learn to prayerfully wrap their ministry and leadership strategies around this 21st century challenge. With so many competing and compelling options for how they’ll spend their lives, Millennials won’t wait long for us to get it right.

It’s this urgency that compelled Aspen Group to think deeply about the cultural shift that’s happening among young adults, and how the church can respond to meet their needs. Working with hundreds of church leaders to create effective ministry space, and meeting with thought leaders from around the country to discuss trends in the culture and in the church helped clarify an approach to help tackle the challenge of reaching those who are far from God. We call this process Alignment.

Alignment focuses on four key 21st century ministry strategies:

  • Evolving Culture
  • Relevant Ministry
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Intentional Facilities

It’s our passion and mission to share with churches what we’re learning about the underlying movements in our culture through groundbreaking research projects. We work with churches to assess and empower leadership through effective planning, communication, and implementation strategies. We help churches clarify their ministry priorities to effectively connect with Millennials and fulfill their church’s mission. And then we explore how to channel all of this learning into an aligned church facility.

One way we help churches discover the alignment of these four key factors is by hosting the annual Alignment Conference that takes a deep-dive into each of these areas. At last year’s Alignment conference, David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, shared initial findings from the national study we commissioned with the Barna Group on Millennials and church architecture.

This year at Alignment 2014, we’ll release the full findings from this study and focus on key takeaways for church leaders. With David Kinnaman as the keynote speaker and other well-respected speakers, we’ll dig deeper and learn more about the specific needs of today’s young adults, and how the church is uniquely positioned to meet their desire to belong and be part of something significant, to find a place of rest, and to discover God at their own pace and in their own way.

This year’s conference will be at Community Christian Church-Yellow Box, so attendees will be able to see firsthand what it can look like to make space for Millennials. We’re energized by what we’re learning from this research, and we’re excited to share it with the whole church. We hope you’ll join us at this year’s Alignment 2014 conference as we explore how to make room for Millennials. We believe in powerfully enhancing ministry through effective space. This is what we wake up thinking about. It’s this passion that drives why we do what we do.