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After my post on Southern Baptist’s millennial problem, Brandon Clements, LifeGroups & Recovery Pastor at Midtown Fellowship in Columbia, SC emailed me about their church’s very different millennial problem and offered to write a guest post. I believe his perspective can be helpful for those seeking to reach this current generation.

IMG_56601I serve as a pastor at a 7 year-old church plant in downtown Columbia, where we have a different kind of millennial problem – we have too many of them. We are a church that averages 800 on Sundays with over 925 people plugged into LifeGroups.

But the most shocking part? 90% of our church is under 30 years old. We have the exact opposite problem of most churches. When someone who looks older walks through our door, we pray they are solid and that they’ll stick around to pour into the mass of youth we have.

Because we have such a different perspective on the millennial problem in Christianity, I thought it would be helpful to comment on some of the reasons I believe millennials have been drawn to our church.

This is not a “We are awesome and other churches can’t get off the struggle bus” post. We have our weaknesses just like any other church, and any of our pastors will tell you that we are stumbling forward by nothing but the bountiful grace of God.

But in light of that, here are a few things God has shaped our church into that I believe have been instrumental in so many young people finding a home in our church:

1. We strive to always focus on the gospel.

Many people in the U.S. South grew up around or at least familiar with Christianity, but it is shocking how many times we have someone say they grew up in church but never heard the gospel. Moralism comes from behind pulpits across our nation in both direct and veiled forms. The gospel of grace stands in stark contrast.

The truth that forgiveness is possible is mind-blowing the first time you hear it. In our teaching, we try to motivate everything by the grace shown to us in Christ and not guilt, duty, or obligation. To hear the gospel applied to the everyday struggles and emotions we all feel is the best kind of light shone into the worst kind of darkness.

2. We are committed to being a family.

As you can see from our LifeGroup participation numbers, we value biblical community highly. We repeatedly make it clear from stage that community is the only context through which a New Testament faith can be lived out. If you are not doing life with other believers – and we mean life, not occasionally being in a room together – then how will you practice the “one anothers,” grow in your faith, and live out the gospel to those around you?

Our desire is that not just our LifeGroups but also our gatherings (services) would communicate this reality. We want people to leave gatherings feeling like they’ve been at a family reunion, so we keep them simple, authentic, relational, and low-production. We sing, pray, teach the Bible, celebrate what Jesus has done, and share stories of where God is at work in our city.

Before we take communion, we frequently instruct our people to first go and resolve any unconfessed sin, bitterness, or relational weirdness they have against one another ­­-­­­ no matter who is at fault. If need be, they can grab someone and have a conversation, make a phone call, or whatever is needed. The shocking thing is – at least it shocked us the first time we tried it – they actually do it.

3. We keep an outward focus.

Serving others around us has been in our DNA since day one. From serving the homeless in our city to enlisting your LifeGroup to help you build a relationship with a non-believing co-worker, our goal is always to make disciples and help anyone around us take the next steps towards Jesus.

We’ve baptized hundreds of millennials, and a large percentage of them met Jesus through hanging out with a LifeGroup that was living on mission together. They saw the gospel there in the flesh.

4. We have a culture of transparency.

By the grace of God, the gospel has shaped our culture to the point that people feel comfortable being honest about where they really are and what they’re really struggling with. Most people quickly realize that they won’t be harshly judged or shunned for taking off their masks, because others have already taken off theirs, giving them the gift of going second.

Transparency is huge in reaching millennials, a generation that tends to be cynical and can see right past well-painted facades. Speaking as a millennial myself, if you act like absolutely everything in your life is hunky-dory, I will not trust you with a dime.

In addition, we are upfront about our weaknesses and tell people in our membership class that they better expect to be sinned against and disappointed as a part of our church.

5. We live and work where millennials live and work.

The median age of a Columbia resident is 28. We are not in a suburb, but are actually in the downtown area of our city, where millennials live. Our networks of relationships are naturally the people we are trying to reach. We are friends with people in our city because we work and live in our city.

This is important because – like any other people group – if no one in church knows any millennials then there will never be any millennials in that church. This is true no matter what other changes are made.

6. We take church membership and church discipline seriously.

Far from being a useless piece of paper with names on it, we believe membership should be active and meaningful. Our membership covenant includes doctrinal unity on close-handed issues, being actively involved in Christian community, serving, and tithing (among other things).

We do a yearly member check-up to gauge the health of all of our members and renew their membership, and when necessary we take appropriate steps in the church discipline process laid out in Matthew 18. These have been some of the most difficult instances in our church by far, but also the most refining.

7. We have a biblical and effective model of church leadership.

Many in the South equate church leadership with politics and inefficiency. We believe having an elder-led church with trustworthy and proven, approachable but decisive leaders is more faithful to the Scriptures and more effective than creating a new committee to discuss whether or not to buy a new copier. Our leadership strives to set a culture where drama and pointless politics are quickly engaged with the gospel and squashed.

8. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Our leadership has created a culture of humor and lightheartedness. We have fun and goof off. For a shining example of this, see this ridiculous video we made to help our volunteers laugh at an appreciation dinner.

Sometimes we can be a little too ridiculous, but we believe that if Christ is alive that should make us joyful and playful people - the kind of people that non-religious folk wouldn’t mind hanging around.

Our pastors are all normal, sinful people living in community like any other Christian in our church. We frequently hear people say, “I didn’t realize how normal pastors could be.” We take that as a compliment.

9. We do not draw a hard line in the sand unless the Bible does.

We do not wish to be more conservative, or more liberal, than the Bible. If God had wanted to add things to the Bible or take away hard truths, He would have done so. We have exactly what we have for the most perfect of reasons: the loving providence of God. Neither pharisaical additions nor me-centered subtractions are faithful or helpful. We happily let the Bible be our authority, knowing the only options are that it is authoritative over us, or we are over it.

Those nine characteristics are just a few reasons I believe people under 30 are uncommonly attracted to our very imperfect church. I pray that at least some of these nine may be encouraging or helpful to your church as you strive to reach what has been called “the lost generation.”

Now, will someone help us with how to reach 50 year olds?


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30 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Millennial Problem”

  1. Andy says:

    “Now, will someone help us with how to reach 50 year olds?”

    Sure. Just wait until your 30 year olds reach that age and their perspective changes a bit. :)

  2. David B. says:

    Im not so sure about this. With all respect to the pastor, Im just not feeling the reasoning here. I think the only valid point here is number 5. Other than that, it seems to communicate that the reason you have a bunch of young folk in your church is cause your “doing” Christianity as a church? Meh. There are probably literally 20,000 more Gospel-faithful churches just like this that have memberships all over the spectrum. Faithfulness and real effectiveness as a church is never ever ever measured by who sits in the pews. Faithfulness is measured by the truth and spirit being lived in by whoever is there. Young or old, 10 or 1000, has absolutely nothing to do with what is being done right. Sovereign grace is responsible for that and God sovereignly established this church in the midst of a bunch of young people and then gave them grace for obedience and stirred the hearts of those young people by His own Spirit and there you have it. He could plant a church 4 miles away from this one, still around a bunch of millennials, grant the leadership faithfulness, and simply not see the same response. Gods grace is the only x-factor here. Them being “attracted” to our message is not our business. Our business is only to plant and water.

  3. David B. says:

    Well, i went a little too far. Our message should be attractive, but if its faithful, it will be.

  4. Roy says:

    I am all for church discipline, but some of what is talked about here is seriously too much. Rather disturbing.

  5. Devon H. says:

    I actually agree with all the points. Some more then others, but the one that I think contains the most weight is the idea of transparency. Going beyond theological training and experience people first need to know that they can trust you. One way to accomplish this is transparency aka: authentic, raw, or open. This type of Christianity means being the first to share your dirtiness with the congragation. I applaud the pastor that comes and confesses his sins whether past or present. It makes me want the same courage. All in All thanks for the post

  6. Cody says:

    Mr. Clements, you are giving glory to God in your community, and I’m grateful for the encouraging post. Our church is fairly “young” in membership as well, but we’ve seen the parents, relatives, and older coworkers of our members come to know Jesus through watching what He has done in the lives of our members. Keep your eyes on Jesus and He’ll continue to give you His greatest gift: Himself!

  7. Joey says:

    This is just fantastic and hugely encouraging! I look forward to the time when God’s grace moves and we can have churches of 925 in Europe, but for the moment, thank God for our 100% millennials church plant of 15! :P Praying God sends more older people too though!

  8. Mike says:

    Can my church have your “problem”?

  9. Rob says:

    I was half-way through this piece before I realized that the statement of a “problem.” was irony. In a culture of transparency, why apologize for thinking your church is wonderful? However, I do admit that the overstatement of an imagined problem is an effective tool because who would read a post entitled “Why we have no millennial problem.” I say imagined problems because I followed the church website link and it is easy to see why the church is reaching those under 30. The staff is essentially an elder team made up of young men. Maybe number 10 on this list could be to make sure your staff is under 45? It seems that the lack of “solid older people who will stick around and pour into the mass of youth” is not just a congregational problem. I also see a few swats taken at the old guard who “equate church leadership with politics and inefficiency.” When reading the 9 reasons, this church sounds amazing! Thanks for the great suggestions on the reaching those under 30! Each generation has it’s own cultural values and identity. This church has obviously tapped into the pulse of the millennial generation. How awesome is the truth of the gospel to transcend generational, cultural, and boundaries? I am sorry that you guys don’t have many older people in your church. I am not quite 50 and I truly appreciate serving in a church community that is multi-generational. I am not sure by the tone of this post if this church is really serious about reaching people over 50. If it is a serious problem and not just a literary device to pull us into reading a blog post then don’t be discouraged! In roughly 20 years, time will take care of that “problem” too!

  10. Brian says:

    What’s disturbing?
    “we believe membership should be active and meaningful.” Sounds good to me.
    “Our membership covenant includes doctrinal unity on close-handed issues,” So the church body has committed to trusting the Bible and not trying to steer the church into heresy. Seems fine to me.
    “being actively involved in Christian community, serving, and tithing (among other things),” In other words, making sure that people are actually being part of the family that the church is, rather than being listed on a piece of paper and walking in and out on Sundays. So far, so good.
    “We do a yearly member check-up to gauge the health of all of our members and renew their membership,” Making sure they aren’t complacent in assuming everyone is just fine, but actually doing an evaluation. Seems okay if done properly and fairly. Not sure how renewing membership would go, but it’s probably not a weighty problem.
    “and when necessary we take appropriate steps in the church discipline process laid out in Matthew 18.” Remaining faithful to the Bible and keeping people accountable. Still seems fine.
    Seriously I’m curious as to what in this is disturbing.

  11. Justin V says:

    I love this “In roughly 20 years, time will take care of that “problem” too!” There’s your solution! Lol

  12. Matthew says:

    Roy, I’d be interested in knowing what you take issue with. I don’t immediately see anything disturbing or overbearing, but I’d like to understand where you are coming from.

  13. Colin says:

    Columbia, SC is also a particularly religious city, even by American South standards. Recently, an egalitarian, LGBTQ-inclusive PC(USA) church was planted downtown had over 400 in worship in three years (with lots of Millennials). Church plants, from a bunch of different theological stripes, do very well there.

  14. Kristen K. says:

    Rob, I appreciate your comments. I had some of the same thoughts in reading the article. I actually see this non-problem as a problem. There should be a wide range of ages in the church. This church needs to be figuring out why they have such a small amount of older saints and know that is harmful to their body to not have them. We should be cultivating relationships with older, godly, wise Christians who have lived and experienced life. I’m glad that they are reaching the so called millennials but why stop there? Is that really a good goal to have as a church body? Do you not want to see a variety of ages, races, etc… I would love to hear Trevin Wax’s thoughts on this-if he actually sees this as a problem.

  15. Terese says:

    I’m a 50-year-old and your church sounds like a place I would love to be! I think, however, if you are located in-town where mostly under-30’s live, then you’ve positioned yourselves where 50-year-olds (for the most part) don’t live. As those congregants get older and start having families, they will often move further out from those in-town areas to acquire larger homes, yards, etc. The 50-and-up crowd is now graduating their youngest ones from high school, and some are even starting to be grandparents. (I had my kids later in life, so mine are still younger, but still…we are moving from a in-town location a little further out for the reasons I stated above.) I think you either need to be okay with the “field” you have knowing that you will have fewer generations represented in your congregation, or you will have to be intentional about becoming more multi-generational. You might need to lsponsor events that would cater to those 50-and-up. I’m at a place in my walk where I care less about amazing worship services and stellar sermons than I do about having a place to serve my community. (My husband and I prefer worshiping close to home as we want to love our neighbors…literally…and serve them, so driving back in town to go to church would have to include a MISSION…a PURPOSE for me to be engaged in…whether that be homeless ministry, mentoring younger women in the faith, or international missions opportunities.) Make sense?

  16. Duane Warren says:

    I truly find a lot of the responses troubling. This is a church that is living and striving to be and fulfill the true meaning of what church is. What type of person might read this post and somehow manage to criticize it? Well….probably someone who does not serve in any ministry or has any understanding of what a celebration it is to know that any age group is being reached in this world of humanistic values we live in today. I would guess it would be someone who is unable to see the value of a church that sees beyond the generation we will live in (I am 51). I can hardly believe what some of you wrote……this is man is your brother in Christ….nothing he is doing is contrary to the Word of God…..the church he has been given to care for is moving in the right direction……and he most definitely loves our Lord. If you find any fault with this…..I would wonder if you might do a close examination of your heart before God. I would also challenge everyone who cast their criticisms to also have the boldness to announce just what you are personally doing to further the Kingdom of God. If you think a certain age group is not being met satisfactorily….what are you doing in your own community to meet those needs. Truly…..it is unbelievable. It is shameful. It is not of God….but of your own selfish intellect that you could find fault in a growing church just because it does not happen to look like what you personally believe it should look like. You break my heart. This wasn’t a post about you and your thoughts. It was a praise report. We should all be thanking God for what He is doing in this place. You break my heart.

  17. Matthew says:

    Kristen, I believe that their goal is to reach as many people in the city as they can. I don’t think, from reading this article, that they are stopping with just the Millennials, but, as he’s written in the article, the average age of his church is about the same as the average age of the city that they are living in. Also, when he says, “When someone who looks older walks through our door, we pray they are solid and that they’ll stick around to pour into the mass of youth we have” it makes me believe that they actually do want folks from an older generation to be apart of the family just for the same reasons that you suggest.

  18. Amy says:

    I’m confused – how does this pertain to millennials specifically? This seems simply like a healthy, growing church, but I’ve seen other churches (including my own) that do the same are are multi-generational. I’m not sure I would say that this is a recipe for drawing in that generation in particular, but it does seem like a good recipe for a healthy church in general! :)

  19. treasel says:

    But the million question of the day, the question that can decide a churches social position. What’s their stance on gay? Sorry, not trolling, but not just gay, but sex and gender issues seem to be one of biggest cited issues with the younger group. No homophobe, but we have biblical hard lines drawn (though debated), and a culture that insists that such expectations be dropped. Try as some theologians may, but it’s near impossible to make scripture say conclusively: that sex outside the marriage bed is not particularly sinful, homosexuality is generally OK, it’s not a mandate that a wife submit to her husband, and so on and so forth.

  20. Austin says:

    When seeing the title of this article, I was sure, and quite relieved, that this would be an article explaining that there ought to be a balance in a church body of older and younger congregants for a church to be healthy. However, this article surprisingly does the opposite. I honestly see this imbalance as an overall detriment to a church’s health because there needs to be a healthy dose of wisdom, as well as a proper discipleship from elder Christians. In 1 John 2: 12-14 we see John writing to a church that is balanced with “fathers” and “children”. A church needs the elderly who have “known him from the beginning” and young men who “have overcome the evil one” in order for mutual edification, and proper distribution of spiritual wisdom from the elderly to the young. I will always remember a point Mark Dever made at a pastors’ conference I attended. He rightly pointed out that there is a new “demonic” tendency amongst Christians today to disregard wisdom from elderly congregants and to favor catering to the youth, as if youth is some greater virtue.

  21. Stephen Gonzalez says:

    As a former member, renew membership is essentially where we would go through the basics in the fall (gospel, community, mission) & members re-commit to live in as a community on mission. Essentially so members continue to re-evaluate if they desire to live as a family of missionaries again. No fees :) just a re-focus on who Jesus is & how we will commit to live in light of that.

  22. Flyaway says:

    My husband would love your church. He doesn’t like being grouped with “old” people! But seriously age shouldn’t keep people from Christian fellowship. I enjoy discussing the Bible with any age! They are all mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in the faith! I’m praying for a revival in the U.S. in hopes that everyone will hunger and thirst after God.

  23. Michael says:

    Treasel, please go to the link to listen to a sermon from July of 2013 specifically addressing the Gospel and Homosexuality. http://midtowncolumbia.com/sermon-series/the-gospel-homosexuality-2/

    I am a member of Midtown and we have neither ignored sex and gender issues, nor have we attempted to water down the Biblical teaching regarding them. Additionally, we have unashamedly taught that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, and what it looks like for a wife to gracefully submit to her husband. You can look in the 10 week series “A Marriage You’d Actually Want” from 2012 or “Different but Equal” from 2011 for sermons dealing exclusively with those topics, but those ideas are also inter-woven in our teaching when applicable.

    As Brandon said, we are far from perfect and as you stated, your intention was not to “troll,” but since the question was posed, did want you to have a little bit of background on where we land theologically on those issues.

  24. Matthew says:

    Austin, I’m confused where you get the idea from this article that this church is “disregarding wisdom from elderly congregants” and “catering to the youth”. The article mentions that the church’s population is nearly identically to that of the city that it is located, that is that the average age is 28. Also, the church seems to earnestly desire to have older members. Brandon says in this article “When someone who looks older walks through our door, we pray they are solid and that they’ll stick around to pour into the mass of youth we have.” I think that it may be a bit strong to suggest that this church has a “demonic tendency” based on this article.

  25. Brett Milam says:

    I kinda want to pew shuffle now

  26. Tracy K says:

    A few things, I love their focus, they are reaching a hard group to reach, more power to them. Real life will hit and this particular body of Christ will either grow and stretch organically or it will die. The “elders” need to be wise in Christ, sometimes there are some very wise young men. We were at a church where this didn’t work out so well. It wasn’t that they had a mission to the millennialist but that the pastor was more of an older youth group leader than a pastor to a current multi generational church that dwindled to those his own age. It needed older and wiser blood, not just a youthful splash. But if done right this is good. More power to you, may you bring many to a deep relationship with Christ. To know him and make him known.
    Now I do have an issue with the following said,
    “The truth that forgiveness is possible is mind-blowing the first time you hear it. In our teaching, we try to motivate everything by the grace shown to us in Christ and not guilt, duty, or obligation.”
    If this is not in balance, it becomes greasy grace. ABSOLUTELY salvation is by grace and grace alone BUT our response, thought not guilt or by guilt but by the same grace that saved us, is duty and obligation to what the Word of God calls us to do. It isn’t all kumbaya, sometimes living by that grace calls us to hard things and because of a heart of gratitude we do things by duty and obligation because of what has been given. Maybe it is semantics but we forget that the New Testament calls us to hard things, we can’t sugar coat it.
    Peace and may God bless your work for the kingdom and build a deep abiding faith and action abiding body of believers known as the Church.

  27. heather says:

    Yes and amen. And due to the lack of life experience this church may practive “transparency” by breaching confidentiality. Many young, unexperienced pastors fall into this. Denying elderly counsel is dangerous.

  28. Matthew says:

    “If we aren’t accused of antinomianism, we haven’t preached the gospel properly.” – Martin Lloyd-Jones

  29. Sean says:

    Here’s a link to a standalone sermon if you are interested on their site.
    http://midtowncolumbia.com/sermon-series/the-gospel-homosexuality-2/

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​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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