10 Ways to Preach to Millennials
Tailoring sermons to different generations
Ever wonder if you’ll be able to continue to communicate effectively to younger people as you get older?
Church culture often suggests that you have to be young to communicate well to young people. I disagree: I have found that communicating effectively to millennials and younger generations has far less to do with the age of the speaker and far more more to do with engaging your audience effectively. Engaging your entire congregation with the truth of God’s Word, by communicating the gospel skillfully and effectively, is a far greater indicator of your ability to reach younger generations than your own age.
That said, we can all sharpen our communication skills and adapt to share the gospel effectively with different age groups. To continue to reach millennials, a generation defined broadly as those born between 1981 and 1996, build engagement by sharpening your sermons. What you say and how you say it matters, now more than ever. Millennials grew up during a rapidly changing time in the world. As trust in institutions has declined across many sectors, many among us can find it difficult to communicate to millennials from the pulpit. While older generations asked, “What are you saying?,” millennials are asking, “Why are you saying what you’re saying?”
As a youth pastor, speaker and now a lead pastor, my journey in ministry for the past 20 years has largely been focused on reaching the millennial generation. One could almost say that in many ways I grew up with them. As I traveled and spoke to millennials at camps, retreats and conferences over the past 16 years, I have found some effective ways to communicate with this demographic to build engagement and trust.
Even if you have just four millennials in your congregation of 400, here are the top 10 ways to communicate to and engage members of this generation with your sermons.
1. Let your personality out.
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given you the opportunity to preach. He chose you to deliver His Word. Don’t hide who you are when you’re behind the pulpit. Loosen up and let your brothers and sisters see you (1 Thessalonians 2:8). When they see you, they will see what God has done in and through you and that will speak far more to their hearts than your outline or manuscript. All generations appreciate authenticity, but millennials demand it. When you let your personality out, you inject authenticity into your sermon.
2. Be concise.
Don’t waste a millennial’s time. You can preach effectively for 20 or 40 minutes as long as you are engaging your audience the entire time. You can tell you’re engaging your audience by “reading” them while you are speaking. Are you making eye contact? Are they responding to you nonverbally? If you are having trouble reading how engaged your audience is during a sermon, ask a trusted friend to give you honest and specific feedback.
When trying to shorten your message time, remember that what you leave on the chopping block during preparation creates space for what God is leading you to emphasize. Keep your time limited and keep your audience engaged for the duration of the message.
3. Communicate purpose.
Continue to remind your audience that they have purpose and are called to live out that purpose every day. Speaking about the purpose God gives to life inspires millennials to follow Jesus into an exciting and adventurous future (1 Peter 2:9). Millennials want what they do to have purpose; they don’t just want a job—they want their job to have meaning. Many members of this demographic, for example, have elected to follow career paths that have a social impact. Inviting millennials into God’s purpose for their lives gives meaning to everything they do.
4. Speak to their dreams.
Millennials are dreaming big about their future, and they often have to deal with the realization that their dreams don’t always work out. They were told growing up that they can do or be anything they want to do or be. Unfortunately, as many have stepped out into the workforce, they’ve realized that their dreams haven’t always matched up with reality. While purpose speaks to the meaning of what they do, speaking to their dreams casts a vision for their future.
One of my favorite verses to share with millennials when talking about their dreams for the future is Ephesians 3:20, calling us both to remember that we have a God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
5. Be transparent.
Transparency is such a big deal to millennials, but all people long to see it. Have you ever struggled with the main subject of your message? Has your topic from Scripture ever been confusing for you to understand or difficult for you to apply? What are the fruits you’ve seen in your own life as you’ve learned and applied this truth? Thinking through these questions as you prepare your sermon will help you weave transparency into your message.
Jesus modeled transparency in Matthew 26:38 when he said to His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
6. Inspire your audience to help others.
Motivate millennials and younger generations to help and serve others. When teaching the application of the text, cast a vision for serving others. Getting millennials to focus outward helps them realize the purpose God has for them: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
7. Speak relationally.
Speaking relationally doesn’t mean doing a series on relationships every other month. Speaking relationally means connecting your audience’s story and their relationships to the text. Answer questions like: What does the text mean for their life? What are the implications of this passage for their relationships?
8. Talk about why.
“Why” is so important. Answering “why” not only engages the limbic, decision-making side of the brain, but it also helps communicate the value of the passage we are preaching. Talk about why you are preaching the message you are preaching. Talk about why the text was important in its original context. Why did it matter to the listeners then? Why does it matter now?
I love that Paul clearly defines why it is important that he remains and why it matters to the church in Philippi: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:23-25).
9. Define the main point clearly.
In most of the messages delivered on a Sunday morning, the main point can get lost in a flood of content. When preparing a talk, fight for clarity. If you can’t explain the main point of the sermon in one clear, short sentence, you need to clarify it more. Once defined, communicate the main point throughout the message: Emphasize and repeat it. Don’t forget to tie stories or other examples of application back to the main point.
10. Make your message flow.
Work on the flow of your sermon. Your sermon should move smoothly from start to finish, drawing out the main point of the message (and supporting points) clearly and effectively. Ask yourself questions like: How do I transition from point to point? How does this message move from the introduction to the body? How and when am I making points of application? Are the transitions smooth, natural and honest to the text?
I love reading Paul’s sermon in Athens found in Acts 17:16-34. It is such a beautiful example of a clear message that flows and builds while pointing to the gospel.
The myth is that great communicators are born. The reality is that God gifts and equips us to make the most of the opportunities He places in front of us. It is our responsibility to steward our giftedness the best we can, and the best communicators steward their giftedness by continually working on their craft. With God’s grace, we can strive to engage all generations, regardless of age, with the amazing truth of His Word by continuing to refine our craft as preachers.
What methods have you found to be helpful when preaching to different generations? Share your thoughts in the comments.