Why Churches Should Stop Pandering to Millennials

For years, churches have been trying to find new ways to attract Millennials, two thirds of whom believe churchgoers are “a lot or somewhat hypocritical.” Churches have tried everything from deploying hipster pastors to making their sanctuaries less church-like.

As a Millennial, I have a message for churches: Please, just stop. We don’t need outreach that looks like the latest emoji trend, which features the tagline “Scripture 4 Millennials” and translates the Bible into emoji. That’s right. On the Bible Emoji Translator website, you can enter your favorite Bible verse and out pops an emoji-version of scripture. Or as the translator puts it, “Enter ur fave Bible verse on the left emoji awesomeness appears on the right” (thankfully, there aren’t any symbols for words found in the Bible like prostitute or concubine or circumcision).

It’s true that churches have seen an exodus of Millennials in recent years. Some institutions have responded by adding coffee shops; trendy megachurches host services in auditoriums rather than churches and use the latest technology—giant projector screens and contemporary music that mimics a Beyoncé concert—to attract younger worshippers. They use The Message Bible rather than the King James Version, and embrace a “cool Jesus” that inspires memes such as an image of the crucifixion with the caption, “So this Pontius Pilate guy has me crucified but after three days I was like Nah bro!”

But guess what? All of this pandering is the exact opposite of what Millennials actually want from church. The harder churches try to be cool and trendy, the more Millennials are joining the mass exodus from the church. Surveys show that Millennials want a small, traditional sanctuary with stained glass windows and quiet hymns. They want to feel like they’re in a church, and they want to go there to escape the busy world and all the technology that surrounds them all day every day.

Millennials actually want religion to be (gasp!) sacred, not hip and trendy. So adding Bible scripture emoji to the collection of taco and poop emoji that have colonized the digital world defeats the purpose. And it degrades what Christians consider to be the holiest book.

As The Atlantic put it, this trend “offers perhaps the greatest possible ironic contrast—the world’s most read book, which governs the lives of billions of people, translated into tiny anthropomorphic cartoons. The emoji Bible represents the perfect intersection of high and low, taking something very serious and remixing it with something very silly.” When Jesus was drawing in the sand when the Pharisees were trying to get him to condemn an adulterating woman, I don’t think he was drawing cartoons to get his point across.

For the sake of Millennials (and anyone else who doesn’t want to witness the hipsterization of the Bible), and for all that is holy, stop trying to make Christianity and any other religion “cool.” This Millennial is begging you to stop. We are going to swipe left on the church if we keep seeing stunts like emoji Bibles and hipster Jesus (*face Psalm*). Instead, join my campaign of adding an eleventh commandment: Thou shalt stop trying to make Jesus cool. Or, to put it in Millennial-ese, #StoptheBibleemoji.

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25 responses to “Why Churches Should Stop Pandering to Millennials

  1. Woo-hoo! So true!!

    Some churches mistake being impactful with being relevant. Others think being trendy will draw them in.

    Scriptures make it plain that if God is lifted up, He does the drawing- not the music ministry.

    It’s what’s INSIDE that keeps them in and stuff on the outside that tends to make folks clear out.

    1. Well stated, it’s not being “trendy” or “chic” or (get ready, the big buzzword) ..RELEVANT. Or…how cool the pastor looks preaching in jeans with shirttails hanging out(looks like a bum), how AWESOME the ‘yute’ pastor is with an arm load of “tats”and sprinkling his talk with a little “salty language”, or how one can order a pizza to take out on the way home(for Real, seen just about all ,folks).

      Makes me wanna barf, seriously …


  2. As Chesterton (I think) said, the more up-to-date something is, the sooner it is outdated. I remember the “folk mass” of my youth, and how patronizing I found it even as a teenager.

    1. Many churches have separate ‘worship’ services – “traditional” & “contemporary” … yet , how much more “traditional” can one get than the Word of God? Something to ponder….


  3. The emoji Bible fails with” At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”

  4. It’s because millenials are famous for their love of retro & my goodness – most evangelical Christians no longer use the KJV! Even the extreme far right ones like McArther at very least use the NKJV.

    1. Because the KJV is better than other versions? Are you familiar with the discussion of manuscript traditions? Can you tell me why the KJV should be the standard by which every Bible should be held accountable?

      1. You’ve misunderstood me. The point I am trying to make is that the KJV is seldom used by evangelical Christians.

  5. Don’t wish to sound sanctimonious but been saying this for years: In reaching out to millennials/the younger generation or anyone for that matter, Pastors simply should preach “Thus saith the Lord” and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, whether it’s convicting, consoling or saving. No gimmicks are needed to share the Gospel with anyone. I dare say Christianity is fast becoming watered down to suit the palate of the lost and those whom the Holy Scriptures refer to as having “itchy ears.”

    1. A big “Amen!” to that ,bro – I never thought any of the great awakenings of old needed to be “trendy” or “chic” ,either…


  6. Praise God! I want to remind everyone the Church is STRONG, unfortunately most of the buildings that call themselves churches are filled with dead men’s bones and wolves in pulpits that devour the sheep. Never fear, Christ is taking many of the Gen x and Milenials and making a strong chord to whip these wicked men out of His church.
    We are so fortunate to live in this age, where God is exposing the sins of the world ( judgment begins in the house of the Lord, causing repentance in some) We will actually be able to stand for Christ at a cost, which buys the imperishable.

  7. I appreciate this article and it made several good points. But I just want to add another perspective. For some millenials (and perhaps for some who are older and don’t necessarily fall into that category but for whom this article might still apply) the stained glass windows and tradition are unfamiliar, weird, and possibly even scary. The significance of being able to walk into a church and not feel like you are on anothet planet, or being able to read a Bible and actually understand what one is reading cannot be underestimated.

    I didn’t grow up going to church, and if the only options available to me for exploring church were places with rituals that I didn’t understand, formal music that didn’t resonate with me, and formal attire, it’s likely I might not be a Christian today. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable learning more about it.

    I get what you mean about churches sometimes (maybe often?) trying to hard and it seeming inauthentic. (The emoji thing seems a bit much.) But for people who don’t have a church background, these things remove the fear factor enough for me to identify with what I am learning. I think there needs to be a balance between offering some milennials the simplicity and tradition they might seek, perhaps as a refuge from a busy, tech-heavy life, and offering people who need to feel at home in a church setting places to do just that.

    1. “The significance of being able to walk into a church and not feel like you are on anothet planet…”

      You are… You are crossing a plane from the common to the holy; from the profane to the sacred.

      The holiness of God is offensive, scary, and intimidating to those who are still at enmity with Him. Even for the regenerate, our sins still cause us discomfort for a moment when we enter sacred places, but it is there, where we encounter the holiness of God, that we also encounter His grace and peace.

      If you require the church to not be the church and to pander to the ways of the world in order to make people “feel comfortable,” then the church isn’t doing its job.

      1. “Church not to be church?” What a ridiculous notion. Because stained glass windows and a Eurocentric translation of the Bible is the “right” way to “be church” according to you? By those ridiculous standards, churches in developing nations must not be “real” church because they operate differently? Or people who don’t come from a Christian nor a Western background shouldn’t bother to think about becoming a Christian if those trappings don’t appeal to them?

        I thought the “sacred” part was the relationship with Jesus and following the Word of God. Where in Bible did Jesus, who was a Jew, tell us to revere stained glass and the interior decor common to traditional American churches?

        The holiness of God is NOT scary. The contrived, man-made rituals and lingo of “Christians” is what’s scary. As is responses like yours.

      2. “The holiness of God is offensive, scary, and intimidating to those who are still at enmity with Him. Even for the regenerate, our sins still cause us discomfort for a moment when we enter sacred places, but it is there, where we encounter the holiness of God, that we also encounter His grace and peace.”

        You are MISTAKENLY assuming one is uncomfortable because they are “in emnity with Him” and “sinning.” Uh…nope, sir. I don’t, and didn’t, live a “profane” existence. My discomfort had nothing to do with “sinning,”
        sorry. It had to do with barriers that have absolutely NOTHING to do with accepting and living for Christ. Period. You can have stained glass, an organ, and a stuffy environment in a brothel; that doesn’t make a place “holy” and “sacred.”

  8. I remember when the churches in my area started “adapting” to young people in the ’70s. Tambourines and guitars instead of the organ, “hip” pastors and language.

    It did nothing but drive young people away. The author is exactly right – people (young and old) expect to be in a church when they go to a church. The language and setting are timeless, and that’s part of the draw.

    Beyond that, there’s nothing less cool than your parents’ generation adopting your mannerisms.

  9. Thank you Julia – as an older evangelical, I think a simple appeal to Matthew 4:19 and the promise of a faithful Savior who will transform your life should be sufficient. It worked in Jesus’s day, my day and works every day!

  10. This is just an appeal to the particular style of church Julia happens to like. If we want to be traditional, why just stop at stained glass and organs? Why not go back to worship as it was in ancient Rome? Or go the full baroque, heavy on the incense? Or hey, let’s bring back the hair shirt and self flagellation — that’s old school, baby!

    While it’s great some people like the style of worship as it was most common 50 years ago in America — it’s just style. There are many ways to practice Christianity and they don’t all involve stained glass.

  11. Some great comments here.

    All I know is what God Himself says. The book of Hebrews strongly condemns any return to old testament trappings as that is a rejection of the better way of Christ. What I or you think or prefer has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Christians have been bought with a price and are therefore no longer their own- they are owned by God. All that matters is Thy will be done from now on.

    Hebrews states that Christ will shake everything that can be shaken to prove its origin and worth. It is necessary that everything built my men in the name of religion be done away with and that includes all institutional religion and every facet of old testament custom and ritual they contain such as, (special meeting places, special leaders, men orchestrating events, titled professionals, a tithing system of giving, special days and seasons, special garments and a hundred other things must go). NONE of these are now, or were ever a part of New Testament Christianity.

    Be wise people and follow Jesus alone. He will lead you to himself, not to everything religious men tell you and build upon this earth. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world- it can’t be built with bricks.

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