Wake up, go to class, work, sleep, wake up, and start it all over again. This is a vicious cycle for college students–a cycle sprinkled with social interactions and the occasional unhealthy meal. One thing this cycle does not always account for is talking about and practicing religion. The American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2013 by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar showed that college students are becoming less affiliated with religion. While there is no one cause for this loss of religion, churches on college campuses all over the country are doing their best to rekindle the relationship between churches and Millennials.
Josh Holowell is one person working to rekindle that relationship. Holowell spent the years 2005 to 2009 at Ball State University working with Campus Crusade for Christ, and he currently works to establish new churches at New Life Presbyterian Church.
“Our biggest goal is to reach out to people who aren’t connected to church. We are about people who don’t necessarily know who Jesus is and what he’s done,” Holowell said. He said he believes this is the goal of Christians.
In an effort to spread Jesus’ message, Holowell is trying to start a church in downtown Muncie to reconnect college students to Jesus. To reach out to young people, he said he has found it most effective to build a relationship with them instead of going by a specific strategy. “The less we focus on a strategy and more on Jesus’ message, the better. Its the idea that we aren’t trying to prove his existence. You don’t defend a lion, a lion can defend himself.”
He said this laidback attitude accompanied with showing students what they can gain from practicing faith has proven to be the most effective. Still, efforts to make churches more appealing to young adults may be futile.
Millennials don’t want trendy, they want simple.
The majority of Millennials prefer a classic sanctuary to a more modern house of worship. More than 67 percent of Millennials said they prefered a classic sanctuary in a survey by Barna Group, a research company that looks into how culture and religion intersect. Barna Group stated that many churches today are intentionally created to not look like like churches of the past. Many modern churches, like mega churches, which have auditoriums, coffee shops, and game rooms, may not fit the more genuine church experience Millennials prefer.
“Our generation wants real people. When a church puts up a front, our generation finds it transparent. They don’t want everyone to smile and act like everything’s great,” said student Justin Chaney, 22, of Southeast Missouri State’s Campus Outreach. Chaney says this genuine interaction is his organization’s biggest way to connect to students.
The goal is to keep the church authentic, according to Chaney. “We aren’t trying to sell them something. They want to know that we don’t have everything figured out. They want to think, ‘I can rely on them and the Lord.’”
Ball State’s on-campus ministry, Revolution, provides a similar experience for its members. Neil Kring, a pastor at Revolution, says that they also preach sincerity. He said that Revolution’s purpose is to create a space where young people can explore spirituality in college.
Revolution’s strongest message is making the idea of religion relevant in the average young person’s life. This takes aim at religion’s current weakness: being left behind in a fast-paced, logical world. Kring says Revolution works to show schedule-driven, 20-somethings that there is not only time to worship, but the stories and teachings they will gain from it are still just as relevant as they were when they were first preached.
No matter the style of the church, Kring argues that as long as there is sincerity within their teachings and love within their atmosphere, they can both appeal to young people.
Millennials want a support system, one with real people who will help them get through their own struggles. They want a place of solace, a sanctuary where they can feel closer to God. They want to learn lessons through teachings and feel community from their fellow churchgoers.
Millennials are a generation of sincerity. They aren’t necessarily the consumers that they are portrayed as and church isn’t something they’re completely changing quite yet. Yes, they prefer casual clothes, yes they prefer a modern atmosphere, but they still cherish the quiet, calm sanctuary their parents grew up in over the large, loud auditorium many churches are changing to. The difference is that Millennials want religion to be an experience they seek out on their own, unlike any generation before them.