· A sense of community (78%) more than privacy (22%)
· A sanctuary (77%) more than an auditorium (23%)
· A classic setting (67%) more than a trendy one (33%)
· A quiet space (65%) more than a loud one (35%)
· A casual environment (65%) more than a dignified one (36%)
· A modern feel (60%) more than a traditional one (40%).
These preferences don’t necessarily mesh together. Barna summarizes it this way: “herein lies a cognitive dissonance common to the young adults interviewed in the survey. Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”
This reminds us that the reasons people have for attending church can be complex and complicated. For church leaders, it is a temptation to boil down a generation’s spiritual quest to the “one thing” that will resonate with all. If only it were so simple.
What we do know is that those who seek a church, including millennials, do so because they desire to connect with a community that welcomes them to share in the journey of faith. And it’s easy for us to forget how risky a step this can be.
When people enter a church for the first time, it can be a tense, anxiety producing moment. They are intensely searching for any clues that will help them know what kind of church it is, whether they’ll be welcome, and what is expected of them. And when those clues are absent or confusing, they probably won’t be back.
It is critical for us to examine the clues our facilities and our congregations give about who we are. Are we communicating that people are welcome where they are and for who they are? There is no one way to go about this. But we all need to ask whether the subtext of our church environs makes clear we are a place you can belong.
Michael S. Bos