As a leader, there are certain things you sense before you see. Don’t miss those two words: sense and see. As a leader, you’ll begin to sense things under the surface: restlessness, discontentment…something wrong. You’ll see team members who are disconnecting at some level; you’ll sense that your team has lost their fizz. You’ll realize the excitement in your organization is gone.
You’ll come to the realization that you need to make some changes, even if you can’t yet put your finger on what they need to be. You sense it. Your responsibility, then, is to address the problems you sense when you sense them: not put it off until you see evidence of them.
Most of us wait to make changes until we you see the issue come to a head. The challenge with that strategy is that, by the time you see these problems, it’s often too late. All you can do at that point is put on the brakes, try to explain it away, and attempt to slow down the trajectory of your organization.
So why don’t people make changes when they’re sensing it? Firstly, because they can’t articulate what’s wrong; secondly, because we live by the notion of, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” Leaders wait for things to break so there will be evidence—everybody will say, “Yeah! We do have a problem. Let’s fix it now.”
As a leader, I’m challenging you to do the difficult but essential thing: don’t wait too long! Make the necessary changes now, before they show themselves in your organization.
- The church’s membership and attendance mix changed during the year. The common scenario is the loss of a few high-giving families replaced by newer lower-giving families. In these cases, leadership is often caught off guard because there was no corresponding attendance decline.
- The movement to digital giving has been too slow. If church leaders are not emphasizing digital giving options, there will likely come a day where giving begins to drop precipitously. Non-digital givers tend to give when they are physically present at a worship service. They often skip giving when they are not present. Digital givers are more likely to schedule their gifts on a regular schedule.
- There is a quiet protest movement in the church. I don’t like it when church members hold back giving when something does not go their way. Frankly, I would rather they go to another church they can support regularly. But financial protests are sadly common. I recently spoke to one pastor who discovered this ugly reality when the church introduced projection screens in the worship center. I am not kidding.
- There is not sufficient emphasis on encouraging people to be a part of a group. I am always amazed when I learn the giving habits of church members who are in a group versus those who are not. Those in groups often give three to five times more per capita. If the church loses its emphasis on groups even for a short season, giving can begin to suffer quickly.
- There is no clear vision. As a rule, Gen Xers and Millennials give to a mission and a vision rather than an institution. If a compelling vision is not clear, or if there are many competing visions and emphases, these younger adults may shift their giving elsewhere.
If your church has seen a significant drop in giving this year, I encourage you to have a conversation with the person who sees the giving records. While he or she may not provide names and giving amounts, that person usually knows what is taking place. But they often don’t tell unless they are asked.
Declining giving is not always a gradual phenomenon. It can often be sudden and dramatic.
You need to learn what is taking place sooner rather than later
- There are fewer of them in church than previous generations. By our estimates, only 15 percent of the Millennials are Christians. No more than 20 percent of them are attending church once a month or more. While there are many Millennials in total, only one of five is in church today.
- The Millennials’ desires for relationships are affecting the churches they choose to attend. They will only go to churches where they can easily connect with others. Unlike the Boomers, they refuse to be worship-only attendees. They desire to be in more relational settings. Churches with healthy groups will be very attractive to Millennials.
- This generation is doctrinally serious. At least the Christians among the Millennials care deeply about doctrine. More and more Millennial Christians will be in churches that are deeper in doctrine both from the preaching and within the groups of the church.
- The Millennials are intensely community focused. They are more likely to be in a church where the leadership and the congregation care about and are involved in the community they serve. They are refusing to be a part of a church that acts largely in isolation.
- This generation is already affecting the size of the worship gathering. As I noted in my earlier post, worship centers will be smaller. The Millennials are at the forefront of this facility revolution. They will eschew large worship services for more informal and smaller gatherings.
- The Millennials will check the facts of church life. When the preacher states a historical fact, many Millennials will check its historical accuracy on their smartphone within seconds. They will look at church budgets with an eye for missional impact. This generation is somewhat of a doubting generation, and they have the resources to check anything said or offered by churches.
I have said on more than one occasion the Millennial Christians, although relatively small in number, will be great in influence in American congregations. We are already seeing that reality. And from my perspective, many of the changes they are bringing to churches are healthy and exciting.
- They want to invest their lives in a community. The Millennial pastors as a whole are highly community focused. And they realize that they and their churches will not be fully embraced in a short period of time.
- They want more stability for their families. To be fair, these young leaders will not deny a call to another community or even another country if they sense God’s call in that direction. But any move has to be convincing, convicting, and compelling. I know. I moved my family four times in ministry. I am not sure I followed God as much as my own selfish ambitions.
- They don’t measure ministry success and fulfillment by numbers and size. Another caveat is in order. These Millennial pastors do desire to reach more people. They truly want to make more disciples. But their worth and esteem is not measured by “what they are running.”
- They are starting new churches. This generation is a church planting generation. Many of them desire to stay with those churches for the long haul.
- They are leading church revitalization. They are sufficiently wise to understand that the turnaround of a declining established church is a long-term endeavor. They are willing to make such commitments to win trust and lead revitalization.
As with any generation, we must be careful with generalizations. There are always exceptions and differences. But, as a rule, Millennial pastors have a much longer-term perspective on church tenure. And they see their ministries fulfilled by lives being changed and communities impacted. If the result is a larger church, they are fine with it. But numbers and size are not their measures of success, contentment, or obedience.