Church, Millennials Don’t Trust You
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs
A recent Barna Group survey observed the following traits among Millennials:
The only piece of information a sizeable majority of Millennials is comfortable sharing with a church is their first name (82%). Only half are willing to give their last names (53%). Just one-third are comfortable sharing their email address (33%). That means two out of three young-adult visitors do not want churches to have that information.
Only one in five Millennials are comfortable handing over their physical address (19%), and even fewer their phone number (12%). A mere 6% are willing to grant access on social media, such as friending on Facebook or following on Twitter or Instagram.
About one in six Millennials would rather not share anything (15%). Among non-Christian young adults, it’s more than one in four (28%).
Surprisingly, this is among all Millennials, both those who already regularly attend a local church and those who do not. Bottom line: Millennials don’t trust churches.
The survey captures the problem, but leaves two concerns: What is the source of this distrust and what can be done to improve the situation?
The Sources of Distrust
The source of broken trust among Millennials is likely from multiple sources. First, American Millennials are less likely to regularly attend church than previous generations (The Barna Group article notes fewer than half of Millennials have attended church in the past six months.). In short, if a person does not know you, he or she is very unlikely to trust you.
Second, the church’s negative publicity continues to increase. From pastoral immorality, to church financial mismanagement, headlines of clergy abuse, and an overall judgmental view of the average church, it’s no wonder younger Americans fear sharing personal information with a new church. It is not only a trust issue, but also a safety issue.
Third, an increasing number of people value their privacy. This is true online and offline. We don’t want every person to know our home address or cell phone number. Spam, home break-ins, identity theft, and other cultural trends have led people to make major changes regarding how willing they are to share personal information.
Connecting with Millennials in the Local Church
How, then, can a local church help build trust with younger attendees? First, offer community before asking for a commitment. Many young people have hundreds of friends on social media, but very few real relationships. Further, the dysfunctional American family has given young adults very few role models, mentors, or relational stability. Give friendship first. Once trust has been developed, a person will usually gladly share appropriate contact information on a personal, as-needed basis.
Second, stop expecting new people to complete your visitor forms. Yes, new people want to learn more about your church, but they aren’t ready to be added to a newsletter or have a church leader show up at their door. Also, your guest forms should include a statement that private information is kept private. Of course, you have to keep it private, too!
Third, expect a longer period of time to connect with Millennials. Many Millennials are new to church or have not attended for a long time. Don’t ask them to sign a card or make a major commitment without first offering friendship and time for the new person to build trust. The good news is that once a Millennial decides to get involved, involvement levels tend to be very high. Your longer-term investment could eventually lead to a younger church member who brings a tremendous level of commitment and giftedness to meet the needs of your church and community.
Yes, Millennials have trust issues with churches. However, this can be overcome through a commitment to friendship and earning trust over time. Rather than dismiss the trust issues of the Millennial generation, we can seek to better reach out and improve relationships with those who deeply matter to God and to us (Matthew 22:37-40).