As part of a video series called "Five Essential Conversations About Ministry to the Next Generation", President David Kinnaman and Director of Insights Mark Matlock of Barna research group sat down to discuss recent research showing a disproportionate drop in online worship service attendance for Millennials.
Kinnaman stated that he and Matlock aimed to help equip church leaders to "think differently and do differently" when it comes to getting teenagers and especially young adults involved.
according to a survey conducted from late April to May of this year, half of practicing Christian Millennials (50%) say they are not viewing services online. The report also shows that percentages of Gen X and Boomers who have stopped attending online services (35% Gen X, 26% Boomers) are lower than for their younger counterparts, but still makes clear the enormous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 1 in 3 practicing Christians reported they were no longer viewing services online.
Kinnaman started the dialogue by asking Matlock why there is a problem with Millennial attendance and how it can be solved.
Matlock began by hypothesizing that because the younger generation is "tech-savvy", if the service is not done well or "even done too well", then their engagement will suffer the greatest. Matlock then added that "they don't want to be consumers, they want to contribute," while a lot of online services are geared toward consumption.
"If you can do it by yourself it probably isn't the church," Matlock said. He noted that despite this, churches are pushing out the content that we can indeed do by ourselves. Matlock continued, saying he found "three lenses we need to think through when we want to really engage with people online."
Matlock recommended that pastors consider value, engagement, and time and space when designing and implementing online services and other events. For value, he said that pastors should consider when certain things, like singing worship songs, are not as valuable online as they are in person. For engagement, Matlock challenged church leaders to think about how they can pull people into the experience, asking viewers, "How are we pushing people to interact and provide responses?"
Finally, Matlock said that church leaders should remember the differences between how time passes online and in person, noting that "people lose attention about 7 minutes into something online."
Kinnaman spoke about the difficulty of creating a proper environment online, remarking that people "want to actually be with other people, they want to experience a worshipful environment."
He observed that online services were never meant to be the most optimal way to experience things. Before the pandemic, recorded services were only used to make up for missed in-person services, but now it's the primary way we experience church. Both Kinnaman and Matlock provided anecdotes of churchgoers challenging themselves to make online activities more impactful. Matlock described a "connected experience" with kids being delivered kits with activities and opening them all at the same time online. Kinnaman described a candle-lighting ceremony designed by a friend of his, in which at the beginning of her services church members commit to "leaving what we were doing and entering a sacred time."
Matlock ended by saying that to make online services worthwhile for Millennials "you really have to think differently."