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Best Practices for Leading and Motivating Millennial Church Staff

Without a doubt, the number one question I get asked as I travel the world helping churches is, “So what’s going on out there?” In other words, what are other church leaders doing, and what can I learn from them?

A key focus I now encounter, with some frequency, is a commitment to building staff culture among Millennials. An important reality to recognize is that if your church staff isn’t already made up mostly of this young and energetic generation, it soon will be. Many Baby Boomers have reached (or soon will reach) retirement age and, since the generation that follows just isn’t all that big, we can’t look to them to fill the gap.  

Millennials (called the “New Baby Boom”) make up the single largest sector of the US labor market. Their surge into the workplace is real and inevitable. Millennials are the workforce of our future, for both the corporate and ministry worlds—and the smartest church leaders I know are highly focused on figuring out how to recruit, motivate, and retain this generation.

Among the churches that I see doing a particularly effective job of leading and motivating Millennials, I have noticed three significant trends:  

1. They preach vision more than ever

Millennials are drawn to causes; they care about what they are doing more than they care what they are paid to do it or how great the profits of their employer are. In fact, I’ve read many studies noting that companies who recruit this generation do well to focus on cause over P&L.

I’ve seen this trend exemplified by churches like Life.Church (yes, they rebranded LifeChurch.tv). There, the leadership team (and particularly Pastor Craig Groeschel) refuses to talk about attendance and, in fact, doesn’t even participate in the Outreach 100 survey. Instead, they talk about cause—and they dream bigger than anyone or any institution that I know. The idea of keeping vision front and center in all you do is not a new one, of course, but I believe it has become more important than ever.

2. They realize that Millennials will likely not stay long

Corporations are already attuned to the fact that people no longer dedicate their entire careers to a single employer; the days when a person worked for the same company for 25-35 years are over. In a recent Boston Globe article, Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said the average worker today changes jobs 11 times between the ages of 18 and 45, and Millennials are likely to make those changes—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—even more frequently. It goes beyond just shifting jobs—Millennials change their careers. Though I predict this will be less often true for those whose careers are dedicated to churches, it will remain a factor that should be acknowledged.

One way that I see great churches addressing this is through the creation of “great leadership pipelines.” For instance, Church of the Highlands in Birmingham has a terrific internship program that has now become an accredited college, Highlands College. As a result, the church cultivates a leadership pipeline of hundreds of college-age students from which they can draw.

That kind of pipeline won’t solve every staffing problem, but it does prepare for the day that the 28-year-old on staff leaves to do something else.

3. They spend crazy amounts of time building and maintaining team culture

Millennials will happily work overtime if the culture of their workplace is a good one. They will take a pay cut to work in a place where the team culture and values align with what they want in a job. With this in mind, some of the most successful churches focus intently on enhancing their team culture to make it better than ever. Fun staff events, flexible hours, great benefits, autonomy, and a laid-back work atmosphere are becoming more and more important to this cause-driven generation. Churches that can offer up this type of culture will have no problem recruiting purpose-driven, creative, and energetic Millennials to join their staff.

Recruit, lead, and motivate Millennials well, and you will have a strong church staff team. Guaranteed.