In 2016–2017 LCMS Youth Ministry conducted several small research projects, which left lingering questions about Millennials in our church body. This research showed that Millennials were baptized in smaller numbers than previous generations, despite an increase in infant births nationwide. Zero junior confirmations were reported by 50-65% of congregations in at least one year of the 2012–2014 reporting cycle. The lower numbers of Millennials found in LCMS congregations began with retention issues in the Baby Boom Generation. Additionally, a 2016 survey of Young Adult Volunteers at the LCMS Youth Gathering raised questions about what factors may play into the retention of young people in the LCMS. Our 2017 research sought to answer some of these questions and allowed us to provide practical ministry suggestions for congregations, church leaders and young adults.
Read the full study and our conclusions in our book Relationships Count available for free from Concordia Publishing House. Click the link here.
Goals for Study
- Collect data specific to young adults who grew up in the LCMS, regardless of their current faith affiliation, focusing on their home congregation, family, current beliefs and what influences their relationship with the church.
- Compare research finding from a specifically LCMS perspective with findings with studies in broader American Christianity (Fuller Youth Institute, National Study of Youth and Religion, LifeWay, etc.).
- Initiate a conversation in the Church about the care for the Millennial Generation. Repent where needed, correct, and capitalize on our strengths to serve Generation Z and future generations.
For our first phase of research, 1800 congregations were included in a random sample with a ratio designed to reflect the size and location of the LCMS overall. Of those surveyed, 184 congregations responded, usually through a pastor or DCE. The survey contained questions about the congregation and specifically the confirmation classes of 2004–2006. Assuming the standard confirmation age of 12–14, these young people would now be in their mid-twenties and thirties. Since many pastors or DCEs were not at the congregation during those years, respondents were encouraged to recruit help from staff or parents who might know more about these young people.
In our second phase of research, we conducted an online survey of young adults. A total of 2,046 young adults, with an average age of 24, took the survey. The survey took 15-20 minutes to complete and asked young adults about their life, current faith practices and theology. The questions were designed to apply to both active LCMS members and those who have distanced themselves from the church. The only distinction between the questions for these groups was that those who were inactive or who had left the church were given additional short answer questions.
In our third phase of research, we conducted nine 90-minute focus groups. These focus groups addressed issues of welcoming, leadership, support and diversity. The invitation for attending the focus groups was offered to both active LCMS young adults and those who had left the LCMS. Only those currently active in the LCMS chose to attend. The focus group questions helped give definition and nuance to many data points seen in the first two phases of research.
The specific reports of the research are linked below. Looking for a place to start? Read the “Executive Summary” for an overview and summary of the research and findings.
Kevin Borchers, DCE, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of Christian Education – Concordia University, Chicago
Ryan Curnutt – Senior Research Analyst – LCMS Research Services
Rev. Mark Kiessling – Director – LCMS Youth Ministry – LCMS Office of National Mission
Dave Rueter, DCE, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of Christian Education – Concordia University, Irvine
Julianna Shults, DCE – Program Manager – LCMS Youth Ministry – LCMS Office of National Mission