Rev. Dr. B Kevin Smalls
Rev. Dr. B Kevin Smalls

Many churches find creative ways to reach out to millennials. And then there is Hope UMC in Southfield, Michigan.

Once a month Hope hosts Happy Hour and invites young adults to come for music, food, drinks and what often turns into spiritual conversations.

“We bring in a DJ, have food and make some really fancy drinks – without alcohol,” said Hope pastor The Rev. B. Kevin Smalls. “We want to duplicate the Happy Hour scene for the young adults. We make it a point to be available for conversation, whatever they want to talk about. Let me tell you, I’ve had some very interesting conversations.”

We want to duplicate the Happy Hour scene for the young adults. We make it a point to be available for conversation, whatever they want to talk about.

Their unusual outreach to millennials even extends to signage inside the church building.

“We wanted to change the way we use signs,” Rev. Smalls said. “Have you ever noticed how many ‘do not’ signs there are in churches? Do not bring food into the sanctuary. Do not record the music or service. Silence your cell phones. All the while, adding at the bottom of the sign a big ‘Welcome.’”

Of course, while caring for the church property is important, Smalls believes that when people are constantly met with what not to do, it doesn’t exactly express hospitality.

They have even gone digital with many of their signage; all the better to seem welcoming to millennials.

“They have grown up with digital everything. It’s what they know; what is normal to them,” Smalls said. “So, of course, we use digital signs. Plus, they are kind of fun.”

They have grown up with digital everything. It’s what they know; what is normal to them.

Some of their discipleship strategy is more traditional, but still effective.

“I really see discipleship as a broad term,” Small said. “I understand discipleship to be how we get people up and engaged in ministry, and also how we bring people in and get them prepared to go back out.”

One foundational strategy for Hope’s discipleship is making sure the church members are prepared to accept everyone who comes in the service.

Food, family, fun, fellowship and flexible space help Hope appeal across generations.

“Not everybody looks like us,” Smalls said. “We want worship to be a great experience for everyone who comes in, no matter what.”

Smalls has three goals for everyone at his church. He wants them to: Attend worship. Attend Bible study. Get involved in some form of ministry engagement.

“We make room for people here at Hope,” he said. “We have a lot of ministries here, good ministries. But, if I have someone who comes to me and says he or she wants to do another ministry, we are open to it. Of course, the church needs to look into it, but my philosophy is if you feel led to do it, then do it.”

If Hope has a ministry motto, it might be “One is Enough.”

“If we have a new member class and only one person shows up, that’s fine. We do the class,” Smalls said. “No group is too small.”

Even if no one shows up, Smalls said they don’t see it as failure.

“We make sure we aren’t numbers driven,” he said. “If our product/experience is quality, people will benefit and love it. Numbers matter, of course, but mostly as a way to learn.”