Millennials, the Church and the Great Divergence
I recently participated in a conference call that hosted two young technical arts directors. The topic of conversation was the Millennial generation and how to reach them and how to best engage and utilize them in volunteer positions.
I listened to these two young leaders, both from the Gen-Y “Millennial” generation and realized just how much hope there is to be found in the Millennials one day leading the church. Having just missed being part of the Millennial generation on some charts, I personally feel that I can identify with many Millennials in their quest to be part of something much larger than themselves. I pray that the writing below will prompt a deep discussion, deep soul-searching and a new sense of purpose in each of us.
The Millennial generation birth dates are dated as follows:
1976 - 1999 by Mobilize.org
1977 - 1994 by MetLife
1977 - 1995 by Nielsen
The majority of people typically consider Millennials to be born in the early 80’s to mid 90’s. They are currently roughly 74.5 million strong, having just overtaken the Baby Boomers as the largest generation. To contrast that, Gen-X will not overtake Boomers until 2028.
Many believe the Millennial generation to be the “couch” generation - the generation that refuses to adhere to societal norms of work, paying bills and living. A generation that is perceived as lazy, lackadaisical and detached from reality. They are often said to be “entitled”, “spoiled” and “self-absorbed.” I would argue those traits can and do exist in every generation.
Further, in 2013 and 2015, Pew Research surveyed Millennials and found that 84% favored legalizing marijuana and most dislike the term “Millennials” as a generational moniker.
But there is great hope as well. Most predict an emerging similarity to the G.I. Generation with a strong sense of community both at the local and global level. In March 2014, Pew Research issued a report that stated Millennials are “detached from institutions and are more networked with friends.” Additionally, this report found that, “Millennials are somewhat more upbeat about the future of America with 49% of them saying the country’s best years are ahead, even though they are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment.”
Millennials and the Workplace:
Millennials prefer a flat corporate level as they have a heavy emphasis on work/life balance and a greater social consciousness. In 2010, the Journal of Business and Psychology found that Millennials expect close relationships and frequent feedback from their supervisors. Millennials often associate job satisfaction with free-flow information, strong connectivity to supervisors and more immediate feedback on their performance.
Often times, older managers identify Millennials as their most attention-seeking employees and present a sense of discontentment and unhappiness in the constant interactions and workings of the day.
Understanding it all:
Some will argue that a lot of these traits can be linked to the fact that Millennials entered the education system on the cusp of great educational reform. With these reforms, such as “No Child Left Behind,” Millennials have increasingly sought the aid of mentors and advisers, leading to 66% of Millennials seeking a flat work environment.
The Brain Drain Study stated that nearly 9 out of 10 Millennials place an importance on work-life balance, with additional surveys demonstrating their generation to favor familial over corporate values - an apparent work-life balance that contrasts Boomers work-centric attitudes.
Moving on - the divergence:
So, with all of this data, what are we to make of the Millennial generation? How can we, as the church, reach this generation? After-all, Millennials are exiting the church in droves right?
Do you realize that right now, there are more generations alive than in any previous recent years. Our churches are currently made up of 5-6 generations, with two of those generations being the largest generations in their own respective right and time. What are we to do to effectively reach this broad range of people? How do we effectively be the “church” with such vast differences of attitude and culture generationally?
I would argue its a culture driven thing. We as the church, must unite our attitudes, minds and thought processes to a common culture that drives our every action and belief. These must align to scripture and God’s direction, but they must be shaken out and instilled into the very fabric of the church.
Millennials have forced us all to take a deeper introspective look at ourselves, which I honestly, think is a great thing! We have essentially created the things we hate in Millennials. With the participation trophies, with constant feedback from likes on social media, to constant contact with society on a global level via the internet, we have created this dramatic shift towards this perceived ineptitude of the Millennial generation. Honestly though, what generation in history has been more equipped and empowered to reach the world than the Millennial generation? With the technology available and the tools in the arsenal, the potential to set the world ablaze is immense. Whether it be ablaze for Christ or ablaze in utter chaos, the power, literally in their hands, is so much greater than anyone has had previously.
The typical Millennial is dedicated to being part of something greater than themselves. They deeply desire to feel accepted and loved. They deeply desire to be connected to their families, friends and society on a regional and global level. Connection is a huge part of the make-up of the Millennial. We as the church must get better at connecting people. We must learn to connect our people generationally and interweave them together. The vast wisdom of the older generations MUST be trickled down to the Millennials who not only need it, but “CRAVE” it. Historically, many generations have been quick to say, “those kids don’t listen to me, they don’t do things the way that I want them to.” The truth is, that neither do the Millennials, but the stark difference is that Millennials seek out feedback and input. They want that constant “propping up” so-to-speak. If we, as the church, don’t harness this NOW, we are going to miss capturing the greatest momentum for evangelism the world has likely seen.
So, with all of this, we begin to see a potential. A culture that says, “we will reach, we will train up, we will build up, and we will send out” is likely the direction God has been driving the capital “C” church towards. If we will united our people in that culture, the church would likely see an increase that no one has ever seen or possibly even imagined.
Some keys thoughts to think about:
What if your church was better at equipping the older generations to train up the younger? What would that look like for you?
What if your church was less vocal about the perceived negative qualities of the Millennial and more vocal at the immense capabilities and skills in their hands?
Millennials are said to seek a more flat work environment. How can your church flatten out and give voice to Millennials?
How can you empower Millennials? Empower them to engage and be part of something that is greater than themselves?
Do you have a culture of serving? How are you communicating the need to serve the body and the church? It's certainly NOT by preaching a message every few years on serving. It is by driving home a weekly, daily, hourly message that serving is not only critical to the church, but critical to each of our own personal development and maturity. Where are you missing the opportunities to communicate and cast vision of serving?
How do you currently lead your Millennial staff and volunteers?
* Are you engaging them in a manner than is fun and less boring?
* Are you providing frequent feedback and input?
* Are you rewarding the win?
* Or, in your own selfish desires, are you constantly avoiding them?
* Are you communicating, frequently, clearly and often? If not, how to you move towards that model?
* Are you building a culture that allows the best idea to win - even if it comes from a “less senior” member
of your team?
* Do your people, as a whole, feel empowered to act, do and be?
* If you have 3-5 people making all of the decisions, how do you you allow input from others into those decisions?
* If you are the senior pastor and “you” are making all of the decisions - stop that NOW! It isn’t healthy for
you or your church.
The divergence comes when we, as the church, learn to harness this incredible gift we are currently in possession of. We want to separate from the world and be about the Father’s work - right? Well doing so will require harnessing the incredible potential that resides in the vast generations sitting in our churches today. We have been screaming for the Millennial to get off of the couch, out of the house and get to work, but we have not realized they are large-in-part waiting on us to direct their paths. I believe that once directed and set out, they will take this torch and run with it to the infinite ends of the earth. They are uniquely equipped to do so and with all of that, I find great hope for the coming state of the church. But, what if we don’t act, what if we don’t engage them?
I am more convinced than ever before, that the local church is the hope of the world. We are God’s people, set apart to be His ambassadors to the world. We are gifted, talented, equipped and dedicated. We are anointed and guided, directed and propelled by the Holy Spirit to bring people to Christ, to reach those seeking Him and to connect those that are afloat in the midst of life on the solid ground of Christ. The Millennial can and will play a huge role in the coming days of the church. We just need to be more effective at utilizing them - if we don’t, the millennial generation and it’s incredible capabilities might be lost to the world.
My pastor, Craig Groeschel has often said, “If we want to reach people that no one else is reaching, we must do things that no one else is doing.” What are you doing that no one else is doing? But more importantly, what are you doing that is seeing results that no one else is seeing? How are you measuring the efforts of your church? Is your church consistently seeing an influx of 50 somethings or are you seeing an influx of 20 somethings? Are you seeing a great divide in generational attendance or are things fairly even? What is the measure that indicates “the win” for your church and team? If you haven’t identified “the win,” it’s time to do so and do that today!
In conclusion, let me leave you with the lyrics of my friend Al Denson in his song, “Be the One.”
In a world full of broken dreams
Where the truth is hard to find
For every promise that is kept
There are many left behind
Though it seems that nobody cares
It still matters what you do
Cause there's a difference you can make
But the choice is up to you
Will you be the one
To answer to His call
Will you stand
When those around you fall
Will you be the one
To take His light
Into a darkened world
Tell me will you be the one
Oh sometimes it's hard to know
Who is right and what is wrong
And where are you supposed to stand
When the battle lines are drawn
There's a voice that is calling out
For someone who’s not afraid
To be a beacon in the night
To a world that's lost it's way
There are still some battles
That I must fight from day to day
Yet the Lord provides the power
For me to stand and say
Just because I know many of us will enjoy a look at the "mullet," here's the video of the song....