Millennials. They’re all the rage right now. Quite literally, actually. A simple google search will return hundreds of articles offering tips and solutions to the frustrations of managing Millennials. Millennials are now the largest living generation, exceeding even Baby Boomers. They are also the largest group in the workplace (1). Unfortunately, though, Millennials’ have been characterized as lazy and entitled. Additionally, they have been named the “trophy generation” after the idea that Millennials have been shaped without learning what it takes to earn a trophy based on merit rather than participation.
There are positive generalizations about Millennials as well. Millennials are known to bring to the workplace a belief that anything is possible, that collaboration works, and that social change is important (2). However, despite their eager desire to change the world through the workplace, Millennials are the smallest group of church attenders (3). Only 27% of millennials attend weekly church services (4).
So, why are Millennials uninterested in church? For those that are, how can they be led and supported? Well, just as these labels and facts cannot speak for every Millennial, neither can I. I will, though, share what I have felt and sensed from my peers, and offer what I believe to be helpful insights.
Insight #1: Millennials hold a high value for work-life balance.
Are there lazy and entitled Millennials that expect to receive a medal by walking through the door? Of course. I imagine there are those in every generation. It may be that there are more in this generation in particular, but in any case, it’s important to recognize that a lack of willingness to meet certain work expectations doesn’t always equate to laziness. We’ve watched as our own parents, pastors, and other leaders from older generations have worked hard at the expense of time with family or community. The common model of a lead pastor working 70+ hours a week does not appeal to us. Instead, Millennials favor collaborative leadership and shared opportunity amongst lay leaders. In many ways, that is why Millennials have also been labeled very entrepreneurial (5). We look for other options on how to do life, ministry, and family. This may also be why many Millennials have yet to get married or have children (6).
Insight #2: Millennials notice when people are marginalized, overlooked, or stifled.
Let’s unpack the “trophy generation” label a bit more. Again, are there ill-prepared Millennials that do not know how to handle rejection or challenge? Of course. This is common for young people starting out. It’s important that we grow and take responsibility for the positions we aspire to. However, whether the idea that most Millennials are shaped with an “everybody wins” mentality is true or not, this mindset has much to offer the church. In the Kingdom, all are offered the choice to follow Jesus and experience the freedom and satisfaction of relationship with Him. It’s not a win-lose, right or wrong, in-or out dynamic. It’s a loved or unloved issue. Millennials are the most diverse generation yet (7). When Millennials come to church and do not see the diversity and acceptance that we’ve grown up seeing in our classrooms, workplaces, and homes, we feel misplaced. We’re looking for a place to belong, a place where we can bring our friends and know they’ll be accepted.
Insight #3: Millennials look for “the man behind the curtain”.
(Hopefully we all got the Wizard of Oz reference.) What I mean by this is that Millennials crave authenticity. We’re not interested in facades, smoke and mirrors, or the workplace face. Another word for authenticity is integrity, someone that holds the same level of character in any given context. This, unfortunately, is something the church has not been known for in recent years. A study by the Pew Research Center said that in 2005, 73% of Millennials thought that the church had a positive impact on the country. In 2010, the study showed, that only 55% of Millennials thought this way (8). For Millennials, orthodoxy is important, but it isn’t enough. Ours heads will turn when we see acts of genuine compassion outside church walls. We are far more inclined to follow someone who serves the poor and the marginalized than someone who only tells us how Jesus used to.
Insight #4: Millennials dream big.
Millennials have seen things that were formerly impossible become reality faster and more frequently than any other generation. We’ve seen the decline of tapes, floppy discs, VHS’s, beepers, house phones, bookstores, and the like. With unlimited access to information, we are able to see the successes of people all over the world. When we hear “It can’t be done” or “It doesn’t work like that”, we can usually point to an example where it already does. We’re idealistic, and we’re hopeful about the future. We do not buy the idea that the world is dark and getting worse. Millennials see a bright future. We want to be part of the solution, and we’ve got ideas for how to do it.
To summarize, Millennials are hungry for change (and food, you can’t go wrong with giving us food), but we’re not looking to do it alone. Millennials want to be heard by and to partner with older generations. We want opportunity, we want to spread our wings, and we want to be taken seriously. We can’t do that without support and a hand to help us back up when we fall. We don’t need the trophy, we’d be happy with the chance to participate. Lend us your ear, and we’ll lend you our hearts.