FRESNO — The Millennial Generation has been the most dissected, discussed and described generation in history. They were called “the next great generation” even before many of them were born. Today, they are referred to as everything from the generation of heroes to the worst generation ever.
While there is no authority on the definition of generational cohorts, Millennials generally are described as comprising those born between 1982 and 2001. In 2017, they range from 16 to 35. This is also the generation that is most conspicuously absent from too many churches. Their absence during their time as young adults robs churches of energy, vitality and leadership that is changing the way the secular world thinks, works and lives.
The key to reaching any people group is understanding who they are. The first thing to know is that Millennials don’t like being classified.
While one can describe the group as a whole, individuals will differ in some areas. While they willingly identify as Millennials, they do not want to be lumped together. No one does. Avoid communicating that they are important or valued simply because they are Millennials. Relate to them as individuals.
Key characteristics of Millennials
Web Connected: The Internet has been their most pervasive influence. They will seldom disconnect from the online world. They prefer electronic communication with text, group chats and online messaging services; they use email when necessary; facebook is for general communication or with parents and grandparents.
Value Community, Not Geography: Community is important, but it is not location-based. They form communities according to need, style, culture and experience and do it over a multitude of electronic media.
Participatory: Millennials are the first generation not needing an authority figure to access information — they have always been able to fact-check professors, government officials and pastors (sometimes during the sermon!). Consequently, they place much less value on authorities based on age, education or experience.
Co-Creative: Because of their participatory nature they like to create as part of a team. Wikipedia, one of many “wiki” or co-creative outlets, is a great example. It draws on their participatory and respect-based natures.
Expect Respect and Value: Millennials have been protected and valued all their lives. “Baby On Board” signs and camcorders became popular in 1982, the first year of the Millennial cohort. Parents displayed their children as badges of honor. Culture has groomed them to believe they are as important as anyone else and their opinions and actions are valuable.
Entrepreneurial: Millennials want to be trailblazers, to create new forms and systems. They want to “fix” the problems they see in the world, including what they perceive as problems in the church.
Millennial Christian leaders want to create a new church that is relevant for the post-Christian era.
Jaded and Difficult to Impress: They have seen it all either in person or vicariously through the Internet. They are not impressed with most things a church is able to do. They can find “bigger and better” somewhere else.
Grew Up in a Post-Christian Culture: Their normal: plurality of religion, gender fluidity, intolerance of intolerance, irrelevance of religion. There is seldom one correct answer. As a result, most Millennials have no thoughts or feelings toward church or traditional faith. Those who do more often have negative views; most often cited are the church’s perceived stance on homosexuality, politics and women.
Multicultural and Multigenerational: Millennials haven’t taken the attitude of “never trust anyone over 30.” They recognize the value of previous generations and desire connection with other ages and cultures.
Outwardly Focused: Baby Boomers tended to be inward. Millennials want to make a difference in the world. They are more socially conscious, concerned about the environment and willing to sacrifice for the greater good. They expect their leaders and institutions to do the same.
What can churches do to reach them?
mentoring opportunities. Millennials want
to engage with older generations and learn from them, but they also want to help older generations learn from them.
It is said only 4 percent of Millennials have a saving relationship with Christ. That’s not a problem — it’s an opportunity. If churches can figure out how to communicate gospel truth to this generation, Millennials are likely to respond to its power as an avenue for getting involved, making a difference and fulfilling their potential as individuals and as a generation.
(Watts currently is California Southern Baptist Convention pastoral care & family specialist. Prior to that he led CSBC student ministry for many years.)