FIRST-PERSON: Hopeful for millennials
GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) -- What is a millennial?
There are no precise dates when this generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from 1978 to the early 2000s. I was born in 1978, so I just missed the Generation-X group and barely fit into the millennials. In fact, some definitions would keep my age group out of the millennials category, but I am around true millennials all the time by speaking to high school and college students, church planters and young families on a regular basis.
In my experience with this broad and large people group, I find there are extreme differences between 34-year-olds and 17-year-olds. However, there are some common views that come to the surface in most millennials no matter their age.
This is extremely important because, as children of God, we have firsthand experience of the incredible grace of Jesus. So, we should have a never-ending drive within us to love every age group the way that He loves us, and be students of every generation in order to be faithful missionaries with the Gospel to them.
With that in mind, here are 10 common views of millennials that may help us understand this large and diverse generation:
1. Millennials don't promote ageism. People tend to think that millennials don't want to have anything to do with the older generation. However, this generation is in desperate need for older generations to invest into them. This is largely a fatherless generation. They often seek out or are more open to discipleship or mentorship than we tend to believe. But they won't know how to ask for it, so they ask you to "hang out."
2. Millennials value experience over heritage. For the most part, millennials don't value "heritage." For example, a young person is not typically going to be Southern Baptist just because his parents were. If we can't answer their "why" questions or we get defensive over their questions, we'll lose them. Be ready to answer their honest questions with love, patience and kindness. Their experience with something or someone will dictate their views more than history will.
3. Millennials are fairly non-committal. Unless it's an Apple product, millennials aren't completely committed to anything. Previous generations may have valued commitment over enjoyment by making statements such as, "I've hated my job for over 40 years but I'm committed to it." You'll probably never hear a millennial say that, however, because they tend to value enjoyment over commitment. So they may say something like, "Why be miserable for 40 years? I may make less money and move around a lot, but I certainly don't want to be miserable. Life is too short for that!" A great way to keep millennials engaged is by constantly communicating, illustrating and empowering participation in the vision and mission of the church. Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church -- if they've been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, they're the church right now. Let them have some ownership of the ministry and be patient with them when they mess up, possibly a lot.
4. Millennials mainly think about today. They often seem shortsighted. Think about it -- the defining moment of their lifetime involves the tragic events of 9/11. They saw the twin towers fall over and over again on a video screen while they were still children. It's burned into their subconscious. Because there is so much focus on today, there will be very little preparation for the future by most millennials. This is also the reason for a lot of debt with this generation. "I need money today, so I'll take out this loan and worry about how to pay for it tomorrow." There is a great opportunity for the church to utilize the urgency of each day with this generation while also discipling them in the values of planning.
5. Millennials are more globally minded. Most millennials are up to date on world news and affairs. However, they may seem to be less patriotic to the USA than previous generations. They tend to view things from a global perspective while still valuing their country. It's very possible that the Lord may accomplish the Great Commission through their interest in the nations.
6. Millennials know public shaming all too well. Public shaming once was a thing of the past but now has been revived with social media. Millennials have grown up afraid. They've felt the sting of cyber-bullying and may even have participated in viral trends. Their online persona is often as important to them as their real persona. Where we once said a photo was "A Kodak moment," we now say, "That picture is Instagram-worthy." This is an incredible opportunity for the church to teach this generation that a true identity found in Christ is better than a false identity created online.
7. Millennials see brokenness at an earlier age. They are exposed to more violence, graphic images and evil at an earlier age. Internet exposure, media coverage and broken homes are unfortunately the norm for far too many. Mass shootings are mainly a new phenomenon in their generation. This is a pornography-saturated generation -- the average age of first exposure is 11. The fastest-growing consumers of Internet pornography are girls 15–30; 90 percent of guys admit to interaction with Internet pornography and 60 percent of girls. This generation is looking for solutions at a much earlier time in their lives. They know they're broken. Thank God for the Gospel because it is mighty to save millennials. Share it with them because they're starving for it, whether they know it or not.
8. Millennials are cause-oriented. This generation wants to be a part of "doing" something. They'll want more out of their church than sitting on a pew, listening to sermons, going to potluck dinners, while waiting on the Rapture Bus to swoop down to pick them all up. They are not scared to die young; however, they are terrified to die at a ripe old age while not having done anything significant with their lives in their own eyes. They are not typically impressed by a church's size or budget. They're more interested in being noticed relationally and in what the church is doing outside the walls of the building. Sometimes you'll find a greater percentage of millennials in smaller churches or church plants because of the assumed accessibility of the leaders to cultivate a relationship.
9. Millennials are an ADHD generation. Surprising to some, they usually don't mind long sermons. The communicators most popular among millennials commonly preach 45-50-minute sermons. However, millennials have about a 7-10-minute attention span at the most. In communicating, teaching, preaching, it is a must to break up the message several times with a story, illustration or practical application. Also, teaching has to be more than relaying content. This generation is visual. If they can't see it or envision it, they have difficulty understanding it.
10. Millennials value doctrine. Mature Christ-following millennials deeply value doctrine, verse-by-verse preaching and missions. This generation seems to get weary of gimmicks and sleek presentations very quickly. The seeker-sensitive movement of their parents' generation has grown to be "old hat" for the millennials who grew up in church. In preaching, the more raw, transparent and vulnerable the communicator is, the more millennials connect. There was a time when preachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations; however, this generation wants to hear those personal stories.
Millennials are a hopeful generation, and I personally am encouraged by this. My prophetic prediction about this generation is that God will use them to further the Great Commission more than any previous generation. Even if I'm wrong, millennials nevertheless are people made in the image of God who desperately need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.