Yes, I did it. Yet another article about Millennials. It seems Millennials are one of the most analyzed generations ever. And I choose those words carefully. Being a Millennial can kind of feel like being part of a grade school insect collection. You know what I’m talking about. That dreaded project where parents– oops, I mean, um, students– spend hours upon hours gathering, analyzing, and neatly pinning their prize specimens on display for all to view. That’s kind of how it feels to be a Millennial, by “that” I mean being a bug in the collection. I have read countless articles, listened to countless conversations, and endured countless videos/public commentaries/social media posts all focused on my generation.
I have to admit, I went through a phase where I was so fed up with all of it I just wanted to run from the room with my arms flailing if someone so much as said “Millen…” But I think I’ve come to terms with it. And, being a Millennial, I think a brief blog may encourage some of my generational counterparts and provide insight for those who are genuinely curious and caring. I can say with some certainty that the things I am sharing are not just representative of me- I’ve heard these same sentiments from a lot of my Millennial friends. And, keeping in mind I am an assistant pastor, these ideas fit best in a church context.
How to Reach Millennials
- Establish a Relationship
Really. I mean it. Don’t give them programs, or materials, or directions. Give them a relationship. Think about it. We’re the generation that gets knocked on all the time for getting a trophy for everything. And, I admit, it’s true. Now, people often fail to mention we weren’t actually the ones responsible for giving the trophies. It’s not like I ordered and presented myself a little trophy at the end of my kiddie soccer league every year. But my point is that it’s not about the trophies. We get too caught up with the trophies. Think instead of what came along with those trophies- social interaction. I mean, I was homeschooler for crying out loud, a predestined wall flower. Yet on any given week I would have violin lessons, voice lessons, soccer or basketball practice, youth group at church, debate in a homeschool league, speech classes, choirs, orchestras, plays, etc. And with all those activities, those privileges, those experiences, I had friends. As soon as I had my driver’s license, I was over at their house as much as my parents would let me. The same was true when I went to college. So, after college, into graduate school, and beyond, what was the context I grew familiar with? One with LOTS of relationships.
My generation, I think, is longing for a life-touching-life discipleship focus in the church. We need a discipleship reformation. So focus on discipleship with the Millennial generation. This past year I started a small Bible study for guys in their late teens to mid-20s (basically a few steps behind where I was in life). One guy told me, after I had done a Bible study with him for 2 months, that I had spent more time investing in him than anyone else in his life. That was an encouragement to me, but do you know what else that is? That is sad. Really sad. How many more young people in our churches are like him? Ready, eager, willing, waiting, but never discipled. If you want to reach out to Millennials, establish a relationship. I mean it. In fact, it’s my only point in how to reach out to them because I think it matters that much. And Jesus does, too (see Matthew 28:19-20).
How Not to Reach Out to Millennials
- Mock Them
Millennials are now the target generation for advertising companies. We are the group large corporations try to appeal to to increase their profits. This has worked out to my advantage, as I am now earning free miles by giving my opinion on survey groups online.
Why does the economy matter in this discussion? Because it is a serious cultural sign that we have come of age. It signals economic influence, “grown-up” stuff. The stereotypical stay-in-your-parent’s-basement-and-play-video-games Millennial profile is vanishing. I honestly can’t think of any friends I have that do that. Most of them are at significant turning points in their careers, actually. I say this as my wife and I have just sold our first condo and bought a new home on the previous home’s equity. We have two little girls. We’re adults. That’s not bragging, that’s just life.When it comes to reaching out to Millennials in your church, consider this wisdom from Solomon, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” (Proverbs 18:19) If we want the next generation to get into or involved in church, why would we mock them? Perhaps the response may be, “Well we aren’t talking about you. It’s the other ones.” But, when we’re talking about generational stereotypes, the fact is we are lumping a whole generation into the same category. And Millennials aren’t laughing. Which leads me to a second point. Another way not to reach out to Millennials is to…
- Treat Them Like Children
That whole “coming-of-age” thing does something to you. It gives you a greater sense of self-awareness, an understanding of your place in society. Millennials have not only grown up- they recognize that they have grown up, which means they have the ability to make mature decisions and think critically about life. The hard reality is that Millennials have walked away from the church because they have chosen to. It was not a haphazard, fluke accident. It was a conscious decision.
In the church, we need to give Millennial’s robust theology, accurate interpretation, and careful application. But it can’t be in the context of a sterile environment, where we simply hand them the food through the fence like at a petting zoo. We need to climb over the fence and eat the food with them. We need to make disciples, in a peer-to-peer context, because we are all in this together. The concept of an elite class of Christianity, where I help you from a distance, needs to give way to a Pauline view of discipleship where we share not just the gospel but our own lives. Paul said, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
I’m passionate about our generational moment. The time will soon come when Millennials will pick up the mantle and lead our churches. Will they be ready? How many will be ready? Only time will tell. Seize the opportunity now- go disciple a Millennial.