I recently came across a study on the lost generations. Demographers apparently like to give each generation a name. The newest named generation is called the Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000. This group is of great interest because they are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers (1946-1964). Because of their sheer size, the Millennials will have a major impact on schools, businesses, work and churches. They are a diverse generation whose impact is just beginning.
To understand them better, we need to look at some of their characteristics and features. A survey of a diverse group of Millennials was conducted with an even distribution of ages, socio-economic backgrounds, rural and urban as well as racial diversity.
Generation X between the Boomers and Millennials (1965 to 1980) was the buster generation with 1965 being the first year of the baby bust. The dramatic decline in births continued until 1980.
The Millennials, will be the dominant adult population. They are and will be sought by many organizations and will move into positions of power and influence. So they need to be understood.
Millennials are also known as the “helicopter generation.” The parents hovered over their children, especially in the area of education. They were intensely involved in their learning process and instilled a value of education. Millennials are the most racially/ethnically diverse generation with the lowest proportion of Caucasians. Their world is very different from that of their parents and grandparents. They don’t think about ethnic differences. For them, the diverse world is normal.
Family is their first priority and friends second. They are determined to stay connected in relationships. With the current technology, they may very well become the “relational generation.”
Relationships motivate and drive this generation.
Religious institutions failed to be a force in the lives of Millennials. They are not antagonistic against religions and religious people. Religion is simply seen as unimportant and irrelevant. Spiritual matters don’t matter. They are motivated to make a difference in the world. They have parents who always believed in them and made them believe that they could do anything they put their mind to. 96% agree with: “I believe I can do something great.” It’s a confident generation that wants to make a difference for the good of the world.
65% considered themselves Christian in broad undefined terms but only 15% affirmed Christian beliefs. Each generation from Boomers forward is less likely to attend church. 65% rarely or never attend church.
Churches that are serious about reaching Millennials must become serious missional churches. Millennials have no patience with anything less than total commitment. Although 72% believe God is real and not a concept, they have an anti-institutional attitude towards church. 70% find churches irrelevant today – “tradition-bound,” “irrelevant,” focus on themselves.”
The challenge for churches to connect with Millennials is significant and growing. The challenge is overcoming apathy. Most CHOSE not to embrace Christianity. Although few in numbers, if they do connect to the church, they will demonstrate the greatest commitment of any generation. There is hope for the church and Christianity.
Although only 15% of Millennials are affirmed Christians, they may well turn the world upside down with their commitment and causes. They are not content with business-as-usual churches. They abhor churches with an inward focus. They WILL commit BUT the emerging churches cannot look and act like churches of today. The Millennial church will be a radically committed church.
The two challenges the church faces today are:
1. Connecting with Christians of this generation (most churches are not attractive because of their inward focus).
2. Reaching the larger 85% uncommitted group. Millennials expect the church to change from the accepted or traditional norms, but not change for the sake of change. The radical nature of Millennial Christianity includes the desire to forfeit material gain for the sake of others, devotion to Bible study, intense prayer life, and total commitment to reach and minister to others in the community and among nations.
Boomer churches were in community places where prospects were found. Outreach systems were devised to find people to increase membership. Communities provided a source of greater attendance and increased financial gifts. Millennials resist this view of community. It is not the place to look for prospects to help the church. It is a place where Christians are called to serve and minister. Don’t ask what the community can do for the church – but what can the church do for the community.
The Missional Church is sent into the community. It’s a place where Christians demonstrate their love of God. Millennials are committed to being incarnational, in the flesh, physically present. They see people through the eyes of Christ. They reject churches that view community as a population pool for growth but embrace churches that teach members to love community. Reaching community is NOT distributing flyers, BUT doing – repairing homes, helping elderly, caring for neighbours who have lost loved ones. They hunger to learn about Scripture and are turned off by diluted doctrine, anaemic Bible teaching and preaching. They have a serous approach, NOT lukewarm like that of Boomers’ churches.
Millennials want to see revenues directed outwardly for mission work in community, nations, and the world. They feel churches suffer from “Baby Boomers reflux.” Boomers give to the church, but it comes back to them to keep them content. They hire staff to do ministry they won’t do. Money goes to make buildings more comfortable for them. Then churches begin all kinds of programs for Boomers and their families to keep them happy. That is not New Testament Christianity. That’s a religious social club.
Boomers and Generation X are more likely to accept traditional ways churches give to missions without question – not the Millennials. They are attracted to churches with wise stewardship.
They want to change the world but don’t see churches having significant impact on the world. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 80% have a strong motivation to serve others. They are motivated to help others and not to seek their own preferences. Millennials want the church to be passionate about serving community and passionate about reaching nations with the gospel – a church that commits a significant portion of their budget to caring for the needs of others. It needs to be “others” focussed – not self-focussed.
Millennials are social creatures who value physical presence and respond to invitations, especially if someone brings them to church. They need encouragement and reminders to bring friends. This is a Hinge generation, largely not Christian. The door of opportunity can open or close. We need to make radical changes to connect with the Millennials if churches are to see better days.