Millennials.  What are they?  Who are they?  I know a lot of people have heard this term lately, but for many of you it might be a brand new term.  In fact the first time I heard the term was only a couple years ago.  Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000, (sometimes referred to as Gen Y or Boomer Babies).  The name, Millennials, was first coined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 2000 book “Millennials Rising: the Next Generation.”  They’re named the Millennials since they brought in the new millennium.

Ok, you might ask, “Why write this blog on Millennials?  There are other generations too.”  Yes that is true.  So why Millennials?  They are actually the largest generation in America, even surpassing the Baby Boomers.  Their sheer size brings a lot of attention, just like the Baby Boomers did.  But here is the main reason why: Millennials are the most highly unchurched generation America has ever seen.  This known fact has inspired many books such as Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated by James White and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.  Only 15% of Millennials are true practicing Christians. (The Millennials Rainer, p. 249)  That is the lowest America has ever seen.  This is the new generation that will shape America.  How can we reach them with the gospel? 

The purpose of this blog series is to relay some information about the Millennial generation to our congregation (and whoever else chooses to read this blog) so that we can get begin to reach this generation with Jesus.

So, what are some good defining characteristics of the Millennials?  When you think of that generation, what do we usually think of?  Technology: internet, social media, smart phones, etc.  Yes, technology has a major influence on this generation because they grew up with it.  Unlike other generations, this kind of technology is the norm for them.  Most have a smart phone, tablet, and laptop—internet always available.  But they are not all about technology.

Millennials are greatly different than any other generation.  I found it very interesting in how Millennials describe themselves compared to other generations.  In his book, David Kinnaman gathered some information how each generation viewed themselves.  In his surveying, when the Elder generation was asked to describe themselves, the most commonly used words/phrases were: “World War II and Depression, smarter, honest, work ethic, and values and morals.”  Boomers described their generation using terms like “work ethic, respectful, values and morals, and smarter.”  Busters (or Gen X) used terms like “technology use, work ethic, conservative or traditional, smarter, and respectful.”  And then he noted Millennials.  The phrases they most commonly used? “Technology use, music and pop culture, liberal or tolerant, smarter, and clothes.”  He concluded, “Where has ‘respectful’ gone?  Where is ‘work ethic’?  To me, this shows that the next generation is not just sort of different; they are discontinuously different.”  (You Lost Me p.37-38)

In the book The Millennials: Connecting to American’s Largest Generation by Thom and Jess Rainer, I found a Top 10 list of Millennial characteristics very helpful.  These are listed by Jess Rainer, a Millennials who experiences these things in himself and among his peers.

1. We want a connected family.                                   
2. We want parental involvement.                                
3. We are diverse.                                                         
4. We believe we can make an impact for the future.   
5. We are not workaholics. 
6. We want a mentor.                                            
7. We are green but not that green.
8. We communicate unlike any other generation.
9. We are financially confused.
10. We are not religious.
(The Millennials Chapter 2)

While these characteristic are very helpful and I will certainly bring them in some of my posts, this Top 10 list will not be the outline for my posts.  (However, #10 is the main reason that I am choosing to write this series.)

Instead, I am basing this blog series on a Top 10 List of Millennial generalities that I read in Preach the Word, one of our synod’s publications for pastors.  This Top 10 list focuses specifically on Millennials as it relates to Christianity.  Each week I will be focusing on another point.  Here is that Top 10 List:

  1. They grew up in a post-Christian era
  2. They are biblically illiterate. Key stories and biblical terminology are not in their awareness.
  3. They do not have a biblical worldview. Secular humanism has molded their worldview.
  4. They often see Christianity as judgmental and hypocritical.
  5. They see spirituality as anything an individual desires it to be—a private affair to be developed as one sees fit.
  6. They are confronted with a staggering number of ideologies and faith options competing for their attention.
  7. They are interested in truth but want to experience the truth more than being told what truth is. They want to know if the truth you present works for you and for others.
  8. They are more interested in rallying around a cause than perpetuating a program. They want to make a difference, a positive impact, not just be busy in a church program.
  9. They aren’t necessarily committed to a congregation, but desire to have community. The institution is not important…social connections are.
  10. They are interested in what you have to say, but more interested in who you are. Are you being authentic, sharing your questions and struggles?
    (Mike Geiger, Preach the Word Vol. 10, No. 1 (September/October 2015))

I must throw in a disclaimer: This Top 10 List of generalities is what it is—generalities or stereotypes (as well as the Top 10 List by Jess Rainer above).  They are generally true for people in this generation, but do not apply to everyone.  I was talking with one of our members about Millennials because both of us have read into that generation a bit.  I made a sarcastic comment about one stereotype, “Oh, is that what we believe and say?”  That specific stereotype didn't cover me.  On the first page of their book, the Rainers also made the point that Millennials are the most diverse generation yet.  So many of these stereotypes will not fit everyone.  Yet these stereotypes will still give us a good basis about how we can better minister and evangelize to this generation.  One thing all of us needs to do is go out and experience this generation for ourselves.  Observe them.  Talk to them.  Listen to them.  That is something I also need to do—go out and see my own generation and how they are different from me.

Over the course of the last month or so I’ve read many different opinions on the Millennials.  Some are very positive.  I very much enjoyed reading The Millennials: Connecting to American’s Largest Generation by Thom and Jess Rainer.  I would describe this book’s attitude as very promising and hopeful for the Millennial generation.  It focused on a lot of positive characteristics of Millennials that could be grown and nurtured.  However, some opinions are very negative about the Millennials.  Older generations see and experience the self-identifying descriptions of the Millennials from Kinnaman’s research.  They then look at Millennials as lazy and foolish, and they fear for the future of the country in their hands.  Many think technology has ruined them.  I love how Pastor James Hein throws out opinions and puts it in perspective for all of us:

To simply say “this is a wicked and godless generation” and “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:3) might apply here, or it might simply be dismissive, failing to acknowledge that we have yet to do the humbling, difficult, personal-preference-sacrificing work the Apostle Paul alludes to when he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23) In other words, while acknowledging that they, like us, are sinful and naturally resistant to the truth of God (Rom. 8:7), perhaps ministering to Millennials is primarily a matter of acknowledging that they think differently, not inherently better or worse, but different, from many of us. (Ministering to Millennials (Part II – Who Are They and What’s Driving Them Away?))

Here is another disclaimer from me personally: I am by no means an expert in this area.  Even though I am a Millennial myself, I have limited experience associating with the Millennials outside of the Christian atmosphere.  With these next 10 posts, I will be relaying a lot of information from experts and those who have much more experience than I do with the Millennials.  Yet as a Millennial, I plan to give my two cents with informative and practical advice as well.  There are still many similarities with the way I think, talk, and act.

So once again, why Millennials?  These are souls who matter to Jesus and therefore matter to us.  We need to be able to understand them so that we can best communicate God’s truth to them.  They need God’s grace as much as anyone else, but they don’t always think the way we think, value what we value, or understand what we understand.  Let us listen to them so that they will listen to what God wants them to know and believe.