Options, options, and more options

Do you want to go see the picture?”  Over 50 years ago that is one way a guy would ask a girl out.  He would ask her to go see the picture.  There was only one movie at the theater.  Today it has turned into, “Do you want to go to the movies?”  You go to the theater today and there are 10-20 movies to choose from.  But then again who needs to go to the movie theater when you have hundreds of movies on Netflix in the comfort of your home?  My point?…

Today there are just so many options for everything.  Just a mile from our house we have many choices to eat—Arby’s, Wendy’s, Salsa Grill, McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Bob Evans, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks (and that’s not all).  Five miles from our house we can choose to shop between Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Meijer (just to name the big ones).  These are just some examples how consumerism and pluralization has taken over America.  Pluralization is when individuals are confronted with a staggering number of ideologies and faith options competing for their attention. (James White, Rise of the Nones, p. 49-50)

Life in general is full of so many options for Millennials to choose from.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that many ideologies and faiths compete for their attention as well.  America has sometimes been called a “divine supermarket.”  James White describes what that means:

“The technical term is syncretism, the mix-and-match mentality of pulling together different threads in various religions in order to create a personal religion that suits our individual taste. Christianity becomes one of many competing boutique worldviews, no better or worse than another, that have set up shop in society’s mall for people to sample as a matter of personal preference (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 51).

The Rainers came up with a similar conclusion in their research.  “A Millennial is more likely than not to have a syncretistic belief system.  He or she tends to take portions of belief from various faiths and non-faiths and blend them into a unique spiritual system.”  They asked one Millennial about where he could find an authoritative source for spiritual beliefs.  He said, “You really have to examine what people say and then decide.  You could find some truth in the Bible and maybe the Koran.  But you could find it in other sources as well, like a book by Billy Graham” (Rainer, The Millennials, p. 228-229).  As you can see Millennials are a very confused generation spiritually.  And one of the mains reasons is exactly this—pluralization.

There are three reactions Millennials can have with so many faiths and ideologies competing for their attention.  1. They will find one they like and stick with it.  2. They will choose nothing at all.  Millennials may feel overwhelmed by the choices out there so they will just shut down and not believe in anything.  3. They create their own belief system by picking and choosing what to believe.  Like we talked about last week, since spirituality and faith have become personal issues, it is very easy for Millennials to pick and choose what they want to believe.  Because there are so many religions out there, many Millennials will often just go along with the COEXIST movement—“All roads lead to heaven so let’s just coexist.”

What’s causing this thinking? 

It really began with immigration in America.  From 1900-1920, 1.5 billion immigrants came to America and brought their religions and ideologies with them.  Welcome to the land of freedom where you are free to believe what you want.  So for the last 100 years there has been a variety in America—not just a melting pot of ethnic groups, but their religions as well.

Religion also fits in very well with America’s consumer culture.  That has been the case for the last 50 years.  Transportation has made “church shopping” all the more possible.  Many people will drive past 10-20 churches before they get to the one they want.  Just like we might drive an extra 10 min to get to Meijer rather than Kroger for groceries.  It is the same today with Millennials.  With so many options to choose from, many Millennials will easily go from one church to another until they find something they like.  That’s if they even want to visit a church.  Many would rather just stay at home—pick and choose what they want to believe.  America certainly is a “divine supermarket.” 

But most faiths and ideologies have been around for hundreds and thousands of years, so why is it so hard for Millennials to decide on what they want to believe?  Millennials are greatly influenced by their parents.  Unlike Gen X, Millennials for the most part respect their parents opinion and long for their advice.  When the parents and culture are no longer pushing for one religion or another, Millennials decide religion doesn’t really matter.

Technology is another great reason why Millennials can’t or won’t choose.  It’s not a secret that Millennials have grown up surrounded by technology.  Technology has severely shaped Millennials—some say for the better, others say for the worse.  The internet especially has shaped Millennials.  Today you can get the internet on computers, tablets, smartphones, and TVs now.  All provide easy access to just about anything.  And the internet has made every single religion and ideology accessible for Millennials.  How does a Millennial choose what to believe or not to believe?  The internet shows Millennials that there are all kinds of faiths and ideologies to choose from.  There are so many beliefs that are so similar, but they say they’re different.  Millennials usually develop a spiritual filter in order to see only what they want to see.

How can we as Christians stand out? 

Basically the question we need to answer to is “How do we get the attention of Millennials when so many other religions are competing as well?”  How do we get their attention when they are already turned off by Christianity and religion in general?  How do we get Millennials to trust us as Christians?  This is a very difficult question to answer.  Churches have been trying to figure this out for years in their evangelism outreach!  There is no one answer to this either.  The ministry of every church or individual Christian will be different.

Millennials are so overloaded with information that they need to quickly filter out what they don’t want.  Technology companies know this so they have made filters on Facebook, Instagram, and other sites so that you only see what you really want to see.  Flipbook is an app that allows you to pick and choose what news you want to pay attention to.  You can filter out the news you don’t want.  Millennials will also do this with religion.

Since Millennials love using technology, technology is a good way to reach Millennials.  Usually Millennials will not just stop by church, but they will check out your church website.  That’s why a church website is essential.  Facebook is actually a really good way to reach Millennials.  Facebook advertisements are a great cost effective way to reach Millennials.  Put an event on Facebook that your church wants to advertize and then “boost” it.  Check out Facebook for more information.  Yet even if no one comes to your event as a result of your Facebook boost, don’t feel like it was a failure.  The name of your church is now out there.  Your church identity is growing—people see that things are happening there.  Keep fishing for those Millennials.  One event just may hit them at the right time in their life and they will show up.  If you don’t want to spend money with Facebook “boosts,” all your members have to do is “share” a post or event.  That will go out to all their friends and it’s free!

Technology is a good way to reach Millennials, but it is so difficult to do it well.  Since infancy young adults have been saturated with marketing.  Any religious advertisement can easily be lost in the junk mail folder or by-passed on the Facebook homepage like any other advertisement.  We need to face the fact that we will just not be able to compete with hipness, volume, or entertainment. 

So what is important when advertising to Millennials?  1. Be yourself.  Authenticity is one of today’s highest virtues (more on this in part 10 on authenticity).  Pastor James Hein gives us a good warning of what not to do when reaching Millennials: “Don’t use technology to be cool.  That’s counterproductively uncool.  Use it only because it’s simply better” (James Hein, Ministering to Millennials, Part IV.  Check this blog out for more about Millennials and relationships).  Millennials will sniff out fake attempts to be cool very easily.  1. Make God’s truth touchable.  Connect faith to life.  How does the truth of God’s Word work for you in your life (more on truth next week in part 7)?  When we are authentic in getting that tangible message across, it will be much more attractive to Millennials.

But finally, the key for reaching Millennials is simply creating and building relationships.  That fact has not changed since the beginning of time.  God created us as creatures who long for relationships.  Millennials are just that much more aware of it.  You can use technology to build relationships.  Millennials are doing it all the time when they are on their phones.  They are just using different ways to communicate that other generations are used to.  The average Millennial has about around 500 hundred friends on Facebook.  So if you want to build a relationship, how will you stick out from 500 friends?  Be a friend outside of social media.  Millennials are surprisingly more than willing to talk to you.  You just need to start up a conversation.  Once again, you need to take the time and commitment to go out to them instead of trying to get them to come to you.  It will take time and commitment.  But that is who we are as Christians, we put others before ourselves.  The time and energy will be well worth it.

God bless your evangelism efforts!  Thanks for reading.