“What’s wrong with your generation?”
I was at a Christian business conference when the question caught me off guard.
Asking for clarification was pointless. I knew exactly what this grizzly man in his 60s meant.
Millennials have earned the reputation of being entitled, lazy, unmotivated, and technology addicted. Business owners try to keep us around, but we move jobs every few years. Pastors try to get us to Sunday service, but we want it on our iPhones. Parents are confused about how to motivate us to grow up and get a real job.
As a 25-year-old, I started a company to help explain to business leaders how to work with this generation. Speaking across the country to hundreds of employee groups, I’ve heard nearly every complaint and concern possible. Here’s one of the many things I’ve learned: The question of “what’s wrong with millennials” plagues ministry leaders as much as it does business professionals.
We don’t want to be put in a box and categorized as “single,” “student,” “married,” “married with young children” or whatever other small group label you create.
It’s no mystery that the Church is facing a millennial crisis. According to Barna, six out of 10 in this generation walk away from their faith, despite a majority being raised in religious households.
So what can we do about it? We need what I call gender reconciliation. Considering the statistics, there’s no better place to start that than in the church. Here are six characteristics of millennials and how the church can adapt to embrace them:
- Individualistic – We may be the largest generation on the planet, but we still want to be recognized as unique individuals. The church must realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to this generation isn’t going to work. We don’t want to be put in a box and categorized as “single,” “student,” “married,” “married with young children” or whatever other small group label you create. millennials customize our viewer experience on Netflix and our shopping preferences on Amazon. Why can’t we customize our community experience at church?
- Disruptive – You read that right. But trust me, it’s a good thing. Millennials love to disrupt the status quo. We invented social networking with Facebook, revolutionized family photos with Instagram, and reimagined hotels with Airbnb. This generation wants to change how we participate in church. We want to access sermon notes from our smartphones, communicate with other congregants in live forums, and tweet questions to our pastor on stage. The millennial tendency toward disruption is misinterpreted as disrespect. I would be more concerned if the millennials in your church weren’t changing things. Participation means ownership for millennials.
- Skeptical – Millennials have been raised in the post-Christian era. Religious pluralism is everywhere: Declaring that there is only one way to God is considered hate speech. Pastors shouldn’t be discouraged, though. Millennials have the same faith capacity as other generations. They just have their own hurdles to overcome. Help this generation understand the spiritual and intellectual proof for Jesus, God, and the Bible. Empower us with the facts that bring confidence and conviction.
- Flexible – We move around… a lot. Whether it is changing jobs, apartments or cities, this generation gets bored sitting still. We want a church that allows us to maintain a dynamic lifestyle. Some weekends we are out of town—so we want to catch the Sunday sermon online. We may be busy with family on Sunday. A Saturday night option is great. Constant and convenient access to church resources and community is important to us. Even if your lights are turned off, the 21st century church can be ministering 24/7.
- Diverse – Millennials love diversity. I’m not simply talking about racial diversity either. We want to work, live, and participate in communities that have different ages, genders, and experiences. Millennials want to attend churches that embrace variety and won’t put up with judgment. We want places of worship that allow us to be ourselves. Churches that celebrate diversity in community rather than pressure conformity will keep more millennials.
- Authentic – Stop trying to sell to us! Millennials are tired of being sold. We have been marketed to since we were in utero. Flashy ads aren’t going to get us to come to your church. We don’t go to church expecting to be entertained, but educated and enlightened. Millennials want leaders that are open about their own brokenness to help us feel accepted for who we are.
Looking back, I should have spent more time answering that grizzly old man’s question. No, sir, there is nothing “wrong” with this generation. We are compassionate, passionate, and creative. A generation eager to make our mark on the world. We face our own challenges with the church, just like your generation did.
On a very basic level, millennials are the future of the church. Rather than pushing us away, embrace us for who we are while constantly pushing us back to Christ.
Gabrielle Jackson is a millennial expert, author and CEO of The Millennial Solution. She speaks internationally on generational reconciliation. Click here to download her limited time offer for the “Christian Leader’s Guide to Millennials.“