By Mark Lindsay
As the blessed father of two awesome Millennial children, I have a vital interest in seeing this generation reached, equipped and empowered to impact their church and this world for Jesus Christ.
Millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000 — have come of age. Adult Millennials inhabit colleges and graduate schools, have families, own businesses, and lead churches throughout the United States. They bring with them a worldview as fresh as they themselves, but older generations are scratching their collective heads at the shock waves brought on by the new kids on the block.
The generation will likely, in the end, be just as great — and just as flawed — as previous generations. Presently, though, they pose a challenge to local churches that is straining the wits of church leaders.
Not on purpose, mind you; they are who they are: the creation of Boomer “helicopter parents” of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Millennials and the Church
Thom Rainer and his Millennial son, Jess, wrote in their book The Millennials that less than one in eight Millennials, though deeply spiritual, consider religion important. The Rainers reported in an earlier book, Essential Church?, that 70 percent of church-going young adults stop attending church regularly for at least one year between the ages of 18 and 22.
The elder Rainer shared with me that though there will be fewer Christians among this generation, he thinks those who are will be more deeply committed to their faith than counterparts from other generations.
Newer research suggests that Millennials have a deep love and respect for parental wisdom — a notion Millennials dare even to mention in the conference rooms of businesses across this land.
Are churches in danger of missing the mark? I believe so. The good news is that it’s not too late to see Millennials worshiping together with their parents and grandparents in inter-generational worship. Such an occurrence honors God and opens the door to the inevitable transition in generational leadership ahead of us. This vision represents a longing present in the Millennial worldview that has not yet coalesced into typical church life. I believe it can.
In pursuit of this vision, I have identified four key values that drive Millennials. How a local church relates to its Millennial members with respect to these values will likely determine the future of thousands of churches over the next decade.
1) Millennials value personal achievement
Having grown up being told by mom and dad that they are the best, Millennials believe they have what it takes to accomplish anything in life. They expect high achievement, personally and professionally.
In terms of spirituality, Millennial Christians take their faith very seriously, and seek to become the best Christ-followers they can be. They want their lives to align with their faith, knowing that the vast majority of their friends have no spiritual core. But what they too often see in church is less-than-enthused leaders, who appear inauthentic, but who continue to dominate the church’s decision-making processes.
2) Millennials value diverse relationships
Millennials value diversity. Their parents saw the color barrier broken in their schools, embraced interracial marriage, sat-in and stood-out for world peace and social justice. These values have been transferred to their Millennial children with great success.
What the Millennial wants with respect to church is a place where all his diverse friends and co-workers can find and worship Jesus with him. But too often, what they see is a church committed to worship the way it has “always been done,” regardless of who is neglected in the process. Instead of diversity, they see “separate, but equal.”
3) Millennials value a positive world impact
A Millennial earnestly desires to put her faith on wheels and take it to the street to impact the world for Christ.
She fervently wants to live out the “I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me” she memorized as a child. She is intensely missional in her view of church, and wants to make the world a better place.
But too often, she is told to sit quietly until old enough to serve on a committee or lead the WMU. In the meantime, she can help with fourth-grade girls or as a youth chaperone. What she sees is a church that categorizes her ideas as too idealistic and naive. Helping teach fourth-grade girls is fine, but is there no more? Will her church mentoring “parent figures” desert her now in such a time as this?
4) Millennials value the trust of mentors
Finally, the Millennials grew up with assurances of trust and accolades recognizing their worthiness. They want to act on that trust, demonstrating their worthiness through inter-generational relationships.
Too often, they see their churches cater to older, more trusted believers who become staunch guardians of the status quo. Having heard the voice of trust and worth as a child from parental mentors, will today’s mentors withhold the trust that can lead to a satisfying, authentic, organic change?
Millennials value personal achievement, diverse relationships, a positive world impact, and they want to be trusted by those ahead of them. Absent these values, they are willing to walk away — from business organizations and church alike.
The answer is not another church program. Millennials are ideological, yet are committed to create a better future. They will only be engaged by a leadership model that reflects the organic nature of church — that which flows naturally within the church context and recognizes all members in the process, including them — rather than the more traditional organizational structure found in many aging churches.
Fully engaged and multi-generational is the leadership model of the next generation church.
Mark Lindsay serves as Executive Pastor at Shadowbrook Church in Suwanee, GA. He previously served as Associate Pastor of Education and Single Adults, and has served single adults and college students in three previous churches. Mark holds an undergraduate degree in management, and a doctorate in leadership and administration. He is married and has two college-age daughters.