By Caitlin Meadows
What do those currently ages 17 to 40 have in common? They are millennials.
That’s a 23 year age gap! Beyond claiming the same generational status, 17 year olds and 40 year olds have little in common.
Commenting on this broad age range in her recent article, 6 Reasons I’m Excited to be a Millennial, Amber Riggs notes:
As a pioneering millennial 1 I had the opportunity to embrace this label and all of the hopefulness it encompassed and allow it to engender a healthy pride in my generation – a pride that seems to have been harassed out of millennials who stepped into adulthood at a later point in time.”
What does she mean by “harrassed out”? In recent years, the label “millennial” has become just short of an insult. In fact, it’s perceived negatively enough that many millennials do not want to be associated with the label at all. A growing number of parody videos can be found on YouTube in which every negative stereotype about this generation is exploited. I’ll admit, most of these parodies are humorous. But, I laugh at them knowing that they’re making an easy target of my generation. Thankfully, I do not relate with the stereotypes. They may fit some in this age group, but not most of the millennials I know.
MILLENNIAL STEREOTYPES VS WHO MILLENNIALS REALLY ARE.
Entitled. Lazy. High maintenance. We play the victim and are easily “triggered“. Millennials resent responsibility and expect accolades for the most menial accomplishments. Technology and social media are our addictions; face to face communication is foreign to us.
If these stereotypes accurately describe every person born between 1977 and 2000 then the future of our culture is facing impending doom. And what about the future of the Church? This might be the most fitting time for the older generations to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
But I promise the skeptics, there is hope!
My name is Caitlin Meadows, and I am a millennial. I stand among a collective of creative, innovative, critically thinking peers. We are passionate about finding simple solutions to complex problems, compassionately interacting with those whom we differ, seeking the truth and communicating it through our lives.
While some of us are college educated, others of us prefer to work with our hands and learn on-the-job skills that are invaluable to our society. Many of us are getting married and starting our own families. We are adults and we are ready, wanting to lead. Although we see fit to encompass newness and change, we will not allow biblical truth to be the casualty.
WHAT DO CHRISTIAN MILLENNIALS WANT THE CHURCH TO KNOW?
Currently the Church is at a critical transition point. Consequently, how this transition is handled will determine its life and growth.
Baby boomers are reaching retirement age. As a result, existing leaders need to be replaced. This is not limited to official leadership roles but includes every form of leadership that keep our congregations and communities alive. Because of this, negative stereotypes must be dismantled. Otherwise, a generational divide will result in the slow, steady decline of the Church – one congregation at a time.
In order to prevent this divide, assumptions must be ignored and communication must take place. Specifically, older and younger Christians alike need to ask questions and listen to responses. Honest dialogue is necessary.
In an effort to start this conversation, we recently asked a private forum of Christian millennials the following:
What insights do you have that will strengthen the Church and our witness as a community of Christ-followers? What do you want the Church to know?
Summed up, the overwhelming response was:
MILLENNIALS WANT DISCIPLESHIP.
Moreover, millennials desire discipleship to be a natural, authentic function of the Church body.
Discipleship should begin and grow like any friendship. A thirty-something millennial lamented that she becomes impatient when she hears her congregation discussing programs, initiatives, and themes. These efforts have some value but tend to fall flat.
“It’s not complicated,” explains one young husband and dad. “Just spend time with us. Addressing issues and learning more will come with the relationship, just like it does with God. The more we know Him, the more we grow in Him.”
In practical terms, those of us who are newer to adulthood want to learn about our elders’ experiences of “what it means and is to live for Jesus.” We are concerned about worshiping Him with our whole lives – through our marriages and families, in our workplaces and vocations. Our desire is to influence our culture to reflect Christ.
The fact that we desire discipleship from the generations preceding our own proves another point expressed by the forum:
MILLENNIALS LOVE THE CHURCH, INCLUDING IT’S STATUS AS INTER-GENERATIONAL.
According to this 2014 Barna study, a majority of millennials do not value regular attendance of church services.
In response to this study, Sam Eaton lists his 12 reasons why he believes church groups are failing this generation. Based on that Barna study and his own experience, he believes that congregations have failed to connect with millennials.
While Eaton and other millennials may not possess a love for attending church, I argue that my generation does love the Church. In other words, we love the body of Christ. And we are committed to it. The millennials we spoke with confirmed this.
“We want the Church to know that despite perception, we love the Church!” declares an 80’s-born Texan. “We want to see it vibrant, engaging and worshipful. We will stand and fight for her.”
A millennial native to the west coast added, “We’re passionate about seeing the Church move forward in victory. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we love His bride.”
When we express our love for the Church, we mean every generation represented – both the older and younger. After all, discipleship requires a variety of ages and experiences. The generations after us are looking to us as examples. We take seriously our call to lead them in the same way that we look to those who’ve “been there and done that” to help lead us.
However, we face frustration when it seems older members within our congregations look down on us. Which leads to the final point that millennials want the Church to know:
MILLENNIALS, UNFORTUNATELY, FEEL OVERWHELMINGLY CRITICIZED BY THEIR CHURCH ELDERS.
There is no arguing that different age groups view the world through different lenses. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and my parents lived through the Cold War. Both of their generations witnessed the Civil Rights Movement. They watched in awe as man set foot on the moon and marveled at the idea of owning their very own computers.
My generation and those younger hardly know what it’s like to be without WiFi.
We’re shaped by different circumstances, no doubt. Thus, we’re bound to disagree on some things.
However, our Lord is constant, unchanging, and unfailing. Christ is our common denominator and His gospel is for everyone, regardless of age.
As their brothers and sisters in Christ, Christian millennials desire our elders to take us seriously.
“We resent the stigma that our generation has been assigned that often leads older generations to not take us seriously or to lump all ‘young adults’ into the same description (struggling, uninvolved, and in need of intervention)”, disclosed a new mom.
This twenty-something mid-westerner confided, “We want [older generations] to know how much we need them to give us a graceful, realistic chance. We need them to mentor us, not criticize us… Criticism kills all unity in the end.”
Whether children, teens, new adults or older, every Christian has value in the Body. With encouragement, guidance can be provided to help bridge generational gaps and ensure continued growth and victory as a Church.
So, what is to be done with this information? Well, the answer depends on you.
Are you a Gen Xer, baby boomer or older? Take the initiative and continue the conversation with the millennials in your congregation. With humility, ask questions about their lives and relationships with Christ. Step into their world and invite them into your own. Millennials are eager to hear stories about your life that relate to what they are going through. Naturally allow friendships to begin and grow. Whether officially stated or not, discipleship will result.
Are you a millennial? Take the initiative and reach out to your elders. Ask questions about their experiences, life, and faith. Tell them about your own. Cultivate friendships with them and humbly learn from them. Simultaneously, seek out those younger than yourself in an effort to establish discipling relationships.
While the wisdom of our elders in this life is of enormous value, negative assumptions and stereotypes are detrimental. So let’s begin to see each other with Kingdom eyes. Earthly eras and generations will have no relevance when we’re spending eternity worshiping our King together. Thankfully, as followers of Jesus, we are a part of the Kingdom of God today. Thus, we are privileged to interact with each other with grace and understanding, no matter the width of our generational gaps!
1. Define us as they will, researchers can’t agree on well-defined age boundaries for the millennial generation. Some organizations base their research on people born in 1976, others in 1980, and still others use 1982. They also can’t agree on the “end” birth year – somewhere between 1996 and 2001. As someone who was born just a few months shy of 1980, my specific age cohort is sometimes counted among millennials and sometimes among Gen-X. Because we don’t neatly fit, we are sometimes referred to as the “Oregon Trail” generation because of our shared experience playing that particular computer game. However, it is significant to note that because of how I was brought up, I have connected with millennial research significantly more strongly than Gen-X research.