I have had my fair share of engagement over the last few years with the Millennial generation (born since 1982). I am quite sure that most church leaders have very little understanding of this generation. Large numbers do not see the importance of what is transpiring in terms of the religious beliefs and practices of the majority of young Americans.
Here are a few observations I’ve recently made based upon personal experience and conversation with leaders. This is not all rooted in scientific social data but most of it can be seen in this data if you look at it carefully.
- Millennials really are leaving the church in a way unlike any other generation in my lifetime. The rise of the “nones” (no-religious preference or church) is not being overly exaggerated in the least. In fact, Millennials may be leaving the church faster than any previous generation in our history except perhaps those who were young adults between the years 1790 – 1810. (An awakening began on college campuses during this period that many feel turned the tide in America’s early years as a republic.)
- Millennials are moving into the urban centers of America in greater numbers every year. This will likely continue. It will mean that the church in the city either adjusts or dies. Massive empty church buildings could play a role in reaching new younger adults but few such churches have a vision of mission and the future.
- Millennials are not marrying and beginning families like their predecessors. One reason might be their personal experience with family life. Large numbers (a majority?) of them come from broken-homes and openly choose to live together and/or never consider marriage and/or having children. You can debate why all this is true but do not miss this point – it is true!
- Millennials care about many issues but they have, at least so far, not invested much of their income in mission at all. While they will invest time they will not (generally) invest much money. This split is dangerous. While I teach Millennials, and count many as good friends, few of them support ACT3. This is what it is and I am not sure what changes it.
- Millennials do not have any loyalty to denominations or tribal groups. They clearly rely heavily on relationships with their peers but they also seem quite open to relationships with older adults who will invest time in them. Much of what I know about Millennials is what I’ve learned by simply being with them as a friend.
- Millennials are not impressed by what you know or where you’ve been. They care about how you respond to them in the moment. If you reject their friends, many of whom are gay, then they will not respond well to you as a person. This is true for most Christian Millennials, whose views on friendship are far more open and affirming than anything I’ve experienced previously.
- Millennials try the church, sometimes for a few months or years, but they give up when they find out that the church offers them programs, not a place to serve and be included in the church life and community.