Back to News
A Stiff Reality »
If you were to do a quick Google search of the most recent generation Y (often termed “the millennials”), you would stumble across a plethora of interesting headlines:
“Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” - Time magazine; “Millennials Are Actually Workaholics, According to Research” - the Harvard Business Review; “3 Reasons Millennials Aren’t Ready for Real Careers” - Business Insider; “The Millennials are Generation Nice” - the New York Times; “These Cash-Flush Millennials are Spending Wisely” - CNBC;
“What’s the Problem with Millennials in the Workplace?” - The Telegraph; “P&G’s Downy Facing Stiff Reality: Millennials Don’t Use Fabric Softener” - Fox Business.
I find it intriguing that these headlines are contradictory to the point of hilarity. If you’d like, track down a few of these articles and dive in - you’ll find that the amusement continues. Each one seems to have a different and quite often polarized opinion on millennials. Joel Stein, in the Time article listed above, cites National Health Institute research showing that millennials are narcissistic, entitled and lazy. At the same time, Sarah Green Carmichael, writing for the Harvard Business review, details research from Project: Time Off showing millennials are more likely to consider themselves “work martyrs” and less likely to take time off from work.
On and on, the research and opinions pile up. In the interest of brevity, I’m going to begin paraphrasing from the endless mashup of commentary available on millennials. Millennials don’t want to work. Millennials don’t want to take time off. Millennials are killing the automobile, new home, beer, cereal and yogurt markets. And if you think that is bad, have you seen what this new generation is doing to the fabric softener industry? It is truly preposterous, but they have no clue what the stuff is or why they should use it… and sales plummeted 26 percent from 2007 to 2015. At the same time, millennials are boosting coffee sales, creating a shortage of beard oil and packing yoga studios worldwide.
Beyond shopping habits, the new generation has a strange set of beliefs and convictions (or a lack thereof). Millennials want to belong but don’t want to make a commitment. They want to see radical cultural changes push our society into a progressive era but won’t leave their parent’s basements. They live in a world of constant social interaction via small rectangular screens that perpetuate anxiety and turmoil rather than genuine and meaningful communication. They thrive on being “unique” but crave acceptance. They snap, tweet, share on Facebook, like on Instagram and swipe through Tinder while watching Netflix and sending out work e-mails. It’s exhausting just thinking about this cacophony of ideology, non-stop entertainment and endless social interaction.
So let’s slow down for a second. If we cut away the descriptions, research, analysis and opinions - what do we get? While no one locks in an exact pinpoint for the beginning and end of generation Y, the consensus is that millennials are people born between roughly 1980 and 1995. These are the individuals who were the first to come of age in the new millennium. Did you catch that? It’s nothing difficult or profound - nothing we need research to help us understand. Millennials are people; growing up, learning, making a living, subsisting and interacting with each other. Sure, there are a lot of differences between this current generation and the ones that preceded it. Many of them prompted, incubated and perpetuated by the radical development of technology over the last several decades, but it still doesn’t change the basics. People are inherently social. We have a desire to be connected, to belong, to grow, to contribute.
And now is when we get to my obscene, radical and entirely game-changing thesis: Young people want the same things from church that every other person ever is seeking or has sought and what only Jesus Christ and His Father offers. It is nothing new! From the disciples in the upper room to this crazy new generation of millennials - we are all seeking the same things. I propose that these things are the joy, purpose and safety that we encounter through authentic connections, loving relationships and unconditional acceptance. In it’s purest form, this would be a relationship between man and the Creator God. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an unadulterated world. Forces of evil tirelessly prod along our separation from God which serves to easily confuse the issue and leads to different manifestations of people looking for these same things.
I am afraid that we continuously engineer and over complicate what should be very simple. At an individual level we must prayerfully seek after a relationship with God, flee from sin and love others as we love ourselves. At our churches we need to foster real, meaningful, authentic connections that reflect the relationship of Christ with His church. More events, flashier lights, heartier debates and radical theology will not fill the streets of heaven. Take a hard look at what church looks like on any given Sabbath. I am afraid that we are losing our [young] people because we do not do a good job at fostering meaningful, authentic connections in our churches. As long as someone can skip out on a Sabbath or two without feeling missed, there is absolutely zero draw to return. If this is true on Sabbath, how much more so is it true on any given weekday?
If our churches want to maintain relationships with the [young] people that we have, much less add new ones, we need to step up and get our collective heads in the game. Leave the comfort zone and make a concerted effort to build relationships. Meet people where they are! And not just on Sabbaths. Hint: go have lunch with Zaccheus or invite Mary Magdalene over to your place for dinner. Put in some effort on this crazy idea. Meet someone new and invite them to church. If they don’t want to come, be their friend. Add a new number to your phone and follow up with a message or a call during the week. Conscientiously watch who attends church and when someone misses make a point to let them know that someone noticed when they were absent (not to drop a hammer of wrath for skipping church, but to extend genuine care that the community missed the person’s presence). I could go on for quite some time, but you get the point. It is not necessary to have to have all the knowledge, try to be out-of-this world cool, or be someone or something you are not. What we need to do is make an effort. Love God and love people, it is that simple. What the [young] people want from church is to be a part of a loving, caring, supportive, authentic and accepting community that inspires joy, purpose and safety while furthering a true relationship with the One who created us all.