If you ask a demographer, they will tell you that Millennials are young adults aged 18-33 years old. You know who Millennials are; they’re often the ones you see sipping a latte at Starbucks, checking their Twitter feeds, or texting their friends. OK, I might be profiling them, but they do those things.
A few weeks ago I was reading an article entitled “Millennials in Adulthood” and I thought the article gave some very interesting perspective on Millennials so I wanted to share some of the things I learned with you as well as some of my own thoughts.
The article points out that Millennials are incredibly well-connected to friends, family, and colleagues via all the latest digital platforms. I think that is a fairly obvious fact. It is no secret that they utilize social media in ways that those of us older than them can not really understand. In the article, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox (you can tell he is from the south because he uses his full name) says, when it come to “the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment- work, marriage, and civil society,” the Millennials’ ties “are worryingly weak.”
Let’s take a look at Millenials when it comes to each of these human institutions in order and see what the facts say.
When it comes to the area of work, less than half of the young people aged 18 to 29 are employed full-time, and the numbers continue to fall with each passing year. You read that correctly, less than half. Wilcox says, “Work affords most Americans an important sense of dignity and meaning-the psychological boost provided by what American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks calls a sense of ‘earned success.’” Most of us define our identity through the work that we do. Without work to do, we can quickly become very lost and lose our send of identity. I understand that unemployment rates are pretty high in the US right now, and that is always a bad thing, but what it is doing to our Millennial generation might be worse than we realize. If our next generation of leaders is lacking in a sense of identity and purpose, it will be very hard for them to lead our country in a way that we have become accustomed to.
Only 26% of Millennials are married, compared to 48% of the Baby Boomers when they were that same age. That is a pretty grabbing statistic. Despite the low percentage of people getting married, Millennials are still having babies. In 2012, nearly half of the kids born to Millennial women entered the world without the benefit of married parents. This is not an ideal situation since children born into single parent homes have a drastically increased risk of educational failure, poverty, and emotional distress.
For the purposes of this blog, we will consider only religious affiliations for this section. 29% of Millennials consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated. That is a record postwar high. 55% of Baby Boomers say they are religious, while only 36% of Millennials do.
This is not all bad news though. The term “nones” has been coined to describe people who say “none” when asked to identify their faith. By having more people actually saying “none,” it at least gives others a better idea of where they actually stand. The fact is that Christianity is not as fashionable as it once was in our society. This leads to fewer “nominal believers” than in the past. Nominal believers are people who claim to have a religious affiliation, but in truth, their beliefs would be more represented by a “none” response. Those who don’t believe are no just being more honest and saying “none.” This can be both a concern and an opportunity.
With people who say that they do not believe in Christ there is an opportunity for these people to be converted to being believers. If we want to respond to this opportunity and actually reach this unattached generation, we’re going to have to connect them to something they really value. It means getting to know a person and building a relationship with that person. Find out what they value. Find out why they don’t believe and address it with them on their level. Talk to them about your life and how believing in Christ has affected your life. Let them see how that is lived out in your life. Let them see that you are different because you believe and let them want that for themselves. Building relationships with people can be messy and take a lot of time and effort, but the rewards are so much greater. Half-hearted Christianity just won’t cut it. Waving a Bible around in crowds of people you don’t know and telling them they will go to hell if they don’t believe is not going to change anyone’s heart. Judging people and being a hypocrite will not win anyone over and make them want to follow Christ. By the way, half-hearted Christianity, such as this, is not Christianity at all.
People have an opportunity to clearly state what a Christian really is and display that type of behavior for the entire world to see, both believers and non-believers. Part of taking your faith seriously and modeling a mature Christian life is treating Millennials like mature people. Instead of dumbing down the faith, and your message to them, we need to show these young people a story of reality that not only we can live out, but they can live out as well.
In addition to trying to reach the Millennials, we need to place a focus on reaching the “pre-nones,” those who are even younger than the Millennials. We need to reach the kids with a clear message of who Christ is and His message before these kids drift away. It is a shame when a kid, who has heard this message, decides that they do not believe it, but it is an absolute tragedy if a kid does not believe and has never even been exposed to the message. It is a parent’s responsibility to expose their kids to Christ and His message. This needs to be done by the parents having their own personal relationship with God and modeling this to their kids. A teenager with a highly committed personal faith will need multiple adults of faith to turn to for support and help. They need to see adults praying and reading the Bible frequently. This is what prepares kids for a lifetime of faith.
The bad news about the Millennials’ lack of attachment can also be good news for the church. The church really does have what Millennials are looking for, which is real relationships with one another and with God. The catch is that, to connect with young people, we have to do something radical, which is to live out what we say we believe. If the Millennials want real relationships, then we have to be willing to have a real relationship with them and we have to display our own real relationship with God.
The future can be bright and we can all make a huge advancement in Jesus’ mission for us of spreading the gospel to every corner of the earth, but it is going to take us leading the way for it to happen. Each one of us has to do our part. And there’s no better time to start than right now.