Here is some breaking news for all those congregations trying to market their ministry to reach Millennials.
Millennials are people. They are more than a group to target market. They are not just a set of numbers that add to the gross national product. Millennials are the salvation of the local church. They are not a bunch of group marketing test subjects. They do not all think alike anymore that Generation X’s are all the same. Millennials are not a bunch of whiney, entitled, self-centered adults as some in my generation have pegged them. What this generation offers to the world is a passion and knowledge base not seen in previous generations. They are people who have hurts, pain, struggles, and an ambition for a better life for their families. In that regard, they are like everyone else. To understand this talented group, you need to stop reading studies, stop studying statistics about them and be willing to have a conversation with them.
“We were completely surprised,” said J. Walter Thompson’s Ann Mack. “There has been a faulty portrayal of millennials by the media. These people are not the self-entitled, coddled slackers they’re made out to be. Misnomers and myths about them are all over the place.” (UPI 3/30/08)
Here are some things I have discovered to talking with Millennials. I will say this upfront, I am by no means an expert, but I do love to study people. So, this is not scientific, and I would like my Millennial followers to fill in the gaps of my observations.
Observation 1: Millennials tend to have an inner calling to give and make a difference in the world.
I would describe this in Biblical terms. In a John 13 mindset. Here is that section of Scripture.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he sent a message to the world that the idea of power, prestige, and position has been turned upside down. How can the King of the universe take on the passive role of a servant? I love how William Barclay describes the meaning of the foot washing event.
“Jesus knew all things had been given into his hands. He knew that his hour of humiliation was near, but he was aware that his hour of glory was also near. Such a consciousness might well have filled him with pride; and yet, with the knowledge of the power and the glory that were his, he washed his disciples’ feet. At that moment when he might have had supreme pride, he had supreme humility. Love is always like that.”
In this foot washing context, a Millennial might see this strange Rabbi as a compassionate leader. What a shift, a leader who is a servant first. They would connect with a leader who sees the bigger picture. Jesus noticed the hurting. He had compassion on the masses. Jesus stopped to impact and transform the lives of the community. All things that the Millennials I have the pleasure of interacting and connecting with value.
Observation Two: A Different Kind of Leadership Needed.
What I have noticed with this Millennial generation is that they get service. What I see in many Millennials is a desire to make an immediate positive impact on the world in which they live. My generation tended to emphasize that winning at all costs is the goal. We were taught to value rugged individualism. So, we struggle to understand this generation that leans toward working as a collective. Millennials that I have collaborated with value servant leadership. Give me the problem and then stand back and let us as a team figure out creative solutions. They learned to think more about people than themselves. Millennials tend to function better with social interaction. So, this servant leadership model that Jesus lays out for the disciples resonates with this generation.
In a book by David Stark, he includes this quote, “Ordinary people, concerned by a problem, an issue, or injustice, have been empowered to become extraordinary champions of change. This is the Millennial approach to activism, as well as to business, personal attitudes, and sometimes overall life choices…Millennials have high ideals. But they also know their ideal must be actionable and realizable.”
To engage with some of these passionate young people, remember they are more well-rounded, intelligent and loving than many have reported.
Stay tuned more observations to come. In the meantime here are other posts.
 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of John (Vol. 2, p. 160). Louisville, KY: Edinburgh.