By Eddie Pipkin
June 14, 2016
I was reading the Orlando Business Journal on my laptop the other morning, and I came across this article about “10 Ways to Recruit and Retain Millennial Grads”. Now, I admit I am a sucker for these kinds of articles and almost always read them – I am fascinated with the younger generation and what motivates them, and particularly interested in their perspective on faith and ministry. I am not the kind of guy that says things like “young people are the future of the church”. If we have any sense, they are the here and now.
They do think differently and approach the world differently than we gray-hairs (including the living out of their faith within the world), but they also share many of the same motivations that we older folk do as people who have decided to follow Jesus and build a community accordingly. Check out the 10 recommendations offered to businesses for engaging young people (it’s a quick read) and then follow along as I suggest interesting ways the ideas translate to the life of the church.
Here are 10 things to remember when seeking to appeal to millennials:
• They Thrive on Social Media.
This is probably the greatest divide between young and old in the 10 items we’ll cover. The millennials are the first of the “digital natives.” They are inseparable from their devices, and they experience the connections of community through them. This does not mean that they reject person-to-person contact. They still highly value traditional community (what we might refer to as “touch”), but they navigate and process community through the lens of technology. We absolutely must get on board with this way of experiencing the world if we are going to be relevant to this generation.
• They Are Interested in Two-Way Conversation.
What they are not particularly interested in is us force-feeding knowledge to them via a one-way funnel. They want to be inspired, creatively challenged, encouraged, and enlightened, but they want it to be a participatory process. They don’t want to be preached at. They like facilitators better than teachers. They value interactive experiences better than lectures.
• They Like to Feel Like They Matter.
They want to be given meaningful work to accomplish. They want to be partners in establishing what that meaningful work is and how it will be carried out. They are passionate about their ideas, and they have been brought up to understand that their ideas matter. They don’t want to just stand around talking. They want to change things (or at least shake things up). They are impatient with any leadership that communicates overtly or subtly that one group matters more than another. We taught them that God wants to use them. They believed us.
• They Love Working with Mentors.
They are eager to learn. They enjoy being paired with someone who has more life experience than they do (that is, when such relationships are conversational, not pedantic). They equally enjoy exploring the philosophical underpinnings of faith and the nuts and bolts of day-to-day ministry. They love the recommendation of a good book or a good movie or a song they’ve never heard before that will help them understand an idea more deeply.
• They Also Are Collaborative.
They feed off the ideas and energy of their peers. It is natural for them to work in teams – they are more naturally connected to the concept of the community of Starbucks than the idea of monastic isolation. They are not intimidated by the clash of ideas that is often the starting point of group work.
• They Want to Get Started Now.
They don’t see themselves as waiting in a queue patiently until it’s “their turn” to lead. They want a project to run with. Granted, maybe not the Trustees or the Finance Committee during the first six months they are part of your congregation, but they are entrepreneurial by nature, and they love a good challenge. A caveat offered here: In general, they do not perceive being appointed to serve on a committee as actual work being accomplished. (I will let you sort out your own opinion on the value of committee work with your personal therapist.)
• They Are Not Shy.
They like sharing their stories. They don’t mind being recognized for the work they are doing (in fact, they enjoy it). They are not embarrassed about being the center of attention – this is the way social media works: it trains people to curate their own narratives with pictures and words, and it is a natural process for such media savvy individuals to celebrate ministry through crafting their own firsthand reportage on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.
• They Like to Have Fun.
They understand that ministry doesn’t have to be boring. They came of age under the Youth Group model, in which small groups were dynamic, worship was energetic and kinetic, and service was hands-on and relational. They want to bring that same vibe to all ministry all the time. They do not assume that serious, thought-provoking topics require dour and somber treatment. They have grown up in an age in which comedy is routinely used to argue for social change.
• They Are Curious by Nature.
They love questions. They are not vexed by uncertainty or mystery. They have been raised to value multiple perspectives, and wisdom feels real to them when it comes from multiple angles. They want to know about all the aspects of how discipleship works, and they love getting to know the different communities which comprise their local faith family.
Many of these perspectives can be real eye-openers for those of us a generation or two older. We can be wary. But the OBJ article positions these millennial attributes, not as accommodations to be grudgingly made, but as strengths to be embraced and encouraged: “Once you’ve successfully recruited a top-notch millennial candidate, take full advantage of their skillset.”
That is exactly the attitude that we should have as ministry leaders. These attributes – this fresh take on interpreting the Gospel into action – are exactly what many struggling, moribund churches need. Imagine the possibilities to engage our communities with all this fresh energy! What have been your experiences with the millennials in your midst? How have you been challenged? How has your perspective been changed? And if you are a millennial or younger yourself, how does this article do at capturing the spirit of your generation? Share your thoughts in the comments section.