Turns out, though, talking about the Next Generations in the 21st Century really pushes the rest of us to wrestle with two big questions, and probably for a long time to come.
What does the church look like in a more urban environment?
For a while now, the narrative has been that Millennials prefer urban to suburban. Some number crunchers are now beginning to say this is a more anecdotal or media-driven storyline, while others are maintaining its truth. Both point to quantitative studies and research - such is the nature of statistics.
Who is right doesn't really matter as much as the fact that Millennials are getting us to talk more about cities, and that's a good thing. According to the United Nations, 54% of the world's population lives in urban areas, and projections expect that proportion to increase by 66% by 2050. While this isn't a recent phenomenon, it has been a rapid shift. In 1950, the urban population of the world numbered 746 million. In 2014 - 3.9 billion. The World Bank adds to the picture: 90% of the urban growth around the world is happening in the "developing world."
What does this mean? Both at home and abroad, the church is going to have to contextualize what it means to exist in more urban environments, and adjust to the socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and racial diversity that comes with it. In the American context, for example, a relatively recent trend has been the growth of the megachurch. Both in the U.S. and abroad, megachurches are filling some major gaps in positive ways. Abroad, megachurches are urban. The U.S. version is more suburban for purposes of sprawling campuses and lot sizes. Will the American megachurch shift urban? Will urban movements force decentralization into smaller faith communities?
Answering these questions is no longer a far-away topic of interest - it's a looming reality. Millennials can help craft answers for the not-too-distant future.
What does a Creative Church look like?
Don't look now, but Millennials won't be the cool kids forever. Up and coming are Generation Z, sometimes referred to as Homelanders.
Beginning research on this generation points to some drastic differences between Generations Y and Z. Generation Z was hatched in the aftermath of 9/11, and have grown up in a world that to them is a little less safe and secure. They're used to lacks of privacy, and will stay in their local area and be less global and adventurous than generations previous.
Out of these differences, however, arises an incredible similarity: entrepreneurship and creativity.
Generation Z, we're told, are born entrepreneurial, and have even less of a concept than Millennials of what it means to have a "job" and a "career." These youngsters will expect to create, and sell what they create.
If the church can get away now with the lack of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation it is often charged with, Gen Z will have little patience for any such deficiency. Millennials can help churches now figure out what it means to move fast and break things.
Side note: can you imagine what a church led by Millennials serving Generation Z will look like? It's going to be incredible...
By engaging Millennials well, the church can ask and answer effectively two interwoven questions: what does an urban, dense environment mean for the church, how does the church play a role in that context, and how can the church prepare now to be especially creative and innovative in meeting the demands of culture and generations in the years to come?
Have answers, thoughts, or experience in these areas? Share in the Comment section, or get in touch with me directly through this blog.