Millennials have grown up in a fast-paced, rapidly-changing world that has hugely impacted how we see the world, the communities and structures around us, and how our faith fits into it all. Here are the 3 forces in particular the church needs to be aware of, and how to respond.
I've heard Millennials called the born-global generation. We've traveled in our young lifetime more than some previous generations have in all of theirs. We've experienced other cultures and also grown up speaking multiple languages.
More importantly, and without having to physically travel, the power of the internet and social media has brought a real-time connection to the world at our fingertips. We've grown up watching Youtube bring down governments. Facebook allows us to interact with a peer in the Middle East. Instagram lets us see the day-to-day lifestyle and humanity of people who don't look or act like us. Twitter makes even superstars accessible.
When we say that Millennials are incredibly appreciative of diversity (of all kinds), I think multimedia globalization is one huge cause of it - it has given us relationship with people who don't act, think, or look like us. And relationship is a powerful thing.
When our churches talk about hot-button moral issues or talk in terms of otherness, Millennials rapidly connect these ideas with real-life people they know and love and hurt for. When our churches communicate in black-and-white terms, we see gray and color and the ambiguity of life. When we look around and see mono-ethnic congregations, it doesn't match what we see and interact with outside the church.
Churches that engage Millennials will strive to connect truth and grace with the cluttered, clumsy realities of humanity, and involve a congregation that looks and sounds like the people we see in Walmart or Target on an average weekend. Globalization hasn't given us answers, but a lot of questions. We expect our churches to be as comfortable with ambiguity and not having to have all the answers when it comes to how faith plays into the real world around us.
Millennials have grown up in a time of massive disruption. Innovation is our native language, so our fluency with disruption is pretty strong. Think about the taxi monopoly a few years ago, before Uber. Or the hotel industry before Airbnb. Or how about universities that cost students 6-figures to attend, and now MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) like Coursera where high-level education can be attained for free or low-cost. The internet and mobile technology has allowed disruption and decentralization at a rate faster than anytime in history. Traditional power structures are constantly at risk of being disrupted by faster and better solutions that are now in the hands of the common person.
This decentralization from top-down power structures to bottom-up activity hasn't missed the church. Millennials aren't content to just hang-out in church, or merely accept what the pastor or leadership is saying and be done with it. They want to be involved in the key conversations and decisions when it comes to growth, organization, and stances on important issues. This doesn't mean church leadership or culture has to change or reposition, it just has to be communicated to and with younger generations.
Millennials are known for their individuality - unfortunately this has been seen as a character flaw, not as an opportunity, and certainly not as a byproduct of the world we've grown up in. Let's think back to the disruption in the last section, and what it allows us to do:
Uber: I am now the taxi driver, and I can make money doing it with my own car
Airbnb: I can choose where I stay and how I stay and when I stay, for cheaper than anywhere else.
Coursera: I can choose what I study and how it's right for me, when I want to study it, and for cheaper than anywhere else.
What's often lost in this conversation is that while Millennials feel empowered individually to do incredible things, they want to invest in becoming their most impactful selves while in vibrant community.
The church can be that community. Churches that invest in and emphasize the unique potential in each and every young person in their church, while encouraging that potential to be developed in togetherness and common purpose, will harness the best of Millennials' individualization and tame it's worst.