In 1955, James Dean portrayed a rebellious teenager in the iconic film, "Rebel without a Cause." It came to symbolize rebelling against society when really, there was nothing that had been done to warrant this rebellion. Boomers grew up in an affluent time with intact homes, and yet, many rebelled against the conformist culture of that time.
Millennials are by and large the children of Boomers (and some leading edge Gen Xers). Unlike Boomers, who were at war with their parents, most Millennials have grown up with good relationships with their parents. They have been coached, watched over, educated, and in many cases, moved back home with their parents after college--in part due to the economic collapse and there being no jobs, in part due to not having grown up or desiring to not yet take on adult responsibilities, and in part due to their close connections with their parents.
When you are friends with your parents, it is rather hard to be rebellious. And Millennials as a group, therefore, "rebelled" from their parents by being clean cut, non-hippyfied, well educated, and socially responsible young adults.
Indeed, studies show that Millennials have lower drug and alcohol use than their parents' generation, and while sexuality and "friends with benefits" is rampant with apps like Tinder and the delay of marriage, there is even a counter cultural abstinence movement.
So, what is "cool" to this non-rebellious generation? In their article "Millennials and the Changing Meaning of Cool," authors Brett and Kate McKay give these characteristics of what Millennials find to be cool:
- Retro (I guess contemporary retro?)
Millennials tend to value experiences above money and career, as well as work-life balance. They also were raised being told that they were special, being the generation where everyone got a trophy, so the last thing that they want to do is think that they are just letting life pass them by. They want unique experiences that go against the norm, but in a non-rebellious way.
So how does all of this apply to reaching Millennials for Christ? Well, I and many other missional and cultural observers are trying to find this out! Based upon observations, research, and personal experience, I would say the following:
- To reach Millennials, church leaders need to be authentic. Millennials have been marketed to death, having grown up as the largest generation in history in an explosive media age. So while they still expect messaging to be well done, they will quickly see through mere marketing itself. What does catch their attention is when the real thing is encountered--and usually genuine passion and sacrifice is a sign of authenticity.
- To reach Millennials, it is helpful for a church to be a little unique in some kind of way. Not going against historic, religious orthodoxy. But perhaps with a unique approach, vision, way of doing things, etc. What is your church's unique vision?
- To reach Millennials, churches need to combine faith and lifestyle. This might mean, for instance, combining recreational and fun activities--i.e., mountain climbing, video games, etc.,--with devotionals and Bible studies. Certainly it means seeking to eliminate the sacred / secular divide.
- To reach Millennials, churches need to be more casual and informal. This goes beyond most people not wearing a suit and tie. Millennials tend to have very casual attitudes about membership--often being a part of multiple churches. Requiring Millennials to be a church member, for instance, before being allowed to go and feed the homeless, is going to be a challenge with this generation.
- To reach Millennials, churches need to be more experiential. This is how Millennials (and many others) "learn," and it is what helps them come to faith and stay faithful. Worship needs to be experiential, spiritual formation needs to be experiential, and outreach and service needs to be experiential. Rather than just having a study about feeding the homeless, for instance, try studying one week and then going and serving the next--or better yet, go and serve, and having a short devotional on the topic while out serving.
- To reach Millennials, churches need to give Millennials a cause to care about. Early predictions about Millennials were that they would be as civic-minded as the Greatest Generation. This has not yet proven to be true. However, Millennials do tend to care about social and economic justice, feeding the homeless, the environment, sex trafficking, and other social causes (check out this "Least of These" video of some Millennials in the Washington, D.C., area, who started a ministry for the homeless. Churches and church leaders who truly care about these things often are appealing to Millennials.
What do you think of the above list? How can we better reach the Millennial generation for Christ?