This is part three in a series about the characteristics and values of many in the Millennial generation. This series looks at how we can reach the Millennial generation with the gospel. And while I don’t know if there will ever be a mass turning of this generation to the Lord, I strongly believe that those who do believe are raising the bar in what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus.
Much has been written about Millennials and participation trophies, and while there is some truth to this (all good humor has some basis in reality), in fairness it is a bit overblown. It is true that the Millennial generation is the most photographed generation in the history of the world, and it is also true that this is the generation that, more than any other, has grown up on participation trophies and “You’re special” speeches. It is also true that these factors have likely had a profound impact on their collective Psyche. But while these phenomena have created several challenges in the lives of many of our younger adults, I don’t believe the effects have been all negative. One of the big positives that I see in this generation is an overwhelming sense of optimism. The Millennial generation truly believes it has something to offer the world and they truly believe they could be the generation that gets it right, much like the boomers did when they were younger. And much like the boomers in the 1960’s and 70’s, the Millennial generation believes it’s time has come. And I believe they’re right.
This paragraph is filled with generalizations. There is no way you can make blanket statements that apply to every member of a group of 85 million people. But while these statements may not be true in every case, I believe it’s valuable to look at these overarching trends. Most Millennials feel like they should be equal participants in adult society. Gen Xers, like myself, never felt that way, so many of us carved out our own little niches and tried to do our own little thing in our own little circles. We never fully expected to be able to compete with our predecessors, who outnumbered us by more than 12 million, and if you look at the fact that there has still yet to be a single Gen X America presidential candidate, we were probably right. Most Boomers also didn’t desire to be equal participants in society, as a generalization, many Boomers saw their role as replacing the old, rather than co-existing with it.
Millennials genuinely believe they can and should be equal participants in society. They don’t want to hide away, and they don’t necessarily want to take over, they’d just like to be invited to the table. Now, they definitely have opinions about what we’ve done wrong and they believe very strongly that they can help make things better, but as a rule, they also believe that they have much to learn from those of us who came before them.
This is great news for the Church. Gone are the days of sequestering the young people away from the rest of the Church Body, so they can, “do their own thing.” That was my generation; sorry about that. Millennials don’t have a deep-seated need to take over either, although actively engaging their participation is going to drastically change things (they outnumber boomers by 6 million, after all). What they really want, is a seat at the table.
One of my great joys as a pastor over the past several years has been seeing the age integration that is taking place in many of our small groups. I can recall a few Small Group meetings last year where we had myself and my wife (late 30’s), along with another couple about our age. We had another couple in their 50’s and their teenage son, as well as a couple in their 60’s and a middle-aged mother and her 21-year-old daughter, all seated together at the table. Everyone participating, everyone offering something, and listening to the points of view of others. It is a beautiful thing when something like that happens. There is a unity that reminds me of the opening chapters in the book of Acts where they were “all in one accord.” There is something about that kind of unity that is pleasing to God, and many in the Millennial generation (even some who don’t believe) desire to live and learn in that kind of unified setting. As we become more willing to engage them with the Gospel, this is going to transform the look of Discipleship in the American Church, for the better.
So, let’s stop with the participation trophy jokes. If I’m honest, we Gen Xers had that problem too when we were younger, and I could probably build a pretty strong case that the Boomers may have been the original participation trophy champs (two words…reverse mortgage). The participation trophy mentality has its challenges to be sure, but in the end, it may end up serving them and the rest of the Church well. It may end up teaching all of us a few things about the unity God desires to see in His Church.