This is part two 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 wth the gospel and how the Millennials are likely to reach us, and teach us to be better Disciples in the process.
In the 1990’s sociologists began to document the emergence of a phenomenon they dubbed “the urban tribe.” Basically, it was the tendency of young professional Gen Xers who would move away from home, usually to a larger city to start their adult life on their own. Many times, they would arrive with nothing but a place to stay, a few dollars in their pockets, and a promise or at least vague hope of employment. These young twenty-somethings then tended to bond together forming deep, almost familial relationships with other young twenty-somethings who were in the same situation. For more research on this phenomenon just watch Friends or Seinfeld. These sitcoms serve as excellent documentaries on the subject.
Central to this developing phenomenon was the unprecedented level of communication that my generation enjoyed. Long-distance phone calls, inexpensive air travel, email, and AOL Instant Messaging made it easier than ever to communicate with people across long distances and made the world smaller than it had ever been before. Still, the level of connectedness that we experienced in the nineties was nothing compared to what most Millennials have grown up with. I still remember going off to college five states away from my girlfriend, lying awake at night longing just to hear her voice, but knowing I had already spent too much on long-distance phone calls for the month. I remember reading her hard-copy letters over and over again and flipping through the half-dozen or so pictures I had of her. If all this seems strangely primitive in today’s world of Kik and Instagram, it’s because Millennials are connected in ways that most of us could have never imagined just twenty years ago. Yet, I would argue, and many of them would agree, that this connection is often very shallow and inauthentic (and we know what most Millennials think about authenticity). Most of them have a profound longing for something more substantive. There is an intense loneliness in this generation, a thirst for genuine community, even if many of them don’t recognize it yet. The ones who do recognize it and understand what the bible has to say about living in community, demand nothing less than biblical community from their Churches.
This desire for community stretches far beyond the urban tribes of Generation X. There is a desire to live in community, even across generations. Most people would be surprised at how many millennials are into genealogy because there is a desire to connect themselves to something bigger; to be a part of a family, a movement, a community, and a legacy. Many Millennial pastors and seminary students have ditched the Max Lucado and Lysa Terkeurst books in favor of Wesley, Calvin, and Augustine. I remember a young man I met several years ago. He was in his mid-twenties, and in the dictionary next to the word Millennial, there is a picture of this guy, complete with his vape pipe and his “This beard is my spirit animal” t-shirt. He is also a committed believer. As we talked, we got onto the subject of Church and he told me that he had always struggled with modern churches. I couldn’t imagine he was objecting to our mid-tempo pop worship songs that we sing on Sunday mornings, so I asked, “when you say modern church are you talking about contemporary-worship-modern, or do you mean more post-Constantine-modern.” “Yeah, post-Constantine, that’s it,” he replied excitedly, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Most Millennials have a sincere desire for community with one another, community with adults of other generations, and in many cases, even community with those who have been long dead. Among Millennial Believers there is a desire to truly share life with one another the way Acts 2:42-47 describes it being done in the first century Church. This passage describes believers, living as brothers and sisters, sharing meals together, praying together, studying the Scriptures together, daily. It describes them living in community, going out into the marketplace together. These first-century believers really did make up the early urban tribes, long before my generation came up with the idea thirty years ago. Many Millennials read these things in Scripture and they demand nothing less of themselves and of their modern-day Church communities.
This may not be accurate in every single case, but as a general rule, if Millennials are leaving your Church, it’s probably not because they desire more anonymity, that was largely my generation’s hang-up. They’re probably not leaving because your traditional worship services are too outdated, again, that was the Gen Xers, sorry about that. If Millennials are leaving your Church, it’s more likely that they feel the Church is too disconnected and desire to live in a more biblically authentic and connected way than your church is used to living. This is hard, but it is also biblical. Millennials have a lot to learn from the generations who have gone before them, and most of them recognize that – at least to a certain extent – but we also stand to learn a lot from them. As they take their position in society over the next decade or so, I believe they will push our Churches to embrace a more authentic and biblical version of Christianity than we’re used to seeing, and I think that’s a good thing.