I’m not going to lie; my heart is for the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000). Maybe it’s because I only missed being a part of that generation by two years. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a Gen Xer, but I feel like an older brother to them, like a friend who’s just a few steps farther down the road. Maybe it’s because I see a lot of similarities between the Millennials of today and the Gen Xers of twenty years ago. They’ve learned many of the lessons we unintentionally taught them, for better or worse, and in many ways, they’re growing into the people we never had the courage to become. Maybe it’s because of some supernatural burden God has placed on my heart, or a combination of all the above, but I think the biggest reason my heart is for this generation, is because the potential I see in them. I know many of them are steeped in a post-modern worldview, I know they are running from organized religion as fast as they can, but I still think, that when God grabs ahold of them, they will become better disciples of Jesus than we ever were. The following is a few reasons why I believe this.
Most sociologists will tell you that Baby Boomers value quality. They want to be a part of something that is the best. If they have to go to work, they want to run the place, they’ll give everything they have to excel at work. If they’re going to go to Church, they want to build a Church that will empty out every other Church in town. They want to listen to the most effective preaching, worship with the highest quality music, and participate in and create the most comprehensive and efficient programs. For almost sixty years boomers have been doing this, fighting to make this world a better place, reshaping it according to the image they see in their minds. For better and worse, they have largely succeeded.
Sociologists will also tell you that, as a generation, Gen Xers like me valued originality. Most of us wanted to be a part of something unique. I remember when I was in High School, someone would discover a new band almost every week and they would quickly become the biggest thing around. Until everyone started hearing them on the radio, and they immediately became “sell-outs”, simply because everyone else had now heard of them. That’s when we would check out. If we’re going to do it, we want to do it like no one else has ever done it before. And for the most part, we ended up believing that we couldn’t succeed in that, so many of us ended up checking out, at least for awhile. If the boomers wanted to fix it, we wanted to forget about it. The few of us who stuck around asked questions like; can Church be relevant? Can it be cool? Can it be done differently? If these sound like buzzwords that have crept up in the Evangelical Church over the past fifteen years. Yeah, that’s on us, and we’re sorry.
If I could pick one word to describe the Millennial generation, it would be authenticity. I’ve been asked several times, “how do I market my church to Millennials?” The answer is, you can’t. They’ve been marketed to every day of their lives since before they can remember in more ways than they can even count. They see it coming a mile away, and they hate it. If we want Millennials to get involved in our Churches, we’re going to have to convince them that faith in Christ is the real deal. And the only way we’ll convince them of that is if we first convince ourselves. That’s why so many of them are leaving in droves; they don’t believe it’s real. And the reason they don’t believe it’s real is that, when they look at us, they don’t see people who look like they believe it’s real. But even though it is currently driving many of them away from the Church, I think this desire for authenticity is a good thing.
I think we can all admit that for at least the last 70 years or so, American Christianity has not been exactly authentically biblical. The Millennial generation will not stand for this. They aren’t standing for this; they’re walking away faster than we can count. But Scripture puts a high-value on authenticity. Jesus didn’t want people who looked like Disciples, or who thought being a disciple was a good idea. He didn’t have time for people who said they would do Discipleship if they had more time, he was looking for authentic Disciples. He said, “come follow me,” for real, every minute of every day, and when this generation finally hears that call loud and clear, they are going to do a much better job of it than we did.