Diane J. McDougall has served as editor of EFCA publications, both in print and online, since 1997.
We're Not So Mysterious
Listening to the next generation
This latest generation entering college and the workforce—the millennials—are making their mark on the world and in the news.
Companies like Merkle, a data-based performance marketing agency, study their behavior and motivations, to better help brands know how to gain their trust. Consider how Bernie Sanders captured the attention and enthusiasm of these emerging adults, and now political pundits wonder where they’ll cast their votes, come election time.
An increasing number of millennials are living with their parents, altering family dynamics and the very fabric of our communities. And a disproportionately large number of them are part of our U.S. criminal justice system.
What does all this mean for the Church? What role does the local church even play in millennials’ lives?
The generation is large enough and diverse enough that it cannot be easily categorized. That's a good thing. But their thoughts and behaviors, motivations, fears and passions matter. Why not start with the millennials in our own congregations, and learn what they have to say about faith and the church . . . and how the church might love them well and learn from them at the same time?
Here, three emerging adults in EFCA congregations offer a few insights and invite further conversation. Visit efcatoday.org to hear from a few others of their cohort. Then, explore the full issue (“Spanning the Generational Gap”) and learn how older generations in our EFCA churches are inviting millennials to offer their voices.
Everyone has something to say about the mysterious millennial generation, whether in blogs, news articles or sermons. However, we’re not that mysterious and strange. We’ve become dissatisfied with the way things have been given to us in almost every realm of life, and in this crucible of time we’ve found some things that are authentic to us.
From coffee to music to our hobbies, we have found a way to do life with people around things we love. This is what the church should look like for every generation: doing life authentically with one another around Jesus Christ.
Overall, I think we just want to be validated, loved and respected like any other generation. If you’re real with us, we’re real with you. Start by teaching biblical truths even when they’re uncomfortable. Create opportunities for us to be vulnerable with sin, uncertainty and confusion without feeling as though we’ll be ostracized for sharing.
Create forums for the church to discuss topics and move toward a more communal style of church activities, to bring the generations together. To our generation, raised by fatherlessness and social media, real-life interaction between peers and older role models is a huge catalyst for change, confession and community.
When people my age leave our families and start living on our own, we often start questioning everything we’ve been taught to believe, whether we mean to or not. In the church, this could lead to people thinking we’re abandoning faith altogether, and sometimes that’s not the case at all. In my last year in college, I considered becoming an agnostic. Once I started studying philosophy and asking hard questions, I found that I couldn’t separate what I believed for myself from what I believed through someone else’s guidance. I didn’t know what I believed anymore. And to make it worse, I had no one to talk to about it. The church isn’t always the best place to experiment with such things.
Reaching millennials is not reliant upon loud music or a relevant message; millennials value a sense of deep connectivity and relationship. Reach out on an individual level to connect with us. Also, by having a totally family-driven culture, a church will probably turn some millennials away. This might mean not elevating marriage on such a high pedestal. Yes, marriage is a divine gift that should be cherished, but churches need to elevate singleness as a viable option with the purpose of serving the church.
Interact with us here at EFCA Now:
• Can you share any original ways that your church proactively brings the generations together—to listen to and learn from each other?
• Where do people in your church most likely turn when they have hard questions to ask and doubts to express? Are doubts accepted as a normal part of faith? If a church member has a specific story to tell about working through doubts in the safe environment of your church, please tell the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.