As a millennial who has grown up in the evangelical church, I’ve witnessed many painful interactions between “church folk” and members of my generation. You’d think the two parties weren’t even speaking the same language! It’s fairly well known that millennials have different values from the older generations that are currently sitting in seats of power in our society and in the Church and that this difference contributes to the breakdown in communication. To briefly name three, we value…
- Authenticity – we’re not perfect and we know you’re not either. We see through your facade and don’t trust it. Having grown up in the world of the internet and social networking where people can portray themselves in their best light all of the time, having the safety and space to authentically be who we are is important to us.
- Social justice – we care deeply about and prioritize people’s physical, mental, emotional, AND spiritual health. We want economic, educational, social, and political equality for all people.
- Flat power structures – we are wary of any one person or group that keeps a lot of power for itself. We are distrusting of centralized institutions and rigidly structured organizations including, you guessed it, the church. Power imbalance is one of the root causes of the oppression, exploitation, and inequality we’ve seen throughout the history of humanity.
Knowing this about my generation, here are three ways to engage with millennials, both churched and unchurched:
1. Don’t invite us to church…first
Before we want to come into a space that you’re comfortable in, where you know the right language and phrases to use, the songs to sing, the people to talk to, and the etiquette, invite us into a space that we’ll be comfortable in and get to know us. Maybe that means meeting at a coffee shop, your house, or another third space. We appreciate people taking genuine interest in us and, thanks to the inundation of marketing we’ve been hit with since birth, are generally really good at knowing when something is insincere.
2. Ask good questions
Everyone values being noticed and being listened to. Asking the right questions allows you to show a person that you are doing just that. Along with asking the right questions is not giving stock answers or using Christian cliches as a response. Especially if we grew up in the church, we know them all and are probably not impressed. It feels like you’re letting yourself off the hook and not truly engaging with what we’re expressing. As we’re talking, share a little about yourself as well. It makes us feel like we’re on the same level and not like you have an agenda for getting to know us.
3. Acknowledge and embrace the gray areas
The majority of millennials don’t believe the world is black and white. We see gray everywhere. It makes sense to us that two people would arrive at a different conclusion to the same question based on their differing life experiences, both positive and negative, their beliefs, and their values—even two Christians. We have grown up in an increasingly globalized, yet connected world, and we have embraced all of the variety and diversity that comes along with that. We value and enjoy the range of opinions, languages, and cultures we experience on a daily basis and don’t press hard for assimilation. Jump in and explore this world we live in with us!
When asked what we would want church to look like, 48% of all millennials (churched, marginally churched, and unchurched) chose an image of a small-group Bible study, according to a study done by the Barna Group in March of this year. The image shows four people, engaging in dialogue together without hierarchy or teaching and clearly enjoying themselves. This is a Q Place. A group of people coming together as peers to discuss God and the Bible, in the context of issues that have relevance to them, with the hope of growing closer together and closer to the truth.
Because the truth is out there. When we’re ready to find it, walk alongside us and discover afresh how it can set you, and us, free.