Here's a photo of me. If I asked you to label me, what words would you assign to me? Let me help. Would it be hippie, hipster, rebel, health nut, sporty, trendy, troublemaker? If these are some of the labels you gave, you're probably right; I've identified with all of these, and more, but these labels don't define me. Really, I am a wife, I'm caring and passionate, I love deeply, I love living in relationship with my peers, but above all, I am a Christ-follower. I am a Christian. And I'm a Millennial.
So, as a Millennial, I am going to explain who Millennials are, and tell you how to reach other Millennials.
Before I go further though, I want to share a few things you may not know about Millennials (I promise, these will be important later.)
I just finished reading "20 and Something", a small book by the Barna Group, and I was reading about myself. The book knew me better than I knew myself … those statistics up there are ones I know well, because I can run the emotional gamut of these in one day.
Yes, we (Millennials) are a strange group, and I'm sure sometimes it feels impossible to reach us, when we have a hard time looking up from our cell phones, and computers. But, let me tell you a secret, we are searching for connectivity, for something real, for someone to love and accept us and for authenticity. Our twenties are scary, and most of the time we have no idea what we are doing, so we search for others who are feeling the same way as we are, or we try to appear as if we have "it" all figured out.
Have you heard of YOLO (you only live once), or FOMO (fear of missing out)? Both acronyms were born out of my social media generation. YOLO is positive, and used when we do something we consider awesome, like skydiving, or spending a year after graduation traveling Europe. Most of the time, we use FOMO as a joke, like when a co-worker hates to call in sick because she may miss out on something important that day. On the other hand, FOMO has also become the dark side of social media.
David Kim, author of "20 and Something", explains FOMO like this:
What Millennials may have in breadth, they often lack in depth. Whereas an average Millennial may have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook, the vast majority of these relationships are and will remain superficial. In presenting a public image, users of social networking sites often selectively post updates and pictures of positive events, leaving their viewers with a totally unrealistic, one-dimensional view of who they actually are. … Seeing all the "awesome" things "friends" are doing every day on Facebook can make one feel isolated, unaccomplished, and envious. … At the very least, not wanting to be judged or appear like a loser, the viewer may feel pressured to limit what he or she shares online, leading to the expression of only a fragmented version of his or her true self. 1
Imagine being a "fragmented version" of yourself. How hard would it be to navigate your twentysomethings as a fragmented version of yourself? The stats I mentioned above now begin to make sense. Only a third of Millennials feel God is pleased with them, while over half feel He isn't pleased with their choices. Almost a quarter of us experience extreme loneliness. Half of us don't know what God wants for our lives, and constantly worry about making the wrong career choice. And with the pressure of social media demanding "the perfect, together life," we end up walking through life with only pieces of our true selves.
So, how does a Millennial combat the darkside of social media, and find one's true self?
Faith. More specifically, faith in Christ.
Kim writes, "Today approximately 25% of Millennials decline to affiliate with any organized religion. However such apparent religious apathy does not mean this generation is devoid of faith. … Twentysomethings may be leaving the church, but they aren't leaving faith." 2
The reason Millennials are leaving the church, is because they feel their beliefs aren't reflected in the church. Let me make it clear, they feel their beliefs aren't reflected, this does not mean their beliefs aren't reflected. Kim goes on to say the following, "Twentysomethings prize authenticity, cohesiveness, and tolerance, but perceive Christianity to be intolerant and exclusive, culturally irrelevant and hostile to those living nontraditional lifestyles, at least from an evangelical perspective."3
You can now see why almost half feel judged by older adults in their life; perhaps many of these adults were a part of their church home. Please don't see this as condemnation, or me judging you, the reader, but please for a moment place yourself in a twentysomethings' shoes. What if you took a year off from college to travel, so you can have a better idea of what career to choose, and you were looked down for it? What if you chose to work for a non-profit for less than minimum wage, and your elders constantly told you to find a job where you were making more money. See, for Millennials, it's not that we don't want to finish college (in fact, over half of us feel it's one of our top priorities), or find a job that pays more, we are looking for a life with meaning, and for those around us to support us, even if they don't necessarily agree with us.
Kim underscores this by stating, "The truth is that many young adults today aren't looking for a hipper coffee bar, more contemporary worship, or better cultural references in sermons. Simply put, they're looking for depth–spiritual relevance that connects to the world they live in." 4
I obtain my meaning by faith in Jesus Christ, and you might be surprised to know that I attend a very traditional church. There's no coffee bar, we sing mostly hymns and have a choir that still wears robes. I look different, and culturally I am different, but we have a deep spiritual connection. We crave truth and depth and community, which supersedes any other desire I have. As a Millennial, I want an authentic connection with my fellow believers, regardless if they're a Boomer, Gen Xer, Millennial or Gen Zer, and I'll absolutely sacrifice coffee (or tea), and my style of music for this connection.
In the conclusion of '20 and Something', Phyllis Tickle writes, "It is easy to get distracted by the externals of any institution, including the church. But beyond them, we find our center–the place where Christ meets us in the midst of all our unknowns, our turbulence, our shifting certainties. And that is the center we need–whether you're twenty something or eighty something." 5
With this in mind, how do you reach Millennials?
Just start with a conversation (because we are craving true relationships). Events, like Good Brunches are becoming increasingly popular, and effective, because in a conversation it's easy to throw away stereotypes, and preconceived notions, and instead meet another person (despite your differences) where they are at. Eventually, this conversation may turn into a friendship, and someday, this friendship may turn into an invitation to church, which may lead to Christ grabbing hold of another heart.
Millennials, we aren't some cryptic, alien race. We are humans, just like you, with the same fears, dreams and desires as other generations. All we are really looking for, is for someone to reach out, and accept us for exactly who we are at this moment.
* All statistics taken from the Barna Group in this
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