“When asked by an organization to help them better engage millennials, a mentor of mine replied, ‘Why don’t you just talk to them?’ ”
Someone’s missing in the church today. Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2004) are not engaging in our church communities like youth and young adults used to. So what has changed in our churches to lead to this problem? The problem is, not much.
As a 20-year-old Christian, I often think about this issue. Why, despite the investment of time, effort and thousands of dollars in the development of youth and young adult ministries, is the church not seeing results? The short answer is: the youth and young adults of our nation have changed.
In school, we are taught to interact with one another, to own our actions, and to think for ourselves. We’ve grown up in a social media culture where sharing our opinions is commonplace. We want to share our ideas and our concerns. Unfortunately, the church has not readily embraced the positive aspects of this culture and, I believe, has missed out on an opportunity to connect with us.
Many times, when decisions are made about ministries or strategies to attract millennials, none of us are present at the table. This, in my opinion, is a fatal mistake. Churches and organizations want our participation and attendance, but they do not include us in the decision-making process.
When asked by an organization to help them better engage millennials, a mentor of mine replied, “Why don’t you just talk to them?” They responded by saying that she was an expert on millennials, and they really wanted her advice and insight.
Here are a few reasons why I think churches are hesitant to involve us at the decision-making level.
Every generation exhibits unique attributes, but our generation has perhaps pushed the boundaries on more than its share of norms that previous generations accept. It can be challenging to “get us” and understand where we are coming from.
I think churches fear that we will make unrealistic demands and self-centred proposals, making the already difficult process of decision making even messier. This is a legitimate concern. However, living in community is what God calls us to do. Community can be messy, but it’s part of God’s plan that we work together for the extension of His kingdom.
My generation has been labelled the “selfie” generation. We have been called entitled and narcissistic, and the labels are not without foundation. All you need to do is look at our social media presence to confirm that. Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, examines this reality in her book, Daring Greatly. She writes, “… when I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”  Brown points out that we now live in a culture of scarcity, plagued by the feeling of not having, doing or being enough. This is the environment my generation has grown up in. I understand that this brokenness can create messiness at decision-making tables and in staff cultures. But including us may be the cure. Showing us that our ideas matter by giving us a venue to express them may be what it takes to make us feel loved and connected.
My purpose is not to place blame. I know that if you put this into practice, things will be messy. We’ll bring new perspectives and ways of doing things that perhaps you’ve never thought of. Sometimes our ideas will be unrealistic, even a little scary. Please know this: we, like you, want things to be better than they’ve been in the past. Remember that we are products of the world you created. We want to be part of a community that is respectful, caring, loving, just—and, yes, maybe even a little bit unrealistic.
Until we are invited to sit at the decision-making table, I don’t think churches will ever see the engagement of millennials that they so desperately need and want to see. And as scary and unconventional as it may be to include us, I believe you will find your community a better and richer place if you do.
Signed, a millennial trying to care for millennials.
Calum Smith is a third year student at York University. He has worked as a constituent assistant for a member of Parliament (MP) in Ottawa, Ont. and Winnipeg, Man., and he actively volunteers at Agincourt Church in Toronto, Ont.
- Definition according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory.
- Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Avery Publishing, 2012), 22.
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This article appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.