A millennial perspective on who millennials are and how our church is pushing them away.
As a 22-year-old church worker I’m used to talking with people about “millennials”. It’s the current buzzword in our church body and it seems like everyone wants a piece of the conversation. The term “millennial” or the “millennial generation” describes people born in the 1981-1997(ish) time frame, although most conversations I’ve heard use it incorrectly as a general description of anyone below the age of 35(ish). This generation is a generation that seems to be largely missing from our church body (if you don’t believe me, look around our church next Sunday and send me your tally of how many 20-somethings you see). But why are they gone? It’s not a simple question and I can’t give a simple answer, but I do believe there are simple steps we can all take to make our church a more inviting place for this generation.
If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never been a part of a positive conversation about millennials. Most conversations are usually about how they are needy/whiny/spoiled/cynical (and the list goes on and on). The closest thing I’ve ever heard to a positive remark is something along the lines of, “they sure know how to work technology and social media” although it’s usually followed up by, “but they spend all of their time on it!”. But here’s the thing, I’m a millennial! And I do take offence to what you’re saying. Because even if you are thinking of me as an “exception”, you’re still using broad, negative terms to describe my siblings, friends, and peers.
And from my perspective, there’s a lot of good that has already come from my generation. If you want examples, let me tell you about my older sister, who works tirelessly to produce an honest, unbiased news cycle as a journalist. Or let me tell you about my brother and both of my college roommates, who have devoted their lives to being a positive force in a broken education system. Can you hear me getting defensive? And this is coming from a girl who feels very comfortable in your church. Now how do you think these stereotypes would make me feel if I was already uncomfortable in a religious setting?
You see, I think most of these stereotypes stem from a perspective issue. Maybe you just don’t get where people my age are coming from. So let’s do some perspective comparison! Bear in mind that these are based off my experiences and my conversations, other people may have a different viewpoint.
Am I saying that my generation is without fault? Of course not! The world is made up of sinners, and I am chief of them. What I’m saying is when Jesus looks at me, he doesn’t see my sins or the sins of my generation. He sees the empty cross and the empty grave. As a church, we should strive everyday to do the same. The next time you hear yourself or your peers begin to stereotype any group, ask yourself how you would feel if you heard members of your church talking about you that way. Would you feel welcomed? Would you feel loved?
When I was talking with family and friends about how the word “millennial” annoys me because of the connotations it carries, they began to jokingly refer to it as the “m” word, just like young children refer to other swear words. Let’s not let our own perspective turn a people group into a negative thing. Let’s see others as Christ sees us and let our language, especially in church, reflect that. See me for me, church. Not for my generation.
Director of Christian Education and Proud Millennial
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church