Last week I shared some thoughts on our Barna survey and our prayers and concerns and actions in trying to better reach out to our kids and grandkids, our young adults and children. Here are some results from some of their research on the “Millennials,” the largest generation ever in this country, born roughly between 1980 and 2002.
Almost six in ten (59%) who grew up in churches leave their faith or the church at some point in the first ten years of their adult life. That’s way too many. And when this generation is asked what has helped their faith grow, they say such things as prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children. What is conspicuously absent from the top ten—the church. That’s right. Church doesn’t even make it on a list of ten things that help their faith grow.
And this generation says something the older ones of us feel in an even greater way—that life seems complicated, that it’s hard to know how to live with all the information, worldviews and opinions they face in our culture and society each day. We forget sometimes that our youth and young adults feel the same way we do about the craziness in our culture today. And specifically what they are saying is even more telling: that today’s church “does not offer deep, thoughtful or challenging answers to life in a complex culture.” Our kids and grandkids are saying they need help making sense of life today! We must do better, and give them the serious, considerate, relevant help they need! God’s Word and the church should be the source of such help! If it’s not, that’s on us, not them.
The Barna research sees good news and opportunities in all this, giving several areas that we as a church and as caring older brothers and sisters in Christ can help develop greater connections with this group. These include building deeper relationships (the number one thing this generation—and all of us—crave); teaching cultural discernment; two-way mentoring—building opportunities for the older and the younger among us to learn from and contribute to each other; helping them see the value in their career from the perspective of a spiritual and Christian calling; and facilitating more and greater connections with Jesus.
What is especially key is for our younger generation to see authentic, genuine faith lived out in our lives all the time, every day. That means at home, work and church. That means when they hear us talk about someone or something they see and hear the love and spirit of Christ in our words, our tone, and our attitude. That means they see our words and beliefs matching up consistently (though not perfectly) with our values and our actions.
And a hearty amen to this quote:
Parents as well as church and organizational leaders should be open to learning all they can about Millennials in order to maximize their efforts to spiritually engage them. However, they should take care not to idolize this emerging generation and in so doing create a form of age-ism. Millennials should be a priority not because “youth must be served,” but because this generation is trying to learn faithfulness in a rapidly changing post-Christian culture. Millennials need the help of faithful believers from older generations if they are to make sense of it all and move meaningfully forward in their life and faith.
And isn’t that what we want for them more than anything else in this world?