Who are the millennials?

March 26, 2014 | Editorial
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

They are confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults, less religious—while claiming to be spiritual— less likely to have served in the military and are on track to become the most educated generation in North American history.

Thus concludes Pew Research about the new generation called millennials, the 18- to 29-year-olds recently becoming top-of-mind in the media, with political strategists and, yes, in our own projections as to what the future Mennonite church will look like in another 10 to 20 years. And while the Pew researchers are American-based and have studied their young people, many of their conclusions apply to Canadian young people as well.

This generation, says Pew, is unique in its characteristics as compared to the previous generations labelled Gen X, boomers and, finally, the elderly, called the “silent generation.”

Some of what makes them unique is that they are marrying later; are upbeat about their economic future, despite the fact that 59 percent of them do not have full-time jobs and are likely living at home; are heavily into social networking; and communicate almost entirely through smart phones.

“Millennials are more likely than their elders to treat cell phones as a necessary and important appendage,” says Pew. “Many even bring their cell phones to bed—57 percent.” They mostly text, rather than talk; the median number of text messages sent and received in a 24-hour period was 10.

But the most sobering statistic regarding the future of the church is that 59 percent of them with a Christian background are not attending church—See “Where are the young worshippers?” on page 34—and some eight million will leave the church before age 30, according to Rachel Held Evans, who recently addressed students at Eastern Mennonite University on the subject: “Millennials and the future of Christianity.”

Why is this generation leaving the church? she asked.

Herself a millennial, she said, “We are tired of the culture wars. We want to be known for what we are for, not what we are against. We are tired of especially evangelicals tying themselves to one political party. We want to be part of a ‘kingdom’ that transcends political and national boundaries, and whose allegiance is to God’s kingdom, above all.

“We don’t want to choose between science and our faith. We want the church to be a safe place to doubt, to wrestle with questions about our sexuality, about science, about biblical interpretation. We want the church to be a place where we can find the truth. We want the church to be a place where our gay and lesbian friends feel welcome and not treated as second-class citizens.

“We want our faith to be more than a set of beliefs or rules to obey, but rather a lifestyle to live. We want our church to look less like a social club or accommodating an ideology, but to be more like Jesus.

“We don’t want a cooler band, or a coffee shop in the lobby, or a pastor who wears skinny jeans,” she continued. “No, no, we are not looking for changes in style, but in substance—not a hipper church, a more stylish church; we are looking for Jesus. The assumption of our elders too often is that if they make a few style changes, we will come, or stay.

“Look, we are the generation that has been advertised to all of our lives. Consequently, we have developed very finely-tuned B.S. meters. We know that everyone is trying to entertain us; we can smell this a mile away! The last thing we want the church to do is to sell us another product.”

Moving then to some solution, she asked how millennials can partner with their elders to “find Jesus” in all of these shifting values. “We tend to make this far more complicated than it is. We find Jesus in the Word, in communion, in baptism, where ‘two or three are gathered.’ We see Jesus in the ‘least of these’—the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the left-out.”

She urged the students to “get out of God’s way,” so he can fulfill Isaiah’s call to “make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’’ (Isaiah 40:3).

So, Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Task Force, here are some clues.

--Posted March 26, 2014

See also: Where are the young worshippers?

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I am millennial x2 but relate and can identify with just about all of this editorial. The sentiments presented are not confined to the demographic in the title.

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