The Millennial generation needs good news. Here’s why. let’s start with a quick overview of the Millennial Generation. According to the linked video, Millennials are teens and young adults born between the 1980s and the early years of the 21st century. This description agrees with the classic definition of the Millennial Generation as young adults between 18 and 35 years of age. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with cell phones and the Internet. They also grew up during times of economic recession. Some have described Millennials as the most dissatisfied generation in American history. They are also the least religious generation in American history.
Problems of the Millennial Generation
Among the problems Millennials must deal with are heavy student loan debt, unemployment and underemployment, and the frustration of older people at their apparent addiction to social media. If they marry at all, they tend to marry at significantly older ages than previous generations. Millennials also tend to be pessimistic about the future–both about the future of our society and about their own personal future. They tend to have a casual view of sex, drug use, and gender identity. Millennials tend to be overwhelmingly liberal in their political views, but often don’t vote or take part in the political process.
The outlook for the future
So, within the next 10-20 years, the Millennial Generation will have assumed power in all sectors of society from government to business. Their views and values will dramatically shape our world. When it comes to Christian faith, few Millennials identify themselves as followers of Jesus. Next time you are in church, look around at who is there. If you see a healthy group of young adults in attendance, your church is among the few who are reaching this largely unreached generation. Most churches count very few Millennials in their congregation. This is the single most important issue that the Christian Church must solve in the next 10 years. If we don’t reach out to these people with some good news, Christianity in North America will look very different in the future.
I found an excellent video discussing what’s wrong with Millennials. The video by Alexis Bloomer entitled “Dear Elders, I’m sorry” went viral on YouTube. A Millennial herself, Alexis believes her generation is entitled, disrespectful, unproductive, and lazy — to name just a few of the problems she says are common among young people aged 18-35.
A call to action
Of course, it is wrong to label an entire group of people with any description because there is always variation in any group. Even so, many people have felt that Alexis Bloomer’s analysis of her own generation has some validity. Most importantly, at the core of her video, Alexis makes a strong call to action for her generation to show kind, respectful, and productive behavior. Thanks for your timely and sincere words, Alexis.
The missing motivation
The issue Alexis doesn’t go into is how this behavior can become a part of a person’s life. Alexis seems to have been blessed with good parenting. It is true that good upbringing can account for some good behavior for those who experienced it. However, learned behaviors only go so far without the personal peace, security, and a desire to do right that comes from deep within a person. Many people of all generations can speak of the inner change that came into their lives through embracing the good news of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus. Perhaps Alexis didn’t have the time to include this key inner motivation. Even so, I personally find this call to action refreshing and inspiring. What do you think?
I want to conclude my discussion from parts one and two of this blog about 21st Century faith. Christians who were raised in the 20th Century often find it a challenge to communicate the gospel in the 21st Century because of the quite different values and viewpoints of younger people.
In part one of this blog I discussed how 21st Century people tend to value functionality. Rather than asking the question of whether something is moral, they may ask whether it is practical. So given the practicality of people in our times, maybe we should be saying, “Come and meet my Jesus. Try him. You won’t be disappointed. OK, so you don’t believe Jesus is the THE truth. Fine. He is the truth, but he is also a lot of other things you do believe in. Jesus is real and loving and gracious and intriguing and full of purpose and adventure–things you value. Those qualities all ultimately come from Jesus Christ.”
As they check Jesus out, we older Christians must be more patient than we have been. 21st Century people may not change as quickly as we hope as they begin to follow Jesus. They may not immediately adopt everything we think a devoted follower of Christ should.
So in bringing this discussion to a close, let me ask a basic question: What if we actually succeed in reaching a significant number of 21st Century people? Along with that big question are some more specific questions to ponder.
Some questions to consider:
Can 21st Century people meet Jesus among us? In some cases we may have to be Jesus to them until they are willing to meet the Lord himself.
Will we want 21st Century people once they respond? They will change the way we do things in our churches and gatherings. Some of them won’t fit in very well. They may bring their kids– some of which will be disruptive. They may use a vocabulary we aren’t accustomed to. They may have a past that is pretty colorful.
What sacrifices are we willing to make to bring 21st Century people to Jesus and grow them in the faith? Remember, the gospel is for them as much as for any generation. What’s more, they are the future of Christianity in our society. So what are we going to do now to include them and prepare them to carry the banner of Christ into the future?
I want to continue my discussion from the part one of this blog about bringing good news to 21st Century people. Bridging the distinctly different cultures of the 20th and 21st Centuries is a challenge. If you are over 40, you were born and raised solidly in 20th Century Culture. In those days there was a much clearer line between right and wrong. People believed in truth and were at least open to the possibility of changing their minds if they found that they were wrong. I was born in the 1950s, so I am a child of the late 20th Century. But I have spent the years since the turn of the current century trying to understand 21st Century people and communicate the gospel to them.
When I started teaching community college students nearly 25 years ago, I began to realize that you can’t reach many contemporary people with the gospel using 20th Century approaches and methods. They just don’t get a lot of it. We older Christians don’t understand why. What we may be missing is that 21st Century people don’t want to be 20th Century Christians. Here’s the hopeful part: they can be reached with the gospel. But here’s the catch: the good news about Jesus must given in a way that meets the needs of 21st Century people. Let me be clear: it is the same good news, just packaged for a different group. Let me show you what I mean.
A 20th Century Preaching Model
Consider this biblical example of gospel preaching that was used in much of the 20th Century. In Acts 2, Peter and the Apostles preached the first gospel sermon on the day the Church was founded. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit and we doing some unusual things such as speaking in languages that they had never learned. Verses 14-16 give Peter’s answer to people’s mistaken thinking that the Apostles were drunk.
“ Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel..’”
Peter brings the sermon to the point in verses 36-39 where he says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”
Notice that Peter is confrontational. He directly accuses them of missing and even rejecting their Messiah. He is blunt, direct and does not attempt to soften the blow. Peter also assumes that these religious Jews know the scriptures and respect them. He builds on this knowledge by appealing to the their desire to be biblical and obedient.
In other words he preached to people with a basic understanding of the Bible and God’s ways and he confronted them directly about their sin and disobedience. This approach is the main model used by believers to preach the gospel in the 20th Century. It is very biblical, and for people back in the 20th Century, very effective.
21st Century Preaching Models
But this isn’t the only way the gospel was preached in the Bible. For example, here are a couple of samples of gospel preaching that may better fit people in the 21st Century.
The Samaritan Woman.
In John 4, Jesus is traveling through Samaria and met a woman drawing water at Jacob’s Well. They have a conversation about water and being thirsty. In verses 14-17. Jesus says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.
In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens and finds himself addressing some of the noted philosophers of the day. Notice that not once in this sermon does he quote scripture. Verses 22-23 show his ability to adapt to his audience: “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
The differences between 20th and 21st Century preaching.
In both John 4 and Acts 17, Jesus and Paul are interactive, rather than confrontational in their approach. They see the situation and viewpoint of the people they are speaking to and tailor a message for them. In John 4, Jesus knows that the woman has some knowledge of scripture, but that this knowledge is highly distorted, so he straightens out her cultic misunderstanding of scripture. He doesn’t criticize her for her misunderstanding, but instead he appeals to the woman’s obvious desire for acceptance and fulfillment. Hence her five failed marriages and current dysfunctional relationship. In the Acts 17 passage, Paul assumes no knowledge of or loyalty to scripture by the Athenians, so he doesn’t use it. Instead, Paul appeals to the Athenians’ spiritual emptiness and hunger for wisdom. Both of these approaches are very biblical. Both fit the needs of the people they were focused on.
What is my point? I am not suggesting any compromise of doctrine. I am not suggesting that we stop using scripture. I am saying we have to be open to changing at least some of our approach and ways of thinking in order to reach 21st Century people. Unless of course, we just plain don’t care what happens to them. I will suggest some ways that can help us be more effective with 21st Century people in the third and final part of this blog.
Its true: 21st Century people are different. If you are over 40, you have certainly noticed that life in the 21st Century is very different in many ways from how you grew up. Somewhere in the 1990s our culture experienced a major shift. We now live in a world of computers, Internet, cell phones, 30-second sound bites, and social networking. We over 40s are not natives to this culture.
The under 40s, and especially the under 30s, are at home in this digital, and socially revolutionized world. I call these younger folks (and older folks who think like they do) 21st Century people. Some of these 21st Century people go to church, but, truth be told, not that many. Our youth groups are making an effort to reach some of them. A few of them are even solid members of gospel-centered churches, but again, not that many.
All of us are related to 21st Century people. We depend on them for many goods and services in our daily lives. We often don’t understand them. Sometimes we are afraid of them. We are puzzled by the fact that 21st Century people often don’t seem to respond to the gospel. They seem to shrug off the good news that God loves them and sent Jesus his son to redeem them and make them new from the inside out. We wonder why they aren’t captivated by our neat gospel packages and stunned into silence by our expert handling of scriptural truth.
Why is this? According the Barna Survey group, among young people who were raised in some kind of church, around 60% will walk away from active faith when they reach the age of 18. Some will return eventually after some life-experiences, like the military, marriage, or gaining some life experience. Many however, show no signs of coming back. Why not? Well first we need to understand a little bit about what makes 21st Century people tick. 21st Century people place a high value on:
21st Century people have listened to advertising and sales pitches all of their lives. They are naturally suspicious of claims that promise more than they can deliver. They see celebrities living fake lives. They hear fake news. They have been hurt by broken promises and broken relationships. They are starved for reality that is wholesome and fulfilling.
People of the 21st Century tend to make decisions on whether something seems to work or be useful, rather than whether something is morally right. In other words, asking whether something is moral or whether it pleases God, is not their first question. While some of this functional morality is just a convenient way to escape hard decisions, they actually do believe in morality. 21st Century morality focuses on whether something appears to be unkind or unfair rather than whether it satisfies the teaching of the Bible.
21st Century people have been raised to believe that a bottom-line virtue is to accept others’ beliefs, lifestyle choices, and culture. They are concerned that people not be excluded or judged. On the other hand, they are themselves often very intolerant of anything that seems to go against tolerance. And they are apparently blind to how inconsistent their viewpoint is.
Facebook, call-screening, texting, and Twitter are forms of communication that allow relationships within a tightly controlled circle. for 21st Century people, friends are often more involved in their lives than even close family members. This is especially true when so much of family life is dysfunctional in our times.
Its almost like 21st Century people can’t bring themselves to believe wholeheartedly in any kind of future or relationship that is positive. My view is that they are so used to being disappointed, so used to being promised things that never happen, that they are afraid to believe in anything good. So when Christians offer forgiveness and eternal life they are skeptical. When we say that they can have joy in the midst of strife, or fulfillment through faithfulness because God will never let them down, they just can’t bring themselves to believe it.
People have called me overly optimistic, and I may be. If I am, its because I believe in a God who loves me and has never forsaken me and who has promised to fulfill his purpose in my life. I also believe that God’s promises are for my blessing. So grieve for those in our times who lack that kind of hope.
Bringing Good News to 21st Century People
I consider myself one of those people who is a bridge between the two cultures. Like most of you who are my age and older, I was born and spent my childhood solidly in the 20th Century. Right was right and wrong was wrong. The truth was, well, the truth. But I have spent many years since those days trying to understand 21st Century people and communicate the gospel to them.
It wasn’t until I started teaching community college students in the early 1990s that I began to realize that we can’t reach many younger people with the gospel of Christ using 20th Century approaches and methods. They just don’t get a lot of it. What we need to understand is that 21st Century people don’t particularly want to be 20th Century Christians. But here’s the hopeful part: they can be reached with the gospel, which is eternal and trans-cultural. There’s a catch, though: the good news has to be given in a way that meets the needs of 21st Century people. Its the same good news, just packaged for a different group in a different time.
Let me be clear about what I am driving at:
I am not talking about compromising what the Bible teaches or solid Christian doctrine.
Neither am I suggesting that we get rid of the wonderful heritage we have in our churches or disrespect the generations that have gone before.
What I am saying is that we re-think the way we go about evangelism and ministry. I am hoping that we won’t just take for granted that the way we have done things in the past is the way we should continue to do things.
I will leave you right here because what I have to say on this subject is too long for one blog. I will pick up my discussion in the sequel to this most important subject for the future of American Christianity.
One of the reasons I founded Aspect Ministries in 2013 was to help people understand why so many Millennials are leaving organized Christianity. According to experts on this generation, Millennials are young people born in the 1990s and later. Helping people understand and reach Millennials wasn’t the only reason I started this ministry, but it was one of the key reasons why I did. Of course, there are a number of factors why Millennials reject Christian faith. One factor that comes up frequently is some sort of bad experience with Evangelical Christians.
I know that being treated badly by Christians is sometimes is just an excuse for rejecting Jesus. I know that sometimes it turns out that the Christians may not have done anything unkind at all. That said, it is undeniable that Christians have said and done things at times to hurt people and to give them an excuse for rejecting Christian faith.
Before I go any further, I need to say that I myself am an Evangelical Christian. I chose a life of following Jesus in my second year of university in 1972 during the height of the Jesus Movement. Since then, I have earned a master’s degree from a theological seminary and am finishing up a doctorate. In the last 40 years, I have been a campus minister, a pastor and a trainer of Christian leaders. I have also taught college part time for the last 25 years. During my ministry, I have met and worked with many kind, intelligent and amazing people. On the other hand, certain negative experiences during my ministry have caused me to step back a pace or two in recent years in order to see Evangelical Christianity more objectively. So, I bring both of these perspectives—- the positive and the not-so-positive—to whatever insights I may have on this subject.
Who are these Evangelicals?
So, who are these Evangelicals and why do some people react so strongly against them and their faith? Despite what outsiders may assume, Evangelicals are not uniform in their backgrounds, beliefs or personal views. Many Evangelicals come from families that have practiced Christian faith for generations. Others came into Evangelical Christianity at some point later in life, embracing its beliefs, attitudes and culture. As with any group, Evangelical Christianity includes warm, gracious people and mean-spirited people; broad-minded people and narrow-minded people; generous folks and self-centered individuals.
While Evangelicals do share a common core of biblical beliefs, they differ widely in terms of important issues, such as how Christian faith applies to contemporary life. For instance, some are more isolationist, while others are much more socially engaged. They sometimes disagree on how far the presentation of the Christian message should accommodate current culture in order to be relevant and accessible. They may also disagree about how much things like status, power and wealth should be sought and used to further the gospel and enhance personal life.
Along with these differences, Evangelicals may disagree on various secondary points of Christian doctrine, spiritual practices and on specific political and social issues. For instance, White middle-class American Evangelicals are well-known as favoring the Republican Party on many issues. On the other hand, equally committed African American Evangelicals have tended to sympathize with the Democratic Party on many, though not all of its core positions. Because of these differences, it is difficult for anyone to speak about what Evangelicals believe or why the do what they do. Any attempt to do so will probably be a an oversimplification.
What to do when Millennials are Hurt by Christians
So what can people do about Millennials and others who reject Christian faith because of real or perceived offenses by Evangelical Christians? Here is what I suggest:
If you have offended someone and given reason to reject Christian faith, you need to sincerely apologize. Then do what you can to make it right. If you really don’t think you were wrong, then do what you can to restore the relationship. In other words, you need to make the move on your end to heal the relationship if possible.
If you weren’t personally involved in the offense, then acknowledge their pain, admit that sometimes Christians don’t represent Jesus very well, and gently remind them that Jesus never hurt them. Make it clear that Jesus is the real point of Christian faith, not Christians or their behavior.
Disillusioned and bitter Millennials who reject Christianity need to hear some truly good news. The good news is that Jesus deeply loves them and is committed to making them the best and most fulfilled people they can be. Let’s be clear: in no way does God condone or accept sinful attitudes and lifestyles—either in unbelievers or in believers. But according to Romans 8:28 he is for anyone who is willing to love him and trust him. If Millennials will consider Jesus for who he is, and are willing to trust him, he has promised to be for them and to make them new from the inside out. That really is good news!