Millennials and Ministry: The New Normal
Joshua Bleeker, Director of Admissions, wrote about millennials for the Spring edition of our Alumni Connection newsletter. His goal is to help alumni from other generations relate to, minister to, and serve alongside the next generation of leaders.
Looking back over ten years of experience in admissions, with the last five as Director of Admissions at DTS, I’ve observed a significant shift in our student demographic.
What is a Millennial, anyway?
Gen-Xer’s (born approximately 1961–81) champion the ideals of independence and risk. Millennials (approximately 1982–2001) respect their parents’ values (generally), find comfort in safety, and love teamwork. Where did they come from and what do we do with them?
They came from us! And we have much to gain by ministering to them and with them.
Since birth, parents told Millennials they were special and successful. Everyone got a blue ribbon at the science fair. This produced unbending optimism in this generation; they bring a resolute hope to all they do.
We also ingrained in them a devotion to safety. When I mounted my first bike, my dad armed me with one thing: advice. “Don’t kill yourself, Son.” Millennials, however, donned protective gear that could win a five-star crash rating. Thus, this generation often recoils from risk, but they move forward by working in teams. This team-oriented mindset creates a solid ministry model.
Also, Millennials work hard. When I applied for college, I submitted my high school transcript, ACT score, and a couple of brief essays. Millennials do all this plus excel in sports, gain AP credit for classes, and volunteer in extracurriculars that aspire to save the world.
The book, Kisses from Katie, documents the remarkable vision of the author, Katie Davis. As an eighteen year old, she moved to Uganda and founded Amazima Ministries, which locates homes for orphans. Still single, Katie has adopted over a dozen children into her own home. This story displays the kind of sacrificial courage Millennials willingly demonstrate.
How You Can Challenge Millennials
Now, are Millennials just so super that we do not need to consider ways to challenge them? Hardly.
Often, Millennials embrace all forms of wisdom, even from other faiths. Buddhists argue that “to live is to suffer” because of the imperfection of humanity. Christians would agree. But, Christians argue for a different solution. While wisdom may come in many forms, the wisdom of God is ultimately the person of Christ alone.
Cherishing safety, Millennials often move home after graduating from college. They take longer to emerge as independent adults, delaying marriage and changing jobs with whimsical frequency. We must give them a vision for what it means to be faithful for the long-haul in the face of unavoidable risks.
Millennials know their competencies. We can harness their confidence to generate energy for ministry models. Still, “beta-check” their skills. Give them opportunities to prove themselves. Observe. Then, offer critiques with love and humility.
Some reduce all this to “Modernism v. Postmodernism,” but I believe this shortchanges the reality. Yes, moderns respond to evidence that demands a verdict, whereas Millennials respond to a story that offers them significance. But in both cases, Christians embrace Jesus Christ alone, whether He is revealed through Pauline precision or a Johannine journey.
Millennials bring confidence, teamwork, and a strong work ethic into our ministries. Yet, we can challenge them to commitment, growth in competency, and ministering with clarity about Christ. Together, the church will surely benefit!