By Steven A. Hitz, Launching Leaders Worldwide

In a conversation recently with one of my friends who works with pastors and religious leaders to engage Millennials (young adults), a pastor said, “I can’t figure them out, I’m done with em.”

“Really?” our friend said in reply. “You’re just gonna give up on connecting to 77 million people?”

I found this conversation very intriguing. I wonder how many faith group leaders feel the same way, that their ability to connect to 20- to 30-somethings is difficult and perhaps the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

I am fully aware that many in the Boomer era (for example) have mischaracterized the Millennials and are at odds with their lifestyles and practices.  But I celebrate this wonderful generation, and have determined that any lack of positive connection is due to an inability to learn, love, and appreciate them.

Electronics and technologies metaphor. Isolated on whiteThere is a growing disconnect with Millennials because of the stereotypes many people hold about them. I have had enough personal experiences, and have read enough studies, to simply say that those who label this generation are usually as wrong as chocolate syrup on steak. I believe that with relevant and accurate information, we can sew the fabric of the generations and faith together.

As I pondered the statement “I can’t figure them out, I’m done with em,” I boiled down my thoughts to these reasons to stay engaged.

  1. LOVE. For Millennials, so much of their DNA is relational.  That is, they are enlivened by relationships that engage and empower, not demean and judge.  Loving this generation is really natural and easy IF you first take a step back and admire the lives they are leading.  If you are a boomer reading this, do you remember how rebellious your parents thought you were when you wore bell-bottom pants and platform shoes?  Now the trends include piercings, tattoos, hair designs of all types, apparel (or not), and so on. When one looks upon the heart and loves people for their unique nature FIRST (without judgment), then the anecdotal stuff evaporates like dew in the sun and is replaced with holistic respect and genuine care.
  2. LEARN. Personal engagement is the best source of knowledge.  I became a pilot once, and when I actually took my first solo flight, my hands-on learning took on a whole new meaning. No longer was I watching someone else fly a plane on video or in the passenger’s seat. You can study the Millennials by various means in all of their forms; but you can only authenticate that knowledge by spending time with them.  As you learn more about them, it becomes much easier to connect. Why? Because they make sense. The package they came in is as unique as a snowflake, and by learning more about them, it is easier to love them.  As I said in a recent blog post, “3 keys to working with Millennials,” you need to learn their language. Take the time to learn about them and really know them.
  3. APPRECIATE. Maybe the number one key is don’t try to fix them.  Part of the appreciation we ought to have for them is centered in recognizing the amazing things they are teaching us and appreciating the authentic lives they are living.  Appreciation is most often communicated in the eyes and by expressing gratitude. This real time generation is motivated by feedback and recognition.  Appreciate them enough to communicate with gratitude—and mean it.

I believe any frustrations in establishing a positive connection with Millennials can be answered by these three reasons to stay engaged. This generation is teaching us great lessons in questioning the status quo, not judging, seeking understanding, and living lives with purpose.  I for one want to establish deep community with them, sincerely LOVE them without an agenda, LEARN about them and from them, and APPRECIATE their value and worth by authentically celebrating who they are.

Learn more about engaging your Millennials in their faith through the Leader’s Portal of Launching Leaders, and through Steve’s book, Leadership by LIGHT: Principles That Empower

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