They may well be the most honest Americans ever. They pull no punches and say what they think. That, by itself, sets them apart from many in the generations just ahead of them. Yes, even church people who often will say what they imagine is polite or expected of them rather than the plain truth. They are different. For the most part the words church people don’t fit them. Sixty-five percent of them rarely, if ever, attend church services. A whopping seven out of 10 say the church has passed its sell-by date and its message is irrelevant! Eighty-four out of every 100 believe that job success is more important than anything else, including belonging to a church. Religion, in general, is not a high priority with them. They have developed a new language. Immersed in technology, many of them, using only two thumbs, can produce strange looking, never capitalized, vowel-starved sentences with words such as txt for text, and so forth on a smartphone keypad. What’s more, they can do that faster than I can type on this keyboard using all 10 digits on both hands. It’s enough to drive an English major crazy!
Who are they? Meet the Wiki-Generation, aka the Millennials. While preachers always must be careful about using broad, no-exception generalities because there are always exceptions, Millennials usually are considered to be people born between the years 1980 and 2000: 14- through 34-year-olds. Within a couple of decades they will be the largest generation of Americans. They will control who gets elected and who runs the country. If the recent Supreme Court ruling that redefined the meaning of marriage troubles you, just wait until the Millennial generation makes up the Senate that affirms who sits on that court!
They will tell you exactly what they think and let the chips fall where they may. They don’t seem to care much for church attendance; and for them, being spiritual is about the same as being Christian. Ask about their core beliefs, and they will tell you they believe in God and Jesus, but they are not convinced Jesus is the only way to the Father. They are relativists to the core, convinced there is no such thing as absolute truth. They are pluralists who believe all religions are equally valid; and if you are so inclined, you can make up your own by taking the best elements of one and mixing it with some others. Welcome back to the days of Elijah and the Baalists!
This new generation is looking for a religion that is not so much defined by its belief system as by its ability to produce results that are measurable. They too often have seen evidence that our gospel does not really work. Many of them, perhaps more than half, have parents or know parents of friends who were church-going people but ended up divorced in spite of their church attendance. So, why would it surprise us that their understanding of commitment is different from ours? Moreover, they have encountered church people—even some preachers—whose ways lacked Christlikeness. They are fundamentally suspicious of institutions. Is it any wonder the church, so far as they are concerned, often is deemed an irrelevant life adjunct whose standards about some issues including same-sex marriage, stem-cell research and abortion are frequently out of touch with their times?
Alarmingly, even those who regard themselves as evangelicals often live with a different sexual ethic than the generations ahead of them, so one-night hook-ups, homosexual and extramarital relationships are part of their norm. They do not see that ultimately life is about far more than the pursuit of personal happiness, and the soul toll this kind of loose belief and behavior finally produces is costly beyond measure.
Without question, the low percentage of faith commitment or church involvement among the Millennials is seriously problematic. More troubling, however, is how many of us in the church respond to this generation. Rather than extend a lifeline, we often crack a whip at them. Unwilling to extend a welcoming hand to embrace them, we appear to point the finger of accusation. Many of us who are charged to seek and save the lost have failed to see the gospel opportunity that is ours in this Millennial generation of Americans.
So, how can we who are called to preach reach this Millennial generation for Christ? Well, I’m a preacher so things come to me in threes. I suggest three beginning principles:
Intentionality! First, we must intentionally reach out to embrace this generation—all 80 million members of it. If we wait for them to come to us, it never will happen. Remember Scripture never tells the world to go to church. It tells the church to go into the world. The Great Commission is nothing if not intentional! “Go…and lo I am with you always” (
Authenticity! Second, we do well to realize this generation responds to faith that acts in easy-to-see ways. With the apostle James they ask, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (
Stick-to-it-ive-ness! Third, and perhaps most important of all, we must determine to be consistent. This is the generation that one television commercial pictures taking a long test drive, and they will take a while to decide whether to sign on the dotted line even with us. Give them time. We dare not give up on the Millennials. Let them kick the tires and bounce the suspension. Eventually they will see that our message has integrity. Our call is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (