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Some months back I read The Millennials, a non-fiction book by the father/son team, Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer. After conducting painstaking research on millennials drawing on a credibly-sized test group, the Rainers reported their results.
Here’s a sampling of their findings:
• "Family" is the single greatest motivating factor for Millennials.
• They want to learn from people who have long-term successful marriages; 91 percent held up such people as their heroes and life examples.
• Most Boomer parents have good relationships with their children, resulting in a mutual respect between the generations.
• In most cases where parents show true commitment to Christ and to their local church, their children embrace their faith.
• This group is "the learning generation," but their definition of “learning” includes contexts beyond the classroom. They read, and they appreciate being mentored.
• While 24 percent attend church services, only 15 percent self-identify as Christians.
• Millennials are largely “anti-institutional church.” Seventy percent of them agree that American churches are irrelevant.
• 75 percent of Millennials define themselves as spiritual; they have syncretistic belief systems, taking portions from various faiths and non-faiths.
• "Humility" (and its synonyms) is the number one virtue of church leaders that Millennials desire.
• “The good news is that the unchurched Millennials will likely be attracted to churches that demonstrate in deep biblical teaching and preaching what it really means to be followers of Christ.”
• Millennials are more likely to take an international trip than those of any previous generation.
• Professionally they crave feedback, both formal and informal.
• Respect is key. They value listening/finding common-ground approaches to politics and religion, and they dislike negativity and argumentativeness. Instead, they value reconciliation and reconcilers.
Notice some positives, especially when it comes to interacting with older people? They want mentoring. They seek “been there” wisdom from long-married couples. They value their families, and many of them even list their parents as their best friends. Also, they have some training needs that good teaching and mentoring can help.
Now let’s consider some data about the older folks.
The publication “Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being” confirms our suspicions that seniors are living, loving, working, and playing longer:
• By 2030, the older population the U.S. is expected to be twice as large as in 2000.
• These people are more educated than in the past. In 1965, 24 percent of seniors had graduated from high school, and only 5 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree. By 2008, 77 percent were high school graduates or more, and 21 percent had a bachelor’s degree or more.
• Members of this group have more money than those of past generations. That’s probably because more women are employed, and both men and women work longer because they stay healthy longer.
• They are more active for longer than their earlier counterparts.
Now let’s add another stat. A sampling of the average life expectancy of women across the world tells us people are living longer:
US = 80.8 years
UK = 82.1 years
Japan = 86.2 years
Mexico = 78.6 years
Because of these statistics on the aging, when I hear talk of “reaching the next generation,” I sometimes wish we would lump the groups together into “this generation.” As a former youth worker, I heartily agree with the commitment to minister to young people, guiding them as they make some of life’s most important decisions. But I also think we need to focus on those receiving their first AARP mailings who will be with us for another forty or fifty years. What about their care and feeding? Should we emphasize any demographic in our churches to the detriment of others? While a woman still has kids in high school, her church may assign her to a Sunday school class designed for her demographic, but which actually includes couples with high schoolers, widows and widowers, the never-married, jet-setting retirees, and those living in assisted care. The mix of generations is great; but the idea that such a group will share a singular stage of life is erroneous.
Did you notice from the data that the church now has a larger pool of mentors with more discretionary income, and both groups value education? Did you see some overlap in what the seniors have to offer as compared with the younger group’s needs?
These factors have led to a trend toward intergenerational ministry, which has less, if any, segregation according to age. Many churches are reconsidering the largely American approach of separating the younger from the elder church members and are focusing instead on inter-generational fellowships. Such groupings mix people seeking mentors, knowledge, and good teaching, with those equipped to give it.
My first introduction to such a group came in my small group in women’s Bible study. I still think often of wise words from women “further down the road.” And for the first time in my life I now also attend a mixed-gender intergenerational group during the hour before the worship service. Our mix of marrieds and singles, widowed and coupled, young and old, makes for a rich and varied discussion. At times we have even brought our high schooler with us. When my nephew came to town for a wedding, he attended and afterward said he wished his church a class like ours.
Having such a mix of perspectives helps us read Scripture more inclusively—in the best sense of the word. And in the process it has another key benefit: it addresses the trend toward young people (especially those who attend services without their parents) leaving the church once they reach the age at which the ski trips and youth skits end. As their friends scatter for college and the youth pastor takes another job, the average young person may no longer have any relational connection to his or her congregation. But in places with strong parent/child connections as well as strong younger/older connections, the youth are more easily integrated into the continuing life of the church.
It made my day one Sunday when my teen asked if she could sit during the service with her friend, a fifty-five-year-old woman.
What can you do to encourage such interactions?