By Ryan McCreery, Associate Pastor of Ministry Development
Last month, I attended a church leader conference in Dallas. It is one that I have attended for many years on and off, depending on my availability. It is also one of those conferences that I get something out of every time and is a great investment for ministry and for my life as a whole.
Every year perspectives are shared about ministry taking place in churches of all sizes across America. Like looking out of the plane window at 30,000 feet in the air, we consider what is trending in society and how these trends are impacting the local church as well as how to respond as church leadership. Alongside dynamic keynote speakers, there are numerous breakout sessions offered throughout the week.
For one of my breakouts, I decided to attend the “Engaging Millennials” session. Honestly, it was not high on my list, but I was very curious to hear about connecting with the next generation. And, wow, am glad I went! Honestly, it was worth the price of the conference.
Two Christians representing the millennial generation were interviewed by a session host. The session host was about my age, early 40’s. Those being interviewed were in their late 20’s, maybe right at 30; one male and one female. They dressed differently than me and used hipster words that I didn’t understand at times. As they began to speak, I was ready for all my stereotypes of millennials – you know, the ones that commercials tend to emphasize – to be proven true. And, then they started talking about Jesus.
You see, as they spoke, I sensed the Lord reminding me that I am getting older and that I needed to listen up. If you are ten to twenty years older than me, you will tell me that I am still very young. And, from your perspective that is fair. But, if you are 10-20 years younger than me, I look old and I am getting older. I do dress differently, and as much as I would like to think my slang is current, some words were only meant to be used by millennials and my children’s generation.
But, the common denominator across all generational lines in the church is our faith in Jesus Christ. Pursuing a relationship with God never gets old. The next generation, specifically, the millennials want something authentic from Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Builders generations. Enough with the polish, they say, we want to believe and follow something real. “What does it look in your life to follow Christ?” They want to know both your wins and your losses, not just your wins. They want to know that you have fallen, and they want to know that you got back up. Basically, what I heard these younger believers saying was, “We want you, not your flash.”
Not only do they want to hear from you in an authentic way, they want to genuinely know you. They want relationships, not programs. It may be surprising to hear this, especially since the younger generations spend so much time on their screens (phones, tablets, etc.). You see FaceBook and Instagram are not satisfying our social need for interaction. Therefore, the next generation want an opportunity to meet up face-to-face and learn from you, if only you would engage them in conversation and invite them into your life regardless of what they wear or how they talk.
Lastly, I learned that the next generation is hungry to follow something relevant connected to what is going on in the world around them. That is why so many jump onboard social causes for raising money or raising awareness for an injustice. They want the church to not preach at them, but to help them understand how to take a stand in love in this world with a biblical worldview. Unfortunately, many millennials are leaving the traditional church setting, either for good or to start up their own church because they don’t think church is speaking to the issues they are facing. Wherever they land, they are hungry to believe in a cause greater than themselves that is making a difference.
As Christians, we have the greatest mission this world has ever known, but my generation and older is falling short connecting with the next generation. Millennials are hungry to follow and learn, but we are missing them. We must find a way to connect with the next generations for they will be the next generation of leaders in the church. In the Old Testament, Moses passed the leadership baton to Joshua. In the New Testament, Paul passed it to Timothy. The question is, “Who is investing in the next generation today?”, knowing one day it will be time to pass the baton again.
Stepping out of the breakout session at that conference was both convicting and invigorating. I was convicted because I realized I let generational stereotypes overshadow my need to connect with millennials. I was invigorated because God helped me to see evidently clear their desire for connection and effective leadership.
The opportunity is at hand. Connecting and investing in the next generation is key to spiritual health in the life cycle of the church. If you are my generation and older, the time is now to intentionally engage millennials. Invite them to coffee to better get to know them, invest in them relationally by meeting regularly, and encourage them to serve alongside you in ministry. They are hungry for biblical discipleship, something that is authentic, genuine, and relevant to everyday life. If you are younger than me, don’t be hesitant. Reach out to the generations older than you. Let the older generations know that you value their wisdom, desire their biblical perspective, and will commit the time to spiritually grow together pursuing Jesus.
Before Paul passed away, he wrote his last epistle to Timothy, his protégé. In spite of those chaotic times in the life of the church, Timothy was encouraged to continue in the leadership to which he was appointed, while looking for opportunity to connect with the next generation. In the spirit of discipleship, we are challenged to do the same. Let’s not let spiritual effectiveness end with us. Let’s reach out to the next generation, spanning generations for the sake of the gospel.
Sincerely in Christ,
“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” – 2 Timothy 2:2