I’m a Millennial. And while I didn’t grow up in the States, my family visited numerous churches across North America during our furloughs from the mission field. I personally didn’t grow up in any of those churches, but I couldn’t help but notice a curious disconnect between young people and church leaders.
For years, my generation has dominated headlines and sounded alarm bells for the church. We children of the internet age were difficult to reach (and pin down) because of the vast amount of constant information available to us. Often, we felt our needs went unmet and questioned the traditions of the church. We left organized religion in large numbers, comprising a large percentage of the “nones,” those unaffiliated with any faith group.
Nevertheless, there are many of us still in the pews—and ready to lead. And through our experience growing up in both the church and the present fast-paced culture, here are five traits I think Millennials have developed that uniquely position them to benefit the church:
1. Authenticity. Some of the distance I’ve noticed between young people and leaders is just that—distance. In the past, some church leaders have felt driven to present only positive aspects of their lives and their families. But most Millennials aren’t looking for this type of leader. Rather, they feel validated by a leader’s vulnerability and openness. A Millennial church leader is relatable, approachable, and open to personal, redemptive discussions.
2. Awareness. As a missionary kid transitioning to the States, it was a challenge for me to find where I belonged in American society, or even to find a leader or group in the church that met my needs. Like every generation, Millennials deal with real-life issues. What many haven’t experienced is a church open to talking about the racial discrimination they face, or the mental health struggles that mark their days. They value awareness in the church, as well as receptivity and the sense that their voice will be heard, even on difficult topics. Millennial leaders are well-equipped to reach people who aren’t like them, and to help prevent a cliquish atmosphere that excludes some would-be worshipers.
3. Relationships. Trying to find a church is always difficult. Doing so in my college years away from family and friends was even more trying. Like most Millennials, I was seeking real relationships with people I attended church with and the leaders I found there.
We want someone to walk beside us through the muck of everyday life. Millennial leaders understand the need to not only preach, but also to teach, mentor, and lead others.
4. Ambition. Through my discussions with various friends, it’s evident many Millennials growing up in the church feel their churches rarely addressed social and controversial issues. As a generation, we want to be active and involved in the mission statement of our church, instead of just talking about it. Millennial leaders want to solve problems and get to the heart of the gospel. They want to make a difference in the community, so the church’s impact is felt by people outside the walls.
5. Practical instructions. Millennials have grown up hearing about the sinfulness of their culture. This can become tiresome and at times, feel pointed. Instead of hearing about the culture’s perpetual sin, Millennials want to hear how the Bible transcends the wickedness of modern culture, toward the gospel-infused transformation of it. Millennial leaders are compelled not simply to preach toward an emotional response; they want to instruct the people they lead how to truly live out the gospel.
Millennials are excited to lead in a way that God has equipped them. But as is often the case with each generation, they can benefit from established leaders who are willing to help. Invest in their lives, be aware of their insecurities, build relationships with them, find their ambition, and teach them how to use it for a godly purpose in a biblical context.
They, in turn, can do the same for others and become significant leaders in your church.
Born in the ‘90s, Andrew Woodrow grew up overseas with his family in Africa. He and his wife, Jennifer, live in Springfield where Andrew is IBSA’s multimedia journalist. They are active at Delta Church.