What are the generational distinctives of the millennial generation?

Yesterday, I mentioned four ideas of what I would teach our church’s leadership about in our LEAD class.  The “winner” was on how this generation is experiencing social justice and evangelism.

Instead of just letting the loser ideas go out to pasture, I thought I’d post them here.  First up, what are the generational distinctives of the millenial generation?

Two disclaimers:

1. I’m defining “millenial” as those born from 1981-1995, because I was born in 1981 and relate more with the millenials than Gen X’ers.  There’s no real way to describe such a large swath of people, so these are generalizations.

2. They’re generalizations based on my experience in Long Beach and north Orange County.  There are great systemic studies (I’m a big Christian Smith fan, if you prefer actual sociology from an expert), but these are more worm’s eye view than birds eye view.

Okay, enough disclaimers:

1. Are millenials slackers? Some millenials feel a lot of pressure to succeed at everything, and are ridiculously over-committed.  Other millenials feel no pressure to accomplish anything, and are content to play Call of Duty all day.

Church application: Some students want to come to events, but they have a dozen other commitments.  Other students feel no pressure to show up, despite having nothing better to do.

2. Community service – Millenials feel that they have enormous power to effect change.  Around here, they have been required to do a certain number of community service hours for school, and have internalized that mindset.  They like to volunteer, and consider themselves (as a generation) unique in their interest of doing good.  They (generally) regard previous generations as either explicitly or implicitly neglecting the needs of the rest of the world.  There is a joke that the millenial way to be cool isn’t to start a band, it’s to start a non-profit.

Church application: Many millenials prefer starting their own churches to joining one of a previous generation.  I’ve seen many churches and organizations try to use their own fear of dying out as an outreach strategy.  This is beyond a bad idea.  Millenials want to be part of the solution, part of a change bigger than themselves (see Obama, Barack).

3. The Google Generation – There are a lot of websites one could turn to in defining millenials.  Wikipedia and facebook are fine options, but I’m going with google, because of the way it changes the way millenials think.  Google makes the memorization of information to be optional at best. Why memorize when you could just google it?

Church application: If you want millenials to actually memorize and meditate on one small bit of information (say, the Bible), you’ll need to give them very manageable steps, because it will seem foreign to them.

4. The Millenial Generation, sponsored by Best Buy –  Millenials are comfortable with corporations.  I know, you might find that hard to believe, but it’s the truth.  Millenials flock to corporate shows like American Idol, then go and buy their songs on iTunes.  They’re comfortable shopping at Target and Wal-Mart, and eating at Taco Bell and Subway.  They have been raised in an era of  free trade and franchising, and don’t have any moral predicament with neglecting mom and pop operations.  When giant companies like Apple and American Apparel are considered the little guy, you know there’s a generational shift (or maybe progression is a better term, since this is a development we could trace back through to the start of the Industrial Age).

Church application: Megachurches (those with over 2000) are the leaders in reaching and retaining young adults in every major rubric (percentage of congregation, percentage of community, new members, retention of youth group percentage, etc).  This isn’t to say that some millenials don’t prefer small churches (some clearly do), but few of them are inherently suspicious of them in a way that boomers and (certainly) busters are of very large churches.  Most of our church’s young adults either have left to or regularly visit megachurches aimed at their age.