I recently received an interesting piece of research from Barna Research www.barna.org Focussed on the social, cultural and religious attitudes of ‘millennials’, it concluded that meaningful connection with this growing segment of the population presents a massive challenge to the 21st century church.
The term millennials is widely used by sociologists, advertising agencies and opinion polling organisations. It refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Millennials are also known as Generation Y, coming after Generation X — those people between the early 1960s and the 1980s. Millennials have also been described as the ‘boomerang generation’ because a growing number move back to live with their parents following their college or university education, delaying some of the typical adulthood rites of passage like marriage or starting a career.
What are the key characteristics of millennials that pose the challenge to our churches? Described as, ‘digital natives’, millennials are the most ‘technology savvy’ generation in history. In contrast, the Church is essentially conservative and exceedingly slow to adapt to social and cultural change. The habitual practices of Sabbath observance, attendance at Sunday services, scripture reading, prayer, corporate hymn singing and the sermon—have been part of the Church throughout the centuries.
Does the church in Scotland have the will and the capacity to adapt to the millennial generation, and if so what needs to be done? The following detail from Barna Research might provide Christians with ideas for change:
Ø Seven out of 10 of Christian millennials read Scripture on a screen. One-third of all millennials say they read Scripture on a phone or online, demonstrating how broadly the digital trends are shaping this generation.
Ø Millennials are heavy users of online videos pertaining to faith—54% of Christian millennials and 31% of all millennials engage in this activity.
Ø About one-third of millennials use online search to check out a church, temple or synagogue online. 56% of Christian millennials do the same. Millennials, check out a faith community online from a safe distance prior to showing up in person.
The biggest challenge for the church is how to engender real dialogue between believers about faith. According to Barna Research: ‘The one-way communication from pulpit to pew is not how millennials experience faith. By nature of digital connectedness, millennial life is interactive. For many of them, faith is interactive as well—whether their churches are ready for it or not. It’s an ongoing conversation, and it’s all happening on their computers, tablets and smart phones. What’s more, many of them bring their devices with them to church. Now with the ability to fact-check at their fingertips, millennials aren’t taking the teaching of faith leaders for granted. In fact, 14% of millennials say they search to verify something a faith leader has said. A striking 38% of Christian millennials say the same’.
President of Barna Group, David Kinnaman recently pointed out the implications of the research for change in the church: ‘Millennials live in an era of radical transparency, powered by social and digital tools. Any leader or organisation who wants to engage millennials must learn this—whether from the pulpit or the front of the classroom, whether fundraising or marketing. If millennials are doing their own research on what happens from the stage, leaders need to take care not to make false promises or exaggerations in their messages. Millennials, who already exhibit institutional distrust, have heightened sensitivity for artificiality and false promotion’.
This is highly significant research which demands a response from Scotland’s church leaders. Is it not time for our Ministers, Pastors, elders and deacons to take their heads out of the sand, get on their knees and ask the living God for a little of His creativity of thought to bring about the massive radical change needed to engage with ‘Generation Y’.......the millennials, and the up and coming ‘Generation Z’.
Surely more of the same cannot be an option !!!