Mark Vowels, CGO Director
This post begins a series on millennials in missions. Tune in during the month of July for thoughts on incorporating the next generation into great commission ministry.
I am a baby boomer who is the parent of, and who teaches, millennials. People my age tend to fall into one of two categories when talking about millennials: Fear them and fix them or strive to understand them. I’m in the second group.
I suspect the attempt to fix the younger generation has been going on since the days of Adam and Eve. Every generation tends to look at succeeding generations with some level of suspicion that maybe they just aren’t as good as their predecessors. Please. This is cyclical folly and produces nothing.
That being said, like others of my stage in life, I struggle to fully understand millennials. Nothing new there; my parents struggled to fully understand me. What is more productive, in my opinion, than perennial analysis, is recognizing key characteristics among millennials and seeking to capitalize on their strengths.
This post will attempt to identify some of millennials’ passions and the next post will suggest ways to engage them in productive ways for the accomplishment of great commission ministry.
Millennials are authentic. They value people being real. They are not impressed by titles or positions but are focused on seeing what someone is really all about. Nobody in any generation likes hypocrisy, but millennials tend to root out and expose fakery with greater energy than their forbearers. That also means that millennials tend to reveal what they think and how they feel with greater openness than what is comfortable for older generations. No putting on airs. No trying to impress. Just be yourself.
Millennials love to network and see relationships as foundational to success in any endeavor. While some parents and grandparents complain that millennials falter relationally, that just isn’t so. They simply approach relationships differently than previous generations. They grew up with internet technology and can be thought of as digital natives. Their appetite for the myriad iterations of social media often enhances their focus on relationships. Millennials aren’t loners. They need relationships to function.
Millennials are disruptive, or so say many employers. Fair enough. But why are they disruptive? It’s because (not unlike every other generation of American youth) they are unwilling to embrace the status quo. The flood of new technologies that is the backdrop of their lives proves to millennials that things can be done better, faster, smarter and in ways that are even fun. So millennials like to question why things are done the way they are. They come up with better processes and improved strategies without being asked. This goes against the grain of many who “paid their dues” to get where they are, but the millennials are proving that they often really do have a better way forward.
Millennials are hopeful. They are dreamers. This is perhaps their most engaging characteristic. They believe that they can make their school, their job, their city and their world better. They want to make a difference and they are thoroughly convinced that they can. Their propensity to network, to use technology and to share both the credit for, and benefits of, achievement means that they expect to see improvement at every turn. Failure is merely an opportunity to learn and progress. They want to be heard because they have big ideas and high expectations.
All of these characteristics can be either annoying or amusing to previous generations who have “been there and done that.” Or they can be capitalized upon for the good of the gospel. In my next post, I’ll give some suggestions about doing just that.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.