Millennials (or Gen Y, or Mosaics) have caused a lot of new study and discussion. I was reading this morning about their media use and response to advertising. One analyst claims in AdAge that Mosaics are the least likely to be influenced by television advertising. However, in a MediaPost article, another observer strongly refutes this claim. In fact, she describes her efforts as “myth busting.”
Two observations struck me:
First, the AdAge article confirms some things we have been learning at Barna Group about teens and young adults: today’s young adults are media blenders. They use terrestrial radio and digital radio. They view television plus Internet videos. They consume digital music and purchase vinyl records. They are increasingly comfortable with multiple forms of input: digital and analog. Most of us assume that next-gen adults are only comfortable in the digital domain, but their “blending” means that communication with and to this generation is more complex, especially because this broad menu of inputs makes them increasingly distracted.
Second, these articles reminded me of the controversy that many statistics generate, especially within the Christian community. It seems that data love debate. (Yes, that’s grammatically correct. “Data” are plural; “datum” is singular.) In most arenas of culture — media, the economy, retailing, healthcare, government, and so on — there is a debate about what is really true. The same thing happens with Christian statistics: there are different sources of information about the world of faith, but when these sources conflict, we often resort to impugning the motives and methods of others.
I believe we should have good, healthy debate about data — their accuracy and meaning. The more important the decisions we are making, the more crucial it is that we get our data right. But, from my standpoint, in the Christian community we too often resort to the wrong spirit of “myth busting” on the work of our brothers and sisters.
I predict that the debate over data will increase in the next decade. There are more of us doing research about Christianity and faith. The threshold to enter the “research” field is as low as ever (hello, survey monkey). And the world is changing very quickly, so we need insight to make sense of the change.
My suggestion: we need to work very hard at finding constructive, Jesus-like ways of debating data.
Our identities are ultimately dictated by our relationships. We are the byproduct of whom we commune with. When we look at what people become, they often have a worldview that kind of looks like their parents‘, kind of looks like their peers‘, kind of looks like the country they grew up in, and, hopefully, in its greatest fulfillment, it looks like an identity rooted in being a child of God, you are the image that you were created in.
We begin to develop an identity around these two things:
1. How others recognize us.
2. How we recognize others’ recognition of us.
When Rachel Held Evans says, “I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers” (See, 15 Reasons Why I Left the Church), the recognition she receives from her church is ultimately a dismissal of who she really is. Or, when she says, “I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities,” she recognizes, their recognition of her as a burden to their congregation. When you read these statements by her (and ultimately a worldview assumed by many in this generation), how can one go back to a church when it is filled with the existential despair of the rejection of our selfhood?
The Zacchaeus Generation
In Luke 19, Jesus was traveling through when he saw a tiny man up in a tree named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was not a popular man in his community because he was a tax collector (I imagine he was treated like Bernie Madoff). When Jesus saw him up in a tree, it opened a new desire for Zacchaeus. He then offered to give back half his money and four times the money of all the people he had cheated.
I often feel like my generation is a generation of Zacchaeuses. We feel closed off from our ultimate desire of community because of this rejection of our selfhood. We have done things wrong, and will do things wrong, but it was the recognition of Jesus that served not only as the gift to be changed, but also to change. If no one recognizes Rachel’s gifts as a teacher, then she will never be able to change not only the church she is a part of, but she will never be changed by the church she is a part of. (Luckily, she has an audience that recognizes her and she has an outlet that way.)
If my generation is going to be a part of the future Church or at least part of local churches, then it will have to happen because there were people who recognized something in us. If our identity is rejected, then it will continue to close us off from community. But, if there are a few brave people who are able to say, “I see you. I like you. Come spend time with me,”, then we will see the millennial church flourish. But, if the previous generation treats us like the crowds that were mad at Jesus for recognizing Zacchaeus, then we will continue to be isolated, cynical, and further polarized.
For nearly 400 years American churches have counted on Easter Sunday as the day of their largest attendance. But if you’re watching carefully, attendance at traditional churches is getting smaller and smaller every year, especially among young adult “Millennials” (or “Mosiacs,” or “Generation Y.”)
Yet if you walk into some of the most thriving churches in Hollywood, such as Reality, Ecclesia, or Basileia, you are immediately struck by overwhelming swarms of Millennials. What gives?
Are Millennails leaving the church, or coming back to it? Or is the answer MUCH more complicated?
In honor of Easter we’re running a week of special posts on why so many Millennials are leaving the church, why they are coming back to something far different than the church they left, and how they are changing American religion in the process.
Millennial writers and spiritual formation leaders and a few of us more “seasoned” folks will weigh in on various aspects of the topic. Lord willing, it will contribute to a greater understanding of where the Holy Spirit is taking the church in the coming decades.
You Lost Me
We kick off the conversation with two posts by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and a beloved former student and friend. David is an ongoing THW contributor and one of the most thoughtful “public intellectuals” on the subject of Millennial Faith (he calls them “Mosaics”).
I wept my way through his two latest books,unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (with Gabe Lyons) and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith as he traced the reasons why young adults raised in evangelicalism are giving up on church, but not faith.
Along the way, I hope you come to the same conclusion that Sue and I have: what looks like the death of religion in America, may in fact be the birth pangs of one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history.
Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Through Growing Leaders, he and his team provide public schools, state universities, civic organizations and corporations with the tools they need to help develop young leaders who can impact and transform society.
Since founding Growing Leaders, Elmore has spoken to more than 250,000 students, faculty and staff on hundreds of campuses. He has taught courses on leadership and mentoring at nine universities and graduate schools as wells as numerous corporations across the U.S. and in more than 30 countries.
Dr. Elmore has written more than 20 books, including the best-selling Habitudes™: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Life Giving Mentors, and Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child.
Recently, I overheard some students making fun of an executive director at a local community theatre program here in Atlanta. The students were 18-years-old, and they had been a part of this program before. Now, their entertainment was at the expense of this director. I felt badly for her, but the laughter sparked a question in me.
How did this leader lose her authority with her students?
She isn’t unlikeable. She has a good sense of humor and can be fun to be around. So how did she plummet from a leader students respect to the brunt of a joke?
What Do We Mean by Authority?
Authority is a fuzzy word. It conjures up all kinds of emotions inside of us when we hear it. Here, I am defining the term as an inward, moral authority that comes from the life a leader lives, not just his or her position. It’s clout. It is inward power earned by the leader — not automatically included with a title. As parents, it’s what we all want with our kids; as coaches, we want it with our players; as teachers we hope for it with our students; and as employers we desire it with our staff. Perhaps the best way to describe how it is earned is to list how it’s lost by so many leaders.
How Leaders Lose Authority with Students
Hypocrisy: Failing to live up to what you say.
This issue came up first with students. The quickest way leaders lose their moral authority with students is to fail to live the life they demand of others. Your words and your actions don’t match. It’s funny. Kids may put up with this in their peers, but not their leaders.
Cowardice: An unwillingness to demonstrate courage.
Regardless of how brilliant or unspectacular you are as a leader, if you fail to show any courage when times are tough, students’ respect for you will usually diminish. When a decision must be made or a step taken — they expect the leader to step forward and take it, not shrink as a coward.
Posing: Pretending to be someone you are not.
This one is huge with kids today. When adult leaders “pose” as someone they’re not in reality, it’s not only a turn-off, it’s a joke. For students, the only thing worse than being uncool is being unreal. When adults try to act young or hip, and it’s forced or comes across inauthentic — it’s a death sentence for student respect.
Irrelevance: Having no current success stories.
Students lose respect when all they ever hear from their leader is stories from “back in the day.” At first these stories work, but if teens don’t see current stories lived out in front of them, eventually they don’t take you seriously. They begin looking for someone who can do it now. Something current.
White lies: Exaggerating the truth.
This is a double-edged sword. Most students today admit to telling little white lies. Yet, those students lose respect when adult leaders do it. When asked to report on how a game, a project or a performance turned out — they admire leaders who tell it like it is, and don’t make the stats elastic or plastic.
Incompetence: The inability to hone your gift and excel.
This is true for followers of all ages. Leaders lose their moral authority when they can’t demonstrate they have developed their gift or talent and become excellent. This doesn’t mean they expect leaders to be good at everything, just something. It’s the law of respect: Folks follow leaders who are stronger than they are.
Fuzziness: Failure to focus the team on the primary goal.
Finally, you’ll lose authority if you are scattered and cannot focus your instruction to your team. This is why leaders are necessary. Some of your students are smart — but they need you to direct them with clarity. When you don’t, you have a hole in your pocket and you lose a little moral authority.
Keep in mind — it is possible for you to be liked by students as a friend, but not respected as a leader. We all must decide what we want most: Buddies to hang out with or young people who follow our moral authority to a worthwhile destination.