The identity of the Millennial Generation is somewhat vague, the best description seeming to include those born between the early 1980s (some studies cite 1982) and the early 2000s.
Their political leanings are primarily Democrat, though in the last several years they have made an astounding shift from being 62% Democrat/Democrat leaning and 30% Republican/Republican leaning to 54% Democrat/Democrat leaning and 40% Republican/Republican leaning. In other words, their political orientation has closed from a 32% difference to 14%. It might be that as ObamaCare becomes more fully implemented this gap will close further.
The above suggests that Millennials are products of our educational system with its strong leftward tilt. Since the mean age of the Millennial generation is now about 22, the oldest being 32, we might expect a further rightward shift as their worldview becomes more affected by real life than college professors.
The Church and Millennials
I have become somewhat concerned by pollsters, Christian sociologists, and other societal and theological scholars who instruct evangelicals regarding what they need to do to minister to Millennials. While it is true that some aspects of the church are superficial and negotiable, worship times and venues, etc., in terms of core issues the church should have as its objective doing what is biblical rather than meeting Millennial needs.
This is no unwarranted concern since evangelicals have skewed core issues to accommodate the Baby Boomers, a trend that has had far-reaching negative effect. It might be added that mainline denominations had made similar accommodations in an earlier era resulting in their near disappearance.
Millennials and the Church
Perhaps the more significant concern is what the Millennials will do with the church. It has been suggested that Millennials are looking for a cause, and that the church is failing them on that count with its Me-Generation orientation. I sense that this is the case.
If this assessment is valid this could be good news for the evangelical church. It might result in evangelicals turning away from their psychologized, Rogerian, unconditionally accepting, “what can God do for you this week,” culture to a biblical Christianity that calls us to die to self and take up our cross daily.
Recently I heard a sermon by Derek Washington, pastor of Trinity Grace Church, Upper West Side. Trinity Grace Church is actually a group of churches in the New York City area begun by Jon Tyson. It appears that they minister predominantly to Millennials. I found the sermon startling, asserting that becoming a Christian required sacrificing everything. It dealt with the response of Christ to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22: “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” It has been my experience that most pastors, if they deal this passage at all, trivialize this response of Christ, somehow concluding that one really doesn’t have to commit all that he has to the Lord to be saved. This sermon not only asserted that such a total commitment was essential but also took the congregation to numerous other passages that make the same point.
As the sermon ended I could not help wonder whether Millennials in fact were not going to take us back to a Christianity with biblical substance. That thought is tremendously encouraging.
Assuming we are headed in that direction (certainly not a sure thing at this point), a crucial question comes to mind. Will the transition from where the evangelical church is now, at the other end of the commitment spectrum, to where Millennials are taking us be one of acknowledging the error of where we have been and a commensurate self-conscious, intentional change to a biblical position, or will it merely entail sliding from one to the other without acknowledging the unscriptural orientation of the past?
Either alternative will be an improvement. However, merely morphing from one to the other will have far less impact and endow the church with far less power. Repudiation of present errors will more quickly and more effectively place the Millennial church, and the evangelical church in general, on more solid ground. It will crystallize the cause of the Millennial church, thus clarifying its message, which in turn will enable it to be more effective at touching individual lives and society.
Let’s pray for this outcome.