Futurama II: The Millennials

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In yesterday’s comments, Neil wrote:

If I have to sit through one more seminar or class in which a “boomer” talks about “Gen X’ers” or “postmoderns” in the abstract, as if I wasn’t sitting there, I’ll go crazy!

To which I say, “Amen,” and then I turn write about the Millennials (born 1982 to 2005)… so I’m a hypocrite. Actually, if I were teaching a class, I could think of a few amazing Millennials who would do an eloquent job speaking for themselves, but since I’m writing this in my PJ’s on Thursday morning, I’ll just continue to discuss what this article has to say and write as a pastor to college students.

The Millenials were born at a time when our attitudes toward children were changing in huge ways. Hollywood’s portrayal of children went from demonic little girls sitting in front of the television set, to adorable kids who inspire adults in new ways. Our society went from an age of latch key children to attachment parenting. Child safety, education, and family values became incredibly important. Political discussions hinged around the question, “What about the children?”

As Susan O commented yesterday, “There are mini-generations within a generation.” That’s because somewhere along the line, a very positive shift occurred. These children were “wanted” (Freakonomics picks up on this. Levitt has a really controversial argument that links the declining crime rate to the fact that these are “wanted” children). Overall, highrisk behaviors have declined: drug use and pregnancy rates. Sports for girls have made a huge difference, so has after-school programming.

When I was a teenager, rock stars were biting heads off of bats to get a little attention. Now, we freak out when Brittney ties up the front of her Catholic schoolgirl uniform or shaves her head. “What are we going to do? Is she a good role-model for our children??”

If you’re still not convinced of the shift–let me tell you something interesting. There are no swings on my daughter’s playground. NO SWINGS. They’re too dangerous. And we’re not even going to discuss the monkey bars….

For all of our careful support of this generation, our society has let them down economically. The Millennials are carrying unprecedented educational loans. Something which we will have to address.

The important thing for our mainline churches to know about this generation: while the Xers are anti-institutional and innovative, the Millennials are much more conventional. As they enter the workplace, they gravitate toward government work, or large corporations that can provide protection against risk and a solid work-life environment. They have close relationships with their extended families.

Our churches can’t give up in this important time. While the Xers are screeching against hierarchy, beauracracy, and denominationalism, our mainlines can’t afford let the X factor (of which I’m a part) drown out the adults coming up after us. We’re not the final word on this. Millennials are finding great comfort in institutions. In fact, among young adults, the mainlines losing, the evangelicals are losing, but Roman Catholic Church has been gaining the most ground. There’s a deep longing for ancient traditions and spirituality.

The mainline denominational church is in the perfect position to minister to this generation. But not if we continue business as usual. We’ll need to make some serious changes and put some careful time and attention into making space in our intergenerational congregations.

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10 thoughts on “Futurama II: The Millennials

  1. Interesting stuff. Remind me of the divisions of the generations according to birth years, will you? My kids are born in ’87 and ’90.

  2. The divisions vary with different research, but the article that I’m looking at breaks down our society into a six-generational constellation that looks like this:

    GI Generation (1901-1924)
    Silent Generation (1925-1942)
    Boom Generation (1943-1960)
    Generation X (1961-1981)
    Millennial Generation (1982-roughly 2005)
    Homeland Generation (What about that title?) (roughly 2005-2025)

    Howe and Strauss define a generation as “a series of birth years spanning roughly the length of time needed to become an adult.”

  3. I agree that we are not the final word on this. We (X’ers, busters)are a prophetic generation, called to usher the call for a desperately needed course correction. Some of us have seen ourselves as representing the future, I don’t think that’s the case, I think Millennials are probably more representative of the trends for the next few generations than that Xers.
    We cry out… “it doesn’t have to be this way, it shouldn’t be this way, the system is broken!” But the Millenials will be and are the generation who will say “yes, now this is how we can put it back together and make things work.”

  4. Thank you, Carol, for bringing this discussion into the light. When churches struggle for vitality, recognizing that in any age-group there is a deficit, it seems that the response is to assume that what worked for one age-group ought to work for all, as though all of “us” (Christians?) exist in a monolithic category together. It’s very helpful to highlight these differences and think theologically about them.

  5. Sometimes I like the Gen X title. It is as if we are a collective enterprise of superheroes. With Neil’s call for WE to be prophetic then I say we are a super group.

    I wonder how much stock can be placed in these generational sections. I hear often from folks in the X that they were born in the wrong era. Perhaps they wish to have been born in the 50’s or 70’s. Now I hear this from the Millennial Generation. The kids I used to work with fought very hard to connect with the 80’s and tried to connect with the punkers of yore. Those of us that went through those times (I include myself here) have a vastly different understanding of it. To the youth seeking identities our experience is boiled down and sold on the internet, TV, and in movies.

    Basically I am asking, “Where does the power lie?” I forget where I read this article, but it went on to claim that Boom hordes and wreaked it for X and M. That Boom holds on to power…will not allow for room for X and M. So X takes it and reconstructs culture to include them and this is where we are at.

    I wonder where the power lies because I want to understand the dynamics of the church and where we can engage in mission.

  6. Yeah. I like the prophetic, collective-enterprise vision too. I hope that’s who we are and will continue to be…

    “I wonder how much stock can be placed in these generational sections.”

    Right. I mean, I’m using a business article, that’s ordinarily used for marketing, to try to understand people. I think why I hate the labels so much is because that’s what they’ve largely been used for–branding and selling to generations. Which can be distasteful.

    But… I’m a pastor, so I’m very interested in people, and modern anthropology is all tied up in marketing. The corps are putting millions of dollars into producing this stuff. As a result, we have access to some of the most finely-tuned data in history. So I find, it can be helpful, not in marketing the church, but in understanding and caring for people.

    As far as labeling… that’s also difficult, isn’t it? But I think this is an important time in the church. I often say it’s like a tornado, with so many things swirling about us. But, we can’t afford to dismiss people, saying “you just don’t get it,” when they want to know what’s happening. I’ve found a certain calling in trying to describe, as faithfully as possible, what’s going on.

    Where the power lies is extremely important. That’s one of the huge shifts the mainline will need to make. We’ll need to start developing leaders at an early age and always look for ways to give away our power to the next generations…

  7. “Those of us that went through those times (I include myself here) have a vastly different understanding of it.”

    Alright, it’s been days, but people are still reading this, so I thought I comment again.
    You know, the report does two things: (1) says that generations are defined by the events that occur to them and (2) they can predict the behaviors of generations.

    I believe #1, but #2? That’s still up for much debate.

    When we’re talking about Millennials, they’re defining my daughter, who’s six, along with a twenty-five year old. The events that will shape the life of a six year old haven’t occurred yet. So there’s a great deal of speculation going on. So it makes sense that someone who’s twenty-five right now, relates more to Gen X than a child.

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