When I was new in ministry in the mid-1980’s, I was trained by the Northern NJ United Methodist Conference on how to reach the missing generation of Baby Boomers. The program was well done, and it made a lot of sense, but until that point I had absolutely no idea that I was considered a “second stage Baby Boomer.” I thought – well, I actually didn’t think much about the differences between my generation and those who were either older and younger than me. I guess I was just dumb and ignorant about how “special” I was.
In the years since we have had libraries of books written about Gen X, Y, and now the apocalyptic Generation Z, as if this is the last generation. And of course, there other sub-groups that I won’t address here. In the midst of all of this are the Millennials. Millennials are those born between the mid-1980’s and 1999 (or so). They came of age or were born just before the year 2000, and are different because they are really the first generation(s) to have the internet their entire lives. This has led to differences in the ways they learn and spend their time, and much has been made of the fact that their generation is, mostly, missing from organized religion.
Here is the thing – Millennials are now roughly between the ages of 20 and 32– in other words, they are adults. The older Millennials are marrying, having children, and buying houses. This generation is no more or less responsible that any generation before, no matter how many times some cranky old person says it. They work, play, and live much like those who came before them, and while technology has made them different in some ways, they are mostly just like the rest of us. And they aren’t missing from organized religion because they don’t like it, they are missing because their parents are also missing. The Baby Boomers were the first generation to believe the a religious education is not important for a person to develop into a good person. I think our present situation proves that they were wrong.
It seems to me that as long as we keep focusing on our differences, we will continue to be fragmented. As long as we keep defining generations by the influences that are believed to have shaped them, we will never see them as people who need what people always have needed. From the church’s point of view, we believe that people need to love God, others, and self. We believe that we need to gather as a faithful community so that we can change the world for the better. Just because Millennials have lived their entire lives with the internet doesn’t mean that they don’t need connections, and the church, at its best, is one of the last places we can truly connect in a non-judgmental and nurturing setting. Let’s stop treating people as stereotypes, and start looking at them as being made in the image of God – just like us, and our grandparents, and their grandparents…. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary United Church of Christ (Reading, PA) since 1999. His education includes a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA).