Millennials are just THE WORST, right? At least, that’s what our elders say. There are seemingly endless pieces in the press talking about how terrible we are. Pastor Ben Windle has spent two years researching us, and he says we aren’t as bad as all that. Next time someone starts a story with ‘back in my day…’ share this with them.
When Ben visited Vision, Alex had just started attending his Church. She and Ben both scrape in at either end of the millennial generation. If you don’t know, that includes anyone born between 1981 and 1996. Sound like you? Congratulations. Everyone hates you!
You might remember the General Manager of Muffin Break slamming us recently, saying we weren’t willing to do unpaid work to get a foot in the door anymore because of an inflated view of our self-importance.
Or you can’t have missed property magnate Tim Gurner, who’s a millennial by the way, saying if we didn’t spend so much on avocado toast and coffee, we might actually be able to buy the dream homes we say are too expensive. His comments went viral on social media.
The whole image of this avocado toast is basically you’re spoilt, you waste your money on things that don’t really matter.
‘Our generation did it tough. We walked three hours to school in bear feet every day! Come on millennials! You’ve got everything you need! But actually the data shows something very different.’
Pastor Windle is on a crusade to encourage more optimism about millennials. He points out that the Baby Boomers who are criticising us were also criticised by the generation before them. ‘The idea of looking at young people and saying young people are lazy, young people are entitled, that’s been going on forever.’
‘I think there are many many good things that far outweigh some of the inaccurate reports about millennials,’ Pastor Windle said. ‘Volunteering rates are super high in millennials. They’re very generous. They give to causes and charities. But they’re value driven. They don’t like wasted resources. They don’t like bad leadership. They rally against corporations, and massive organisations, where they see corruption, waste.’
There are reasons why millennials are saying some of what they’re saying. And I think we ought to listen to them, and learn from them.
And statistically, millennials are one of the most optimistic generations ever. Windle says that rings true for the millennials he knows, who believe it’s possible to make a difference through your actions. ‘They’re on this planet to contribute in some way,’ he said. ‘And I think we’re going to see that optimism have great results.’
But there is one worrying trend amongst millennials which is real, and a real problem. We’re leaving the Church in droves. Pastor Windle was raised in a Church, and even he walked away for a while when he was younger. He isn’t surprised that so many young people are rejecting religion. ‘And I think it’s time to take stock of that, and take a look at the culture.’
We can so easily think oh, let’s reach young people as a Church. Let’s get better lights, better production, better branding, better website.
‘I’m not against any of those things,’ Ben said. ‘I have them in my Church. But I don’t think that’s what millennials are really looking for.’ Rather than those superficial things, he says millennials are much more interested in culture, style, how leaders lead, and the environments they’re in. ‘Those things, which are deeper, more philosophical, more nuanced, they’re the things that matter a lot more to millennials.’
Pastor Windle sums up some of his conclusions in his new research paper, ‘Eight Innovations for Leading Millennials’. One of the things he talks about is what he calls ‘relational leadership style’. ‘None of us like working under managers or leaders who solely lead from a stance of I’m the boss, do what I say.’
‘In my line of work, in Churches though, that way of thinking has almost become institutionalised, because of our theology, which says you’re the Pastor, you’re the leader, you’re the boss. Other people should follow.’
While there’s definitely some Biblical truth to that idea, Windle says we should take a more well-balanced look at what the Bible asks of us, like graciousness, kindness, humility, and love. ‘And of course the ultimate example of leadership, which is to be a servant leader and a shepherd, one who lays down their lives for others.’
Ben says if you’re a leader of young people, the best investment you can make is of time. Don’t be their boss. Become their friend. ‘Millennials are attracted to leaders who don’t just lead through a title or a position, but they want to get to know you, have coffee with you, connect with you, build relationship with you.’
So what if you’re a young person in Church now, and you’re not seeing that more relational leadership? ‘Don’t give up,’ Ben says. ‘It might feel like the easier rout. I believe in the local Church. I believe in the difference that we can make. Love something before you want to change it. Give yourself to it, and over time, you can make a difference in it.’
‘Even if the style doesn’t quite fit your personality or nature, look deeper. Look at the hearts of the people. Connect at that level, and be willing to go on a journey.’
Check out more from Ben Windle