I have been reading up on millennials lately.
Though the birthdates may vary somewhat depending upon the source, millennials are generally those represented in the population who were born between 1980 and 2000. This roughly places them between the ages of 19 and 39.
An interesting number regarding this generation shows that in Canada, 27.5 per cent of the population comes from this age group. This is significant because the millennials have now become the largest generation in Canada, surpassing that of the previously largest group, the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1965).
Over 10 million people in Canada are considered millennials. This population change represents a significant shift.
For those who are of the Boomer generation, if you were to mention things like The Brady Bunch, The Beatles or Watergate, pretty much every person would light up with sentimental recognition. For the Boomer generation, there would be times when a significant portion of the nation would be tuned in to one TV show.
This is not true with the millennials. Today we have hundreds of cable channels, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and so much more, all with on-demand capabilities.
Because of this massive selection of choices, there aren’t nearly as many shared experiences as there once were. This makes defining the millennial generation more difficult than perhaps in previous eras.
Author Karl Vaters, asks and answers this question, “What’s wrong with today’s younger generations? The quick answer? Nothing. Nothing is wrong with the current and upcoming generations that hasn’t been wrong with every previous generation.”
You may or may not agree with him on that point, and much has been written about particular traits with millennials (i.e., 35 per cent of millennials still live with their parents), but Vaters suggests millennials can’t be clumped together as a group.
Keith Neuman, executive director at the Environics Institute said, “Ninety-five per cent of everything that's been written and published about millennials in Canada sees them as one group. Perhaps the biggest limitation in this discussion is how it lumps an entire generation into a single group, the implicit assumption being that age alone is the defining characteristic. This type of shorthand misses important insights, namely that all millennials are not alike.”
Indeed, some millennials are students, others are professionals in their chosen field of employment while others are buying homes and raising families.
It is felt that, in general, the millennial generation often looks at the job place, living arrangements, lifestyle preferences, work ethic, etc., through a different lens than other generations; but that could also be said of generations who came before. It was, after all, the Baby Boomers who suggested the concept of not trusting anyone over 30. It is just that the millennial generation is now so large, and represents the largest age group in the workforce that their various world views are being noticed.
What does this have to do with the church/Christians as it relates to this now largest generation?
If millennials can’t be lumped together as a group, how should we view them?
We need to see them like Jesus does, as individuals and not a demographic group, with perceived warts. As Karl Vaters suggests, “Jesus didn't treat women like women, Samaritans like Samaritans, or lepers like lepers. His meeting with Nicodemus (John 3) shows us that Jesus didn't even treat all Pharisees through the same negative lens.”
Jesus viewed everyone as an individual. If we want to connect with millennials – and anyone else, we need to get to know people as individuals, and stop looking for weaknesses and differences. As long as we do that, we will be able to have opportunities to touch people’s lives with the good news of Jesus.
Ken Banks is lead pastor of Connection Church in Truro.