Born between 1984 and 2002, Millennials, while part of our broader North American culture, also share within their generational cohort a unique set of values, assumptions and allegiances that are different from and, in many ways, profoundly disruptive to existing worldviews.
This has had — and will continue to have — significant effects on almost all of our institutions: from entertainment to ministry to workplaces to education. Understanding and integrating Millennials is critical to the success of any organization — including yours. Yet doing so can be frustrating and maddening: after all, some of our most basic assumptions are being challenged! Sometimes it might even feel a bit like trying to communicate with aliens.
Fortunately, these aliens have much to offer. And we have more in common than we have differences. Embracing those commonalities while learning to appreciate and engage the differences is key to successful inter-generational relationships at work, at home and at church.
In Barna Group’s sizable body of work on Millennials — we’ve conducted more than 30,000 interviews in over 200 studies with Millennials during the last decade — we’ve discovered four keys to empowering and mobilizing these young adults in your organization or church. Here are two of them.
Mentor (And Be Mentored)
Millennials flourish in environments where apprenticeship and mentoring are valued and accessible. For example, young adults who continue their involvement in a local church beyond their teen years are twice as likely as those who don’t to have a close personal friendship with an older adult in their faith community (59 percent vs. 31 percent among church dropouts). They’re also twice as likely to have had a mentor other than a pastor or youth minister (28 percent vs. 11 percent).
This insight applies to business, nonprofits and churches. How well is your organization nurturing inter generational friendships and mentoring? Are you making space for generations to rub shoulders and share their hearts and minds — not just sharing cubicles or pews?
Another benefit of having a mentoring and friendship-friendly environment is the opportunity for Millennials to share what they know with those above them on the organizational chart. The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe the give and take between young and established leaders.
Look to Millennials in your church or organization to guide established staffers in areas such as these:
- Global perspective: Millennials themselves come from a variety of ethnicities; they also have a unique perspective about the world and esteem diversity.
- ?Digitally native: This generation has grown up with digital tools and they understand, for example, that social media should make an organization more social, more “human,” and not just be an avenue for corporate marketing and PR.
- ?Sustainability and social concern: From the environment to fair trade, Millennials are hyper-aware of consumerism’s effects on the world. From founding or cheering on nonprofits to buying TOMS shoes, justice issues are on many Millennials’ minds and hearts.
- Optimism: Millennials often have a can-do attitude and an expansive expectation of what’s possible.
- ?Innovative energy: Crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture among young adults; many are unafraid to try things that have never been done before or to realign systems to simpler, digital processes.
Offer Vocational Discipleship
As young adults begin to find their way in the world, one of their most critical issues of identity is vocational calling. Millennials see their 20s as a time to explore their career options so they can find a job that will provide the necessary sense of meaning and fulfillment.
Given how much time and energy Millennials spend at work and the pressure they put on their job to be fulfilling, it’s not surprising that work is also an area of acute anxiety for many of them: 49 percent feel anxious about choosing their career for fear they’ll make the wrong choice. For many Christian Millennials, this apprehension is compounded by a desire to know and follow God’s will — including in their career. That’s why it’s particularly alarming to know that only one-third of Christian young adults feel called to their work. In fact, nearly half (48 percent) think God is calling them to different work, but they haven’t yet been willing to make the change.
This is where vocational discipleship comes in: Because Millennials are so concerned about the significance of what they do, established Christians who are also established professionals or tradespeople can help them identify their life’s work and connect it to their faith.
However, most Millennials — really, most adults in general — do not experience this kind of calling-driven guidance. More than one-third of Christian Millennials (37 percent) do not have an older mentor who gives them advice about work. Almost two-thirds of all churched adults (63 percent) say that, in the past three years, they have not received any teachings or information that helped shape or challenge their views on work and career.
What might vocational discipleship look like in your organization, practically speaking?
Here are a few ideas:
- Provide explicit training in how to live out Christianity in the workplace — seminars, case studies, and so on.
- Offer assessments and counseling for those in their first year or two of work at your organization: to help them adjust and also decide if their job is the right fit.
- Offer apprenticeships and internships — formal or informal — for college students.
- Encourage cross-departmental communication, “employee swaps” or lunchtime classes put on by a department to help employees understand what’s happening throughout the organization.
Some will choose to see Millennials as kids who need discipline and a good old-fashioned work ethic. Others will choose to see a generation of potential leaders, motivated by grand visions and hungry to live lives that matter, that make an indelible mark for the better on the world.
The established leader who can see this potential in Millennials, and who is willing to meet them in their desire for meaning, will find an engaged and eager group ready to channel their innate resources — their optimism, their technological savvy, their entrepreneurial spirit — toward the mission of God’s kingdom.
David Kinnaman is the president and principal owner of Barna Group — an incredible team of researchers and writers. He is the author of You Lost Me (2011) and Churchless (2014). Today’s post is an excerpt from the 2014 Winter edition of Outcomes Magazine. Kinnaman will be a keynote speaker at The Outcomes Conference: CLA Dallas 2015, April 14–16, 2015. ?Be sure to register for the Academic Experience so you don’t miss him as he kicks off the CLA Intensive Training Institute on April 14.
Now you have an opportunity to impact or be impacted by next generations of leaders. By joining The Outcomes Mentoring Network you can either become a mentor or find the mentor that is right for you. Mentor applications are accepted at any time. For those interested in finding a mentor – the next registration deadline is March 13, 2015. Get a head start and sign up today!