Baby Boomers have spent the past three decades dismantling and reassembling the church structures created by their parents, often in the contemporary and seeker-sensitive models. Starting about ten years ago, some of their Gen-X successors began making their own contribution to American Christianity. The "emerging church" leaders introduced postmodern worship with indigenous music combined with ancient rites and emphasis on sensory experience.
Millennial generation leaders are beginning to take their places now. Born after 1980, this next "next generation" is optimistic, globally aware, entertainment hungry, and communal. They have been affirmed and busy since they were born, and they have high self-esteem. They are the "everyone gets a trophy" generation.
The oldest are 25 years old, and are the newest youth pastors, college ministers, and seminary students. As with earlier generations, new styles of leadership and organizational expectations will develop.
We first noticed the differences in them as they assumed leadership roles in our church's college ministry. In this ministry, I was at first a Boomer leading Gen-Xers. Then I was leading Gen-Xers to minister to Millennials. Now, the Millennials are taking over.
For pastors still struggling to figure out ministry to postmoderns, it may be helpful to focus on Millennials, perhaps the first generation native to the postmodern era. How can we welcome the Millennials as members of our ministry teams?
1. Create cooperative organizations. Think "us." In seeing our staff transition from mostly Gen-X to Millennials, I find a higher sense of being together in the work. These young adults focus more on what we can accomplish together, as opposed to the tension that can arise from turf wars and ego competition. That's influenced my language. I speak of "working with" people, not their "working for" me. They respond to open leadership that is inclusive and patient. While I grew up in a time of not trusting "anyone over 30," today's young adults seek supportive mentoring relationships with older leaders.
2. Plan safe risks. Create ways young adults can learn their limitations without placing your organization in peril. Safe risks are situations that won't sink the organization but offer opportunities for growth and learning.
Young staffers need to know that they are not being evaluated as much for the results as for their ability to understand and work in ways that reflect our mission and values.
One evening when we were sponsoring a concert on campus, two interns were responsible for overseeing admissions, taking pre-sold tickets and selling door tickets. After an early rush of students, they ran out of change. The two, both college graduates, became frustrated and started to turn students away. I was off to the side watching to see how long it would take for the two to realize they could solve the problem in a variety of ways, including having one of them stay at the table while the other went and got money. It was painful to watch students giving up on the concert. But it was a valuable lesson in problem solving and leadership.
3. Understand the family connection. Previous generations established themselves in their 20s. This group appears to have a new, extended connection with their families. Parents may be significantly involved in decision making and problem solving.
While interviewing student leaders I frequently ask, "If you had 24 hours to be anywhere you wanted with one person and money was not an object, what would you choose?" I am no longer surprised by the number of students who choose to spend their dream day with one of their parents.