The Millennials are coming! And if you've sampled the literature about them, you're likely a little scared. Restless, entitled, bloated self-esteem, desultory work patterns, twitter-sized attention spans—pick your pejorative. Commentators have slung them all at those born between 1980 and 2000.
But the ominous rumblings obscure a more complex reality. In The Millennials: Connecting to American's Largest Generation (B&H Books) Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, and his son Jess W. Rainer, release findings from 1,200 interviews with Millennials and offer a more balanced view.
Turns out there are positive characteristics among those who comprise this demographic bulge. The book is written to include a secular readership, but has important implications for anyone who will minister with and to Millennials. And since there are 78 million Millennials—America's largest generation yet—that pretty much includes all of us.
Most research books are tedious reads, but the Rainers intersperse their findings with profiles of real-life Millennials, introducing readers to the stories behind the statistics.
The book focuses on older Millennials, those born between 1980 and 1991 (today's twentysomethings) and reveals some encouraging values. For instance, Millennials place a high premium on family. When asked, "What is really important to you?" 61 percent placed "family" at the top of the list. "Friends" were a distant second, cited by 25 percent of the respondents.
Millennials retain close relationships with their parents. Maybe too close. Parents of Millennials have been dubbed "Helicopter Parents" for their tendency to hover over their grown children's lives, even paying their bills and negotiating salaries on their behalf. Still, the research on family views is ultimately positive.
The Gen X cynicism toward the traditional family has evaporated in this generation, with 94 percent of Millennials saying they have respect for older generations. They also have a high view of marriage. Of those surveyed, 86 percent plan to marry once or not at all. Based on such responses, the Rainers are optimistic that the Millennials may end up steering society back toward traditional family values.
Other findings are more ambiguous. As always, it depends on how you interpret the data. For example, is the fact that 96 percent of Millennials believe they will do something great with their lives evidence of narcissism or noble ambition? The Rainers opt for the latter, arguing that Millennials define greatness as serving others, rather than as making money or seeking status.
Millennials' demand to do only interesting and meaningful work is similar. Are they just spoiled, or highly creative? Millennial technological savvy is another Rorschach. Are they dangerously isolated by new media forms or more relational because of them? Again the Rainers see a silver lining, pointing to the ways Millennials use technology to nurture bonds with family and friends.
On the topic of religion, sadly, the jury is in. Only 13 percent of Millennials consider any type of religion or spirituality to be important in their lives. Core Christian doctrines, such as the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, fare poorly. When it comes to the afterlife, the most popular view is that no one can really know what happens after death.
Before conducting the research, the Rainers feared they'd discover hostility to Christianity among Millennials. What they found, however, was worse: indifference. "At least someone who opposes Christianity has our beliefs on his or her radar. Most of the Millennials don't think about religious matters at all."