This morning I had a terrifying realization. I'd started the day in my typical fashion, by skimming my Facebook wall and Twitter feed to find an article worth reading—a friend-approved, literary jolt to motivate the hamster in my head to start its daily run. Scrolling through these articles is a bit like walking through a middle school hallway, with all the usual suspects: the nerds correcting everyone's theological grammar, the goths singing dirges of the church's imminent demise, the cool kids gossiping about some pastor's latest faux pas.
I finally clicked on a link to one of those "How to Get the Average Millennial to Come to Church" articles, expecting a satisfying eye roll. Instead, my jaw dropped and I let out a tiny yelp. This average Millennial, the one that everyone's trying so hard to understand—it's me!
My heart started pounding as I read through the descriptors. "Average Millennials hold multiple degrees." Check. "They are technologically savvy." Check. "Many haven't been able to find jobs in their fields of expertise." Check. "They probably have amassed a sizable debt." Double check.
It was distressing to see myself fitting into the cookie-cutter Millennial mold. Articles such as these don't paint a pretty picture. According to them, Millennials are entitled couch potatoes, suffering from arrested development. They have an inflated sense of self-worth, and they think they can run a company the first day they walk into a new job.
Of course, Millennials have their retorts. "We aren't lazy; we were just dealt a bad hand." "Our parents told us we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up, and we believed them."
Back and forth it goes.
But as an "average Millennial," I don't feel entitled. I've worked as a laborer on a construction site and as an administrative assistant (read: receptionist) for an oral surgeon. I know the value of a hard day's work just to pay the bills. I also don't blame my current struggles entirely on my upbringing. What success I've had, I owe to the generosity of my parents, mentors, and church. How do I rectify these discrepancies?
The answer, of course, is that I'm not the "average Millennial." Nor is anyone else. I may share a few commonalities with other members of my generation, but I'm also unique.
The truth is, the "average Millennial" is a myth.
Lighthouse or Mirage?
Not every "Millennial" article is authored by a curmudgeon, harrumphing about "kids these days." I'd like to think this discussion began as a genuine attempt to understand the values of a generation that has confounded expectations. Church leaders, horrified to discover that Millennials were dramatically under-represented in churches, sought ways to bring them back. But how can you attract what you don't understand?
Authors eagerly jumped to the rescue: "You want to know how to attract Millennials? We'll tell you what they are like, what they like, and how you can change your church to draw them in and keep them."
Enter statistical analysis, the proven cure for whatever ails your church. The surveys poured in, the stats were compiled, and the illusive "average Millennial" started coming into focus. But statistical analysis is limited—economic situations, political affiliations, and other figures only go so far.
So like a geneticist filling the sequence gaps of dinosaur DNA with that of frogs, authors inserted personal opinions into their analysis: I know a few Millennials that seem to have problems with authority, so that must be a trait all Millennials share. Philosophers have a name for this type of reasoning. They call it "the fallacy of composition." An observer assumes that one member of a group is representative of the whole.