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June 8, 2011

Leadership Book Interview: Jess Rainer on The Millennials

Today Jess Rainer is at the blog to discuss The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation, a book that he co-wrote with Thom Rainer and based on a LifeWay Research project.

Jess is not just an author, but is a friend and team member in a church plant. We are pastors at Grace Church (along with Jimmy Disney and Barry Peters.) So, not only do I believe that he says is good, but I also see he lives what he says.

You can actually get The Millennials as a free download from now through June 20, 2011 at Amazon, B&N, CBD, and iTunes.

Ed Stetzer: How did you come to write The Millennials?

Jess Rainer: In a conversation between my dad and me, we began to discuss just how much of an impact my generation will truly make. From the very beginning, we had differing opinions about how the Millennials feel, act, and believe. The driving force behind the formation of the book was the idea that understanding what the Millennials truly think can make a huge difference for teachers, business men and women, politicians, and specifically the church. It was at that point the idea of writing The Millennials was born. My dad loved the idea of having "an insiders" perspective on the Millennial generation. We decided to team up in order to shed some light on my generation in order to be effective to reach the Millennials.

ES: Give us some parameters for your study. How many Millennials did you interview? Is there anything else we should know about the demographics of your research?

JR: In partnering with LifeWay Research, we had the privilege of interviewing 1,200 Millennials. These Millennials represent the older demographic of the generation; those born between 1980 and 1991. The research is very balanced between genders with almost a 50 percent response from both males and females. Each birth year was adequately represented. And without diving into too much of the specific numbers, there was a balanced representation according to income, education, geography, and race. While the pure statistical research was adequate alone to write the book, my dad and I made it a point to get to know my generation. While I had daily interaction with my peers, my dad also sought to speak with and observe the Millennials. This observation research helped bring the data to life.

ES: What was the most surprising thing you learned about Millennials as you conducted your research?

JR: I expected to see a generation that nominally Christian. I expected to see a generation that is financially confused. I expected to see a generation that is not as environmentally focused as thought. I expected to see a generation heavily involved in technology. But I did not expect to see a generation that is dedicated to family. When asked the open-ended question, "What is most important to you in life," 61 percent of Millennials stated their family is most important.

Friends and education followed the number one response, but neither of these answers came close to representing a majority of the generation. The Millennials desire to be connected to their family. The use of technology has brought families together in a way that previous generations never had the ability to connect. The Millennials are seeking out the advice and counsel of their parents. Almost 9 out of 10 Millennials receive regular advice and counsel from their parents.

The Millennials are also thinking about their own future families. Eighty-six percent of Millennials believe they will marry once or not at all. My generation desires to have children. There appears to be a return to strong traditional family values. I believe Millennials desire to break the trend of broken families.

Ed Stetzer: Perhaps unsurprisingly, media was a big influence on this generation. What were some of your conclusions about media use and influence for Millennials, based on your research?

JR: Media and technology are not only a big influence on the Millennials, but my peers (and I) consider technology as vital to our lives. Three out of four Millennials agree that their cell phone is vital to their life. It is an understatement to say media is important to the Millennials. Social media is integrated into the life of a Millennial on a daily basis. It serves as a means of communication.

Forms of communication is changing not only from previous generations, but within the Millennial generation as well. The older group of our respondents differed in preferred communication forms from the younger group. The older group mentioned phone, text, and email as a primary form. The younger group preferred phone and text. The younger Millennials text almost 20 percent more than the older Millennials. Email appears to be loosing ground as a form of communication. I look forward to seeing exactly how this trend continues and how it will impact the workplace.

ES: You mention that balancing work and life is the number one factor in job selection for Millennials. Does this mean this generation doesn't want to work? What do they want from a boss? From the workplace?

JR: When looking at how much emphasis the Millennials place on family and friends, there is a natural connection that the Millennials desire a job that allows flexibility. They do not want a job that demands time away from family. This does not mean this generation will not work. In fact, Millennials desire to make a healthy income. They understand hard work and education will help them achieve a good income. They are not opposed to putting in long hours when the job demands it. Millennials do want to be able to take a long weekend to see family after putting in long, hard hours.

A boss that fosters a flexible environment will help attract and retain Millennials. A flexible boss does not mean an absent boss though. Millennials want structure and feedback. They want to know how well they are performing in the workplace. Success is important, especially if it means more flexibility in the future.

ES: Millennials, you say, desperately want to make a difference. What might this look like? Are they confident about their ability to effect change? Why or why not?

JR: Nine out of ten Millennials believe it is their responsibility to make a difference in the world. This difference is propelled by the desire to make an impact on other people. Three out of four Millennials believe it is their role in life to serve others. As mentioned previously, this generation is not beyond being successful and making a good income. But is is their reason for being successful that is different than previous generations. The Baby Boomer generation largely spent their wealth on buying material items. The Millennials are using their extra resources to take trips or setting up a non-profit organizations to help the less fortunate.

ES: You made some interesting observations about money in The Millennials -- especially that this generation is interested in making a lot of it! How does this synch with their interest in making a difference?

JR: When you looked at family in your study, it was surprising to see how influential parents are for Millennials. Tell us about your findings.

The Millennials understand the power behind a mentor. Three out of four Millennials would like a lead to come beside them and teach them leadership skills. Adding the desire to be mentored to the strong emphasis on the family, parents are often to "go to" source for advice and guidance. Here is what we found in regards to parental influence:

* 89% of Millennials receive guidance and advice from their parents.

* 87% of Millennials view their parents as a positive source of influence.

* 77% of Millennials agree that they seek their parents' advice on a regular basis.

* 94% of Millennials said they have a great respect for older generations.

When I first saw this group of data, I was very surprised. But as I thought more about it, I realized how many of my friends always went to their parents whenever advice was needed. Beyond that, I realized that I was going to my parents on almost a daily basis needing advice. Even beyond that, I realized that I was writing a book with my dad! These findings never should have been a surprise. Millennials are very connected to their family, specifically their parents.

ES: When you interviewed Millennials about religion, you discovered that for most, religion isn't even on their radar screen. Why? Do Millennials believe in God? In heaven? What about prayer?

JR: The involvement and participation in religion continues to decline in every generation. For the Millennials, religion is indeed not on their radar screen. Millennials nominally participate in spiritual activities. 50 percent claim to pray once a week or more. About 25 percent attend a religious service at least once a week. 21 percent read the Bible once a week or more. 15 percent study the Bible once a week or more.

While spiritual activities are low, Millennials do still believe in religious concepts. 45 percent agreed strongly that heaven is a real place. 60 percent believe that hell is a literal place and that Satan is real being. 72 percent agree that God is a real being and not just a concept.

We found numerous statistics about the different activities and beliefs of the Millennials, but there was one that was the most staggering to me. We calculated that roughly 15 percent of Millennials are true Christians. Beyond that only 6 percent of Millennials held to the common beliefs of an Evangelical Christian. Many factors can be attributed to the decline of Evangelical Christians among the generations, but it is clear that Millennials are turned off to organized religion, specifically the church.

ES: What are some of the big turn-offs about organized religion for Millennials?

JR: Seventy percent of Millennials agree that American churches are irrelevant today. It is not only non-Christian Millennials who believe this, but Christian Millennials as well. Instead of looking at what turns away Millennials from the church, allow me to end by sharing what the Millennials say attracts them to church.

In the last chapter of The Millennials, we address how the church has the task of reaching both Christian and non-Christian Millennials. Since non-Christian Millennials compromise approximately 85 percent of the generation, let's briefly look at what attracts this group to church. It is important to note that the Millennial generation is not opposed to church, but rather, indifferent towards the church.

The first step in bringing America's largest generation to church is to invite them. Millennials are very social. A simply invite from a friend can often make a large impact. It is also important to connect the Millennials with their Christian parents. As mentioned before, parents play a large role in the Millennials' lives. Millennials' parents can make a large, positive impact for the church. There has to be an outward focus. Millennials want to see churches who are serving others, reaching their communities, and making an impact across the globe. An inward focused church will not attract Millennials. Additionally, leaders of the church must display transparency, humility, and integrity.

Churches must start demonstrating the deep meaning of following Christ. "Church-as-usual" is not effective in reaching this large portion of the American population. Millennials desire to connect and invest their lives in something that is bigger than themselves. They want to have a radical lifestyle. And there's nothing more radical than a true follower of Christ.

Feel free to interact and discuss. And don't forget to download the book and read it for yourself while it's free (Amazon, B&N, CBD, and iTunes).

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Leadership Book Interview: Jess Rainer on The Millennials