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November 5, 2015Leadership

Some Perspective on Millennials Serving in Ministry

What are we to think about Millennials as future leaders of the ministry?
Some Perspective on Millennials Serving in Ministry

The Millennial generation, the oldest of whom are turning 35 this year, are inarguably the ministry leaders of the future. However, Millennials also have the smallest percentage of church attendance[1] of any generation, leaving many pastors looking for insight and advice on how to reach them. While there are many opinions regarding Millennials and the future they may create, there is very little information regarding the perspectives of Millennials serving in ministry positions.

Who Was Surveyed

Our team took a qualitative approach to this question and surveyed Millennials serving in ministry, asking about their perspectives on religion, spirituality, and church. We used open-ended questions in order to obtain an expression of their thoughts. As is the nature of qualitative research, the results cannot be extrapolated to Millennials in general or Millennials in ministry in specific. Though still to be fully analyzed, the preliminary results are intriguing.

Those in our survey ranged from single, to married, to parents. They also ranged from serving in volunteer positions in churches, to serving in Christian non-profits, to pastors. Overall, the trends demonstrated in this group were strong and personally encouraging. For example, many of them expressed grace for the church, understanding it to be a place where broken people gather, and did not hold an expectation of perfection over the church or church system, even though some of them obviously have been wounded. They saw themselves as helping to bring love and healing to the gathering and expressed strong commitment and loyalty to that gathering.

One intriguing trend was the respondents in our survey indicated their spirituality and religion were intimately interconnected. Many of them pushed back against the distinction between spirituality and religion, saying things like, “My religion is that I follow Christ” and “spirituality IS religion… Religion is the embodied practice of the spiritual” (emphasis original). This is quite different from the previous two generations who saw religion and spirituality as not only distinctive, but antithetical[2].

The Centrality of Spiritual Disciplines

Many of our respondents listed spiritual disciplines as critical to their faith practice, but the items included was an expanded version of Richard Foster’s original 13.[3] Items listed specifically as spiritual disciplines included dance, sharing time and meals with other believers, sharing time and meals with the lost, physical exercise, confession, communion, forgiving others, and love. These may be found in Foster’s work and are definitely of the same spirit, yet the comprehensiveness of the list demonstrates a conviction of living life with disciplines yielding holistic health.

There were other interesting trends as well. While the survey went out to individuals who were loosely networked through secondary and tertiary relationships, they had many things in common. Though they were from a range of denominations, emergent trends included a love of liturgy (undefined in the responses), the liturgical calendar (even among the evangelical Millennials), and a desire for multicultural worship expressions and multicultural/multi-generational/multi-ethnic congregations. In describing their ideal church expression, many expressed a strong desire for tradition, community, and charismatic moves of the Holy Spirit, all in the same sentence. Indeed, though their ages varied by more than a decade and denominational affiliations were broad, the description of their ideal church expression was surprisingly cohesive.

The Centrality of Jesus

What was most inspiring to us as researchers and ministry leaders was the centrality of Jesus to their lives and the love and passion they expressed for the Church. “The Church is the body of followers of Christ… This church is not just a one time a week church, but a fervent love that encompasses all areas of your life and community that isn’t afraid of the mess.” Another respondent, after describing his/her ideal church stated, “Ideally, I would be engaged in this church [every] day – but we may not necessarily gather as the body of Christ daily. Life would be done in community with other Christians, living out our faith in the world, support one another and encouraging one another.”

As trainers of current and future ministry leaders, we gained much hope from the survey results. Given the chance to shape church culture, rhythm, and practice, we believe these Millennials will hold themselves to the standards of behavior and motivation described in Scripture, and will live identifiably as disciples of Jesus Christ. Personally, this causes us to look to the future with great anticipation.

This study was completed as a collaboration between the Gateway District of the Foursquare Church and Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries (SROM).

[1] Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life. (2015, May 12) America’s changing religious landscape. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

[2] Mabry, J.R. (2013). Faithful Generations: Effective ministry across generational lines. New York: Morehouse Publishing.

[3] Foster, R. J. (1978). Celebration of Discipline: The path to spiritual growth. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

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Some Perspective on Millennials Serving in Ministry