Millennials defy categorization. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to categorize them, anyway.
Especially for Baby Boomers like me. We love categorizing people. It makes ministry easier. Simpler. Safer.
You know, boring.
As I wrote in Why Church Leaders Will Never Understand Millennials, the main reason we’re having a hard time figuring out how to minister to this generation is because Millennials aren’t really a thing. We made them up.
Sure, people exist in the age range born between 1982 and 2004. But the idea that every generation can be defined by a clear set of distinctives doesn’t apply to them the way we’ve become accustomed to.
How We Started Doing Generational Ministry
Baby Boomers were the first generation to be defined as a homogeneous group. First of all, because there really was a baby boom in the decades following World War II. Our arrival also corresponded with the rise of the universal media. Three TV stations (in the US) one or two local newspapers per town (served by two wire services), nationally-read magazines, and a list of Top 40 songs that almost everyone listened to. And we lapped it up!
Boomers loved having these experiences in common. In fact, we got so used to being defined as a group that we looked back at our parents’ generation and called them Builders. And that moniker fit. They had won the war, then the peace, then built the infrastructure of our nations.
But then came the next generation and we didn’t know what to do with them. So we literally put an X on them – and Generation X was born.
What changed that made Gen X so hard to categorize? The universal, one-size-fits-all media landscape was giving way to a multi-dimensional, choice-heavy society. In 1992, Bruce Springsteen sang 57 Channels and Nothing On, and we all wondered how anyone could navigate life with so many options!
Now come the Millennials. With Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and more all literally in the palm of our hands, the idea of limited choices is a thing of the past. It’s every option at all times. Which makes categorizing this generation not just impossible, but foolhardy.
The one-size-fits-all, homogeneous generation is over. But it really only existed for 50 years anyway. From about 1945 to 1995. We don’t have a name for any generation before the Builders because, without mass media, people were identified ethnically and regionally, not generationally.