It’s obvious that the long-term future belongs to the youngest current generations of adults, The Millennials. The beliefs, values, and giving habits of this generation must be understood if we are going to effectively speak their language, in incarnational love, on the topic of finances and giving.
The most common, almost stereotypical characteristic of this generation is a good dose of narcissism. It is the logical consequence of decades of self-esteem gone to seed.[i] Telling a four-year-old she is an adorable rock star is cute. Telling a 16-year-old who has a voice like an old crow moaning after being hit by an semi, she is going to be an American idol rock star because she can do anything she sets her heart to do, is not only not cute, it is also delusional and unhealthy.[ii]
While it is common for each generation to view the subsequent generation with a measure of disdain and despair (those terrible kids), the narcissism of the millennial generation is statistically documentable, and is pretty-much how rich kids have always behaved.[iii] Narcissism is the soul-curse of spiritually untethered prosperity.
This Millennial Generation is a significant constituency of the million-a-year who are departing from traditional church expressions. This carries unique challenges. If God would help us see, there are also unique redemptive opportunities for change and progress contained in the Millennial generation.
The Millennial Generation, which is composed of people between the ages of eighteen to thirty, currently makes up over twenty percent of the population and a third of the work force.[iv] Millennials give less to religious organizations at least in part because they are less likely to attend worship services than people in older generations.[v] If we think we can ignore this generation while milking the aging and dying Boomers, we are most foolish.
Millennials were much more likely, compared with Boomers and older generations, to give to “make the world a better place” and slightly more likely because they “feel responsible for others who have less,” according to the 2008 Generational Differences in Charitable Giving and in Motivations for Giving study.[vi] This study also revealed Millennials were slightly less likely, as compared with older generations, to give to causes that support the poor and to give to “make their community better.”
These findings may suggest, in part, that Millennials either feel less connected to their local communities or more connected to the greater world and, therefore, may be more likely to give for national or global causes.[vii] Additionally, while Millennials may have less of an affinity for giving to causes that relate to the poor, they still feel responsible for those who have less.[viii]
Barna has significantly researched the Millennials. The initial Pew survey found that nearly one-in-three of the Millennial Generation has no religious affiliation. Recent surveys have shed light on this trend by examining those eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds who used to identify themselves closely with faith and the church, but who have since begun to wrestle with that identity.[ix]
In fact, between high school and turning thirty, forty-three percent of these once-active Millennials drop out of regular church attendance—that amounts to eight million twenty-somethings who have, for various reasons, given up on “church” or “Christianity.”[x] (Quotation marks this author’s)
Over half of Millennials with a Christian background (fifty-nine percent) have, at some point, dropped out of going to church after having gone regularly, and half have been significantly frustrated by their faith. Additionally, more than fifty percent of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds with a Christian background say they are less active in church compared to when they were fifteen.[xi] If you are an older reader, and have any passion at all for the future of the ekklesia, these stats should break your heart and burden you in prayer. Something is very, very wrong in what we have been doing.
In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, divides these once church-going Millennials into three spiritual journeys, which he termed: “nomads,” “prodigals” and “exiles.”[xii] These groups are derived from the most common answers given to a variety of questions about religious belief and attitudes toward Christianity, churches, and faith.[xiii]
The most common spiritual journey is that of the nomads. This group is comprised of eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds with a Christian background who walk away from church engagement, but still consider themselves Christians. A person in this group typically has trouble identifying with a church or a particular “brand” of Christianity, but would consider himself or herself, broadly, a Christian.[xiv]
More than one-fifth of Millennials with a Christian background (twenty-one percent) say Christian beliefs don’t make sense to them. These he calls prodigals. Many prodigals also admit to having had a negative experience in church or with Christians (Twenty percent of eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds with a Christian background say this). Finally, nineteen percent of young adults who have a Christian background say their spiritual needs cannot be met by Christianity. This is another characteristic of prodigals.[xv]
The final category of Millennials who struggle with the Christian faith can be termed “exiles.” This group has a tough time finding a place in a church setting, but has chosen to remain within an institutional church context. They feel “lost” somewhere between their commitments to church and their desire to stay connected with the world around them. These young adults with a Christian background struggle to connect their faith or church with their everyday lives, and yet they continue in their Christian faith despite these headwinds. More than one-fifth of Millennials with a Christian past (twenty-one per cent) say they remain Christian and continue to attend a church, but they find church to be a difficult place for them to live out their faith.[xvi]
This group is defined by wanting to figure out how to follow Jesus in the day-to-day aspects of their lives. In fact, nearly four out of ten Millennials with a Christian background (thirty-eight percent) say they desire to follow Jesus in a way that connects with the world they live in. One-third of twenty-somethings with a Christian background say God is more at work outside the church than inside the church, and they want to be a part of that. Notice they didn’t say they were leaving the church, but they desire a connection to a broader expression of faith.[xvii]
Exiles also search for ways to remain active participants in their surrounding culture without giving up their allegiance to Christ. Hence, nearly one-third of American eighteen to twenty-nine year olds with a Christian background (thirty-two percent) say they want to be a Christian without separating themselves from the world around them.[xviii]
Conservative “religion” is not exactly famous for being adaptive to change. The millennial generation is bringing divinely prescribed challenges, and opportunities to reflect a more accurate representation of Jesus’ kingdom in a culturally integrated way. Those of us who are older, and perhaps in positions of leadership influence, should pay earnest attention to their voice. It contains the voice of the Spirit for this present hour.
This blog is an excerpt from our book, Money and the Church: A Better Way to Live or Give, available at www.stevecrosby.com
_____________________I wish that I had read Stephen Crosby’s wonderful book, Money and the Church: A Better Way to Live and Give, two decades ago. It would have helped me see my way through the numerous twists and turns with greater clarity and discernment. Now that I have read it I cannot commend it too highly. It is a sober and prudent book. – John Armstrong, President, Act 3 Network
[i] Roy Baumeister. Self-Esteem, The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. Quoted by Joel Stein, The New Greatest Generation: Why Millennials will save all of us, Time Magazine, May 20, 2013, 28.
[ii] Ibid, adapted from Baumeister.
[iii] Narcissistic personality disorder is three times as high for people in the 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older. Forty percent believe they should be promoted after two years regardless of job performance, fifty-eight percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982; sixty percent of millennials believe that in any situation what they “feel” is right, is right. Ibid., Baumeister.
[iv] Share of population based on U.S. Census Bureau 2009 data tables, http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2009-sa.html. Share of workforce based on labor force characteristics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm
[v] M. Brown, P. M. Rooney, H. Han, and S. Miller, Generational and Gender Differences in Motivations for Giving, PowerPoint, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Campbell & Company, 2008, http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/womensphilanthropyinstitute/docs/GenderGenerationalDifferences.pdf
[vi] Generational Differences in Charitable Giving and in Motivations for Giving, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Campbell & Company, May 2008, www.philanthropy.iupui.edu.
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