Other generations may be leaving in large numbers, but millennials (the surveys say) are staying away in droves. But not all of them are, and more are in the church than we think. Sari Rice says that the millennials who stay will change the church in fundamental ways, mainly because they don’t behave like members of the other generations.
For example, older adults in congregations all over the country have been waiting for years for the younger generation to “step up” and take their turn running the committees that run the church. Well, not actually running the committees because the younger generation is clearly too young to actually run things yet, but at least they should step up and do the work!
Unfortunately, very little “stepping up” is ever going to happen because younger families, usually made up of adults with careers and children with activities, have very little time for committees. Frankly, they barely have enough time for church. And furthermore, they aren’t likely to view committee work as the kind of “work of the church” to which they’re willing to commit time. Occasional teaching? Sure. A food-packing event that they can do with the kids? Definitely. Worship Committee meetings? Not so much.
The thing is, millennials have a different, and in many ways admirable, understanding of the nature of work.
For example, Jeff Goldsmith, who has spent his life working in healthcare management, described boomers as having “a near obsession with consensus, along with decision cycles on major points sometimes stretching into years.” I don’t know about consensus—Presbyterians always appreciate a good vote!—but decision cycles that take years sound like the church. I can remember endless hours of discussion (some of which may still be going on) about the color of the new choir robes or whether pea gravel is preferable to rubber mulch on the playground.
So what are the implications for our common life?
I already see the effect of continuous horizontal communication on life in the church. For example:
- Fewer face-to-face meetings at night at church, but more email and social media-based organization and decision-making
- Less willingness to serve on committees, especially for three-year “terms,” but more willingness to help organize and participate in project-based or event-based mission activities
- Fewer “standing committees” because fewer people are willing to serve in this way
- More people involved, but doing smaller pieces of the work
There are other differences in the way millennials work, too. For example:
Little interest in doing “busy work” like recruiting rosters of acolytes—because this work can be done via apps or staff time rather than by volunteers walking around with clipboards or making phone calls
A higher degree of creativity and innovation—because there’s no interest in doing the same thing over and over again, whether it’s a curriculum or a mission project
More “professionalization” of the boards and committees that do exist—because most members are working adults with professional skills like fundraising, personnel, financial management, information systems, which they fully expect to use in the context of their congregation
Higher expectations for the skill level of the congregation’s professional staff
A strong commitment to all the most up-to-date forms of technology and software
Little patience for congregational systems that expect them to wait their turn as leaders or that disregard their expertise about today’s culture because they don’t understand or sufficiently care about yesterday’s