Ministry with Millenials and Gen Z

From June 3-7, Erick and I took a summer seminar at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan called: “Ministry to and with Millenials and GenZ.”   The learning was fantastic: both from the professors and with our classmates and colleagues in ministry.   It was a rich and beautiful time.

There’s so much I want to share, too much even: I don’t know where to start!   I think it might be helpful to break it up into 2 blogs with this first one talking about the characteristics of these two generations. Millennials are those born from 1980-2000, or some say 1980-1995 and GenZ are those born from 1999-2015, our current middle-schoolers, and teens.  I’ll write later about what we can do in the church to engage with these generations and help them to rediscover their faith.

Young adults and teens are doing life differently today then we did 30-plus years ago.  We sense this, we know this, but maybe we don’t always understand it completely.  We have some of our own biases and prejudices (eg. “all millennials are lazy”) on who these “emerging adults” are, which I’ve learned are not always true or helpful.

So, here is some data based on thousands of hours of rigorous research.  Some of it may surprise you, or even challenge you! 

  • Millenials are not lazy.  They work hard and are often stressed because of how much they care about “doing it all.” 
  • They care deeply about having meaning and purpose in their lives.  They want their work to be meaningful and will leave jobs that don’t give them meaning, even if it means taking less money.  
  • They appreciate flexibility.
  • They believe in their “dreams” and still believe they can achieve their dreams (a meaningful life). 
  • The institutions they support need to align with their values, otherwise they won’t support it.
  • Millennials want to be empowered, they are eager and ready to be given responsibility.
  • They want to grow and develop themselves, in work and in life. 
  • Creativity and self-expression are important for this generation.
  • Gen Z’ers are more fearful and cautious, and less optimistic than millennials.
  • They are willing to take more “practical” jobs so they can simply make money and support themselves; they lived through the most recent economic recession and don’t want that to happen to them. They are entrepreneurial.
  • Work is not life.  Work is work, to make money. 
  • Gen Zers are very tolerant and non-judgmental, and don’t always understand why adults can’t just let “people be who they are.” 
  • They are growing up even more slowly than millennials did, and with lots of connection to parents as their “safe” place. 
  • They are less likely to party, to have sex, or to do stupid things in high-school because they know and have seen the impact of un-safe events.  
  • Physical and emotional safety is extremely important to this generation.   They have discovered that it’s safer to interact on-line than to have personal, face-to-face relationships.  
  • Anxiety and depression have never been higher than with this generation; they are also very willing to talk about mental health issues.
  • They have never known life without the internet.  Screen time hours directly correlate to self-professed feelings of loneliness, being less happy with life, and being anxious.  
  • This is a skeptical generation: there is no automatic trust

This is not an exhaustive description of these young adults, but hopefully you begin to get a picture of who they are.   There are definitely exceptions to these descriptions. However, this gives a broad view of the emerging adults in our society, which can help us have conversations about how/why many of them are leaving the church, and what we can do to re-connect with them.   That’s for next time. 

Thanks for reading,

In Christ,
Ruth Ann