Assimilation Plan and the Millennial Generation

“Do you want to be in ministry?” “No. I just like Cathy, so I agreed.” This began a conversation I had with a millennial about her decision to pursue a ministry internship. As a Student Minister who works with middle school and high school students, I am always on the lookout for young ministers to train and inspire. Or if I am completely honest, to come work for me.

As I reflect back on my own call to ministry, following a friend was also what got me where I am today. The conversation went something like this:

Friend: “Hey, I am moving overseas to start a youth ministry. Want to come?”
Me: “Sure. Sounds fun.”

Ten years later I still wake up every day excited and energized about the work I do ministering to students and equipping parents. As a millennial myself (born in 1984, I barely slide in) and as a Student Minister, I am keenly aware of this generation’s cry and of the disconnect many church leaders feel in responding to that cry.

A lot of ink has been spent on behalf of the millennial generation. They are the ones leaving church. They are the ones failing to launch. They are the “post” generation. They are “post” everything. Post-gender worldviews, post-denominational, post-modern and post-intellectualism. They are called mosaics, Y-gen, and tech savvy. They care more about social justice, political correctness, and the environment than church membership and fast food. [1]

But the most potentially exciting reality for the church is that the cry of millennials is the cry for relationship. You will hear the terms “squad” and “family” when describing their friend groups.

Chris Flanders, in his writing on shame/honor cultures, includes the importance of using the same “encyclopedia” as the culture that we intend to reach. [2]  In the same way, churches and the ministries therein must continually search for a common encyclopedia with the millennial subculture. The exegetical task requires a new and deeper level of translation in order to communicate the gospel in ways that millennials will hear it and allow it to bear material consequences in their lives.

This task is more than employing examples from the Hunger Games and Divergent series in youth group sermons for cultural relevancy.

I am suggesting a paradigm shift that requires more than research and observation. I am suggesting an assimilation plan. When missionaries embark overseas to reach a specific demographic of people they learn the language, engage in ethnographic listening, and begin to adopt the customs of the people to whom they wish to gain a hearing. In the same way, as teachers, ministers, and employers we must engage in this type of assimilation if we are going to reach this generation. The task becomes relationship building.

Here are three steps you can take today to reach the millennials in your life:

  1. Be a learner. Read the research, the news, and the cultural trends with millennials in mind. Discover what they like, where they are shopping, and what they think is funny. This will help you in conversation with them and help you understand.
  2. Be a listener. You’re not the expert even if you know all the research. Every millennial is different. Don’t make assumptions, but instead ask questions, listen attentively, and then ask more questions.
  3. Be a lover. This generation longs for authenticity. Love them, pray for them, and spend time with them on their terms and with their friends.

Together we can bridge the gap disconnecting us from the men and women who are the future.

[1] http://time.com/money/3760300/millennials-myths-wants-desire-goals/
[2] Flanders, Chris. 2005. About Face: Reorienting Thai Face for Soteriology and Mission.

After more than a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Kelly, originally from Abilene, Texas, is currently the student and family minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, Texas. Kelly is a frequent retreat speaker, Bible teacher, and writer. Her writing has been featured on Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed” and Sean Palmer’s “The Palmer Perspective.” She will soon complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, practical theology, and spiritual formation. Kelly and her husband Ben enjoy “suburban life” with their three children.

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Author:  Publish Date: November 24, 2015

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

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Dr. John Weaver

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