Boomers. Generation X. And now the Millennials. Call it Generational Ministry: sociologists can be very helpful for church leaders who are interested in understanding large demographic groups. As with all generalizations, these sociological observations are not perfect, but they are often quite perceptive. Who would argue that Millennials are an experiential bunch who strive to fight against labels while labeling everything around them? Who would argue that the next demographic, the so-called “iGen,” is going to grow up with more technology at their disposal than I ever imagined possible?
With that being said, many of the missiologists and sociologists who study cultural trends are telling us what we are likely observing: Millennials (and by default the post-Millennial “iGen” folks) are either bolting from or haven’t grown up with any connection to the Church. After the Pew Research Center confirmed this as an American fact, many offered their reflections as to why. Rachel Held Evans made her case in an op-ed for CNN. David Kinnaman offered a collection of reflections in You Lose Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith. And, no surprise to me, some of the most helpful thoughts came from Preston Sprinkle (here and here).
Some of my peers, those who are in the Boomer and Generation X spectrum, have essentially written the objections of the Millennials off. I think this is a huge mistake. We need to listen well and observe what is happening around us. The Millennials have, in my opinion, made it very clear that many of our “churchy” things are essentially ineffective and empty. In my opinion, Millennials aren’t necessarily rejecting Church; rather, they are rejecting a very American form of Evangelicalism that, truth be told, should be abandoned. The whole “knowledge-about-Bible-facts-is-transformative-all-by-itself” and rejection of an experiential Christian spirituality should be abandoned. And the Church was never meant to be shallow, inward-focused, and safe.
All this is to say that I value learning from the world around me. I’m completely and totally convinced that God is sovereignly guiding and at work in the societies around me and that the Holy Spirit is at work revealing the love of God to a desperate world full of chaos and conflict. My observations can inform my understanding of both the state of those in my culture as well as their needs. So after we have listened well to the generations around us, and have made the approrpriate changes necessary to be both faithful to the message of the kingdom and to contextualize that message, not to mention being a community of the kingdom, what do we have to offer Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Post-Millennials?
I think we need to invite all people, no matter the generation, to three specific commitments:
(1) Invitation to the Holy Spirit.
The pneumatological reality within the New Covenant is that the Abrahamic blessing included the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). Therefore, the Spirit is promised to all who call upon the name of Christ, regardless of whether they are part of Gen. X or Millennials, Modernists or Post-moderns.
And here is what I’ve found to be true, time and time again: living and walking in the Spirit is relevant for every generation. Moreover, because Millennials (and post-Millennials) are so experiential, the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer that the Vineyard is so famous for is extremely relevant. After all, as Moltmann notes in The Source of Life, an aspect of the Spirit’s mission is the renewal of God’s people as well as the renewal of all things. Experiencing God, not to mention the work of Christ and the benefits of his cross, are experienced byway of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, in order to be faithful to the message of Scripture and the tradition(s) of the Church, and in order to capitalize on the fact that todays culture / society is dominated by a desire for experience, we must beckon today’s (and tomorrow’s) generations to experience the life of the Spirit. The ultimate experience, and the ultimate reality, is that which comes by the power of the Spirit and which ends at the feet of Jesus. If Christian spirituality has anything to offer, and I believe it has much to offer the world, one of the primary invitations we proclaim is a true and eternal experience, not to mention the ongoing experiences that are a result of that initiatory encounter with God through Jesus.
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