Subscribe Today
Enter your email address to receive updates in your inbox!

Christian Trends: From Baby-Boomers to Millenial Christians

The world is changing … fast. Born in 1953 and 1958, we are Baby-Boomer Christians. My children were born in the 1980s, which makes them Millennial Christians. Baby Boomers were the biggest generation of Americans, but Millennials are even bigger. Born from 1978 through 2000 they are the emerging opinion leaders and shapers of our culture. Along with my wife, all four Harringtons are striving to genuinely trust and follow Jesus Christ, but we have very different orientations in that pursuit. The cultural forces that have shaped us are very different.

In our church planting roles, we are faced with the differences in the generations on a regular basis. Most pastor/ministers of mega-churches are Baby-boomers and now, more and more church planters are Millennials. These leaders are all dedicated and spirit filled in their differences. This article is a brief description of the changes in the two generations of church leaders. The following ten trends describe the transitions that many are witnessing on a regular basis. The contrasts are not absolute: but there are clear tendencies, movements, and orientations.

1. From Serving in the Church …. To Serving in the Community

Baby-boomers value the local church. Our loyalty to our denominational tribe or heritage may not have been as strong as our parents, but we love the local church. For many it has been “the hope of the world,” because it was the place focused upon “winning the lost and making disciples for Jesus.” Given our beliefs, it is natural to devote our energies to building the local church. This is the place where we serve God and use our gifts.

Millennials value the local church and are often found serving there, but they place a higher value on serving the community. They love the thought of ministering in homeless shelters, with food drives, and third world countries – or just to random people in need. And when they serve in these places, it does not matter whether or not the local church gets the credit. Service like this in Jesus’ name is what matters. Serving without strings attached is where they believe Jesus focused.

2. From an Evangelism Focus …… To a Social Justice Focus

Babyboomer Christians focus on evangelism. One of our favorite verses is Luke 19:10 which tells us that Jesus came to “seek and save the lost.” We resonate with statements like, “lost people matter to God,” and “helping people cross the line from unbelief to faith motivates my life.” We believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and that no one comes to the Father, except through Him (John 14:6). We believe that without faith in Jesus Christ, people are eternally lost. Nothing is more important to us

Millennials agree that being eternally cut off from Christ is tragic, but they are not focused upon that reality. Their generation is more naturally attuned to the struggles of the hurting and disadvantaged. As Christians, they struggle with materialism and the compromise with it that they believe Babyboomers made. Furthermore, they cannot neglect that great number of passages in the Bible where God has told us to focus on the poor and disadvantaged. Page after page in the Bible, they point out, God has told us to remember the poor.

To be clear, there is not a clear delineation between the two, but there are trends. The leaders in the Babyboomer generation were all about evangelism: as the ministries of Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren demonstate. Similarly, the leaders in the Millennial generation are all about social action: as the ministries of Shane Claiborn, Francis Chan, Rob Bell, and David Platt emphasize.

3. From Doctrinal Clarity ….. To Embracing Doctrinal Ambiguity

Babyboomers came to faith at the pinnacle of the modern era. Logic, facts, and science reigned supreme in the intellectual world of our youth, and we responded with a well-thought-out faith. If intellectual clarity was the goal of the modern university, doctrinal clarity was the goal for preaching and teaching. Great learning was applied to simplify, explain, and apply the great doctrines of the faith. Perhaps not as sectarian as our fathers in the faith, we were still committed to truth and doctrinal clarity.

Millennials do not reject doctrine and they value a certain amount of doctrinal clarity, even doctrinal bluntness. They just think truth claims and doctrinal systems have been over-rated and over-stated. They do not gravitate to tidy packages of doctrine or easy grand explanations. They are content to live with doctrinal ambiguity and loose ends. Trained to think in a post-modern world, they know that there are always many different perspectives, many different angles, and personal bias behind truth claims. They like to major on the majors and allow each other freedom to differ. Any perceptions of even slight judgmentalism or claims of “having worked it all out” are hard for millennials to accept.

4. From Church Program Centric …. To People/Relationship Centric

Babyboomers love to build bigger and better churches and strong church programs. Strong preaching, worship, children’s ministry, student ministries and the like are the focus. With the implied or explicit thought that “the local church is the hope of the world,” it only makes sense to build the best possible church with the best possible church programs. Countless hours, dollars, and strategic energy units are focused upon building the church.

Millennials like strong churches, but they are interested more in relationships and personal development. Instead of asking “how many show up,” or “how much did they give” or “how big are the buildings,” Millennials want to know about the relationships experienced and what is happening to the lives of the people involved. The focus is not even on the church in this equation. When evaluating leaders, Bible studies, and Christian gatherings of various sorts, they are seeking that which will help them engage with one another, the world, and make a difference. They want to know if the leader or gathering represents that which they value …. and will it help them become the type of person they want to become. They love relationships with leaders and older people if it is personal, and especially if it involves mentors, nurturers, coaches, and spiritual guidance in a personal or small group context. When it does not involve or touch them personally, they have less interest.

5. From Church-centered …. To Kingdom of God Centered

Many Baby boomers were taught that either The Church equals The Kingdom or The Church is somehow tied up in The Kingdom. Consistent with their other beliefs, described above, this led Baby-boomers to focus upon the church as the place to proclaim the gospel, serve God, and reach the lost. The Christian life was often church-centeric. Good things are to happen in the church: the lost will be saved, lives will be enhanced, obedience will be engendered and God’s Kingdom will expand.

Millennials have been raised with clarity that the Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God. The Kingdom expresses itself in the church, but the Kingdom is also expressed beyond the walls of the church – in the hearts of men and women at work in the world, ministering to the poor, working in the schools, teaching the gospel in coffee shops, serving God in business, and seeking to change the powers and authorities through political means.

6. From Programming Excellence …… to Authenticity, Relate-ability, and Story

Many Babyboomers related to Willow Creek Community Church’s Bill Hybels oft told story of his attempts to reach his unchurched friends before becoming a church leader himself. With sadness he described their perceptions of church as “boring,” “dull,” and irrelevant.” In reaction to the dead traditionalism and institution of the churches that they grew up in, Boomers sought to create exciting, inspiring church services. Excellence was the mantra of the day: in preaching, music, drama, children’s programming, etc. It became a sin to be boring and less than professional in all that was done.

Millenials like good programming, but they definitely do not like it when a church service feels like a show. They reject anything that seems inauthentic, plastic and un-real. Growing up in a world full of divorce, broken families, and broken promises, they prefer honest, genuine simplicity. Transparency in dealing with the real world and real problems, by real people means more than excellence to them. They long for leaders and churches who embrace authenticity and relateability.

7. From Highlighting Truth Differences ….. to Minimizing Truth Differences (being inclusive)

Most babyboomers developed their understanding of Biblical truth at the end of the modern era. The modern area loved the concept of truth and enlightenment. In their quest to understand things and make sense of Bible truth, Boomers have a tendency to preach about “positions,” many enjoying summary categorization and alliteration. This quest for truth often divided or resulted in simplistic overstatements. Perhaps less denominational than their parents, Boomers embraced an optimism that logic, enlightened thought, and teaching would help people to see and embrace God’s path.

To many Millennials, being focused on defining what and who is right also means focusing on where others are wrong. Millennials often reject the overstatement of truth and oversimplification of complex issues they see at the hands of Babyboomers. They are post-moderns who know that most issues defy neat packaging and summary solutions. They dislike it when leaders and speakers act like they have it all figured out. They gravitate to those who humbly speak the truth and include others. Embracing and acknowledging diversity among people and ideas are key. They enjoy inviting lots of people into the process and showing respect for the honest differences that exist

8. From Mission and Accomplishment ….. to Values, Story, and Art

Babyboomers uphold truth and mission. They want to accomplish significant things for God. Purpose Driven Churches and Purpose Driven lives, according to Boomers, result in success and accomplishment. The mega church came of age during the time of Boomers because bigger was better. Better programming, better accomplishments, and reaching more people defined their goals. Management and organizational gifts are very important in the churches that have been established. Sometimes the church can feel more like a corporation, with a pastor/minister that is a CEO, but these tendencies are necessary if a church is to grow and reach more and more people for Christ.

“Being” is more important to Millennial Christians than “doing.” Stated differently, “who you are” is more important than “what you do.” Image conscious, sometimes to a fault, Millennials are oriented around good art, good taste, and good expressions of the faith. Anxious not be categorized as “intolerant,” “judgmental,” or “anti-people” (gay or whatever) they shy away from any image of the faith that might lead them to feel embarrassed with their peers. At the same time, Millennials are willing to sacrifice it all to make a difference. If they have rejected the negative stereotype of Christianity found in the worst expressions of Boomer Christianity, they will easily rise to the challenge of doing something heroic for God. They want what is real, authentic, and life changing …. and when they see it, they will gladly and willing give up what they have for it. The biggest mistake with Millennials is to neglect their willingness to be heroic in the cause of Christ.

9. From Loyalty to Denominational Heritage (Religious Tribe) ….. to Loyalty to Personal Relationship and Personal Causes

I developed an adult faith in the context of multiple faith traditions within the evangelical church. Because I was taught to pursue and value truth, I learned to take a stand for what I understood the Bible to teach. Those teachings were often different on secondary points than various other evangelical denominations, who differed with each other even more. At the end of the modern era, most evangelical groups defined themselves according to a set of “hard won” beliefs, Biblical insights and practices shared within their distinctive tradition that were not the same as others. The Pentecostals and Charismatics spoke in tongues, the Nazarenes upheld personal holiness, the Churches of Christ maintained the ancient practice of baptism as the normative mode for conversion, etc. Boomers recognized Christians in other denominational tribes, but maintained a loyalty to the people and truths they had come to find in their own.

Millennials hold relationships and personal causes as more important than denominational distinctives. They will often stay within their heritage if the relationships are strong and they can find causes to which they personally relate. But the traditional categories do not mean as much to them. They grew up in a world where their needs were primary to their parents. So they now approach their faith in that same way. Key to Millennials are the personal relationships they experience and shared personal values which they hold with their leaders and churches. They want to be involved in causes that they can believe in and if they do not find such causes they will not be personally engaged and they will not give their money to support the church. If they have good relationships within a faith community, if the values of the leaders reflect their personal values, and if they are actively involved in causes to which they relate, Millennials will be very committed. Without these elements, Millennials will move on.

10. From Mom, Dad, and the Kids (Nuclear) ….. to Broken, Fragmented, and Diverse Families

Boomer Churches were often set up to reach the ideal Boomer family: Mom, Dad, and their 2.5 kids. From strong children’s ministries, to men’s and women’s groups and events, to helpful teaching on marriage and the family, these churches developed full programming menus. The bigger the church, the more capable it was at meeting the programming needs of each person in the ideal nuclear family. The ideal family was not often the real-world family, so more and more Boomer Churches set out to help people with the heart-breaking realities of life. Now more and more, you will find programs to help with “Divorce Care,” “Financial Peace,” to “The 12 Steps,” “Single Parenting,” and “Blended Families.”

More and more churches are waking up to the reality that the nuclear family is now broken and living arrangements are diverse. In 2008, for the first time in American history, there were more single adult women than married women. More and more people are putting off marriage until later, choosing to live together (contrary to the Bible), and experiencing divorce. Where the church is healthy, as we move into the future, it will be addressing and reflecting this diversity. The needs of single parents, for example, are different than married parents. The ministry patterns of the past will simply not be able to address the needs of a diverse population in the future.

Please Share:
Please Follow Us For Updates: