If you’re having trouble relating to people of other generations, this series may help.


Understanding Millennials PART ONE

This is the first of three articles which hopefully, will help those of us over 50 to understand why the generation known as millennials (very possibly you) is such a mystery to us. For those of us who are 70 or older, it’s like they came from a different planet. Is it possible to understand what makes them (you) tick? Well, researchers have studied this and have revealed many helpful facts. Today, I’ll summarize the articles I’ve read interspersed with my own observations.

Before beginning, I’d like to clarify what I had seen as a generational identification mystery. Somewhere along the line, names have been attached to so many generations that it’s nearly impossible to know who they’re referring to. Here’s a breakdown that seems to represent a general consensus:


Born 1902-1926       GI GENERATION

Born 1927-1945       SILENT GENERATION (Traditionalists)

Born 1946-1964       BABY BOOMERS

Born 1965-1980       GENERATION X (Gen Xers)

Born 1981-2000      GENERATION Y (Millennials)

Born 2001-Today     GENERATION Z


Now that you know who’s who, let’s start with the most common stereotypical accusations. Millennials are often described as being lazy, needy, entitled, noncommittal unpatriotic narcissists with a low tolerance for free speech. They grew up being told that they were special and to the degree that their self-esteem was more important than actually accomplishing anything. Their bedroom shelves are lined with “participation trophies.” Their self-worth became a prerequisite to success rather than a result of it. They were taught that they could be or do anything, so they should expect to live out their dreams. After all, they’re special.

They were taught to ask for help when they feel they need it, to speak up when they feel uncomfortable, and to prioritize their own well-being over everything else. Those who really latched onto these messages succeeded in earning one thing—the designation as Snowflakes. As you may expect, they received a sudden dose of reality when they entered the workforce. I read an account of one college student who quickly learned that she would lose her McDonald’s cashier job (which she desperately needed to afford college) if she brought her entitlement mentality to work. She gained far more wisdom at McDonald’s than she did at the college that fed her millennial illusions.

When entering the workforce, millennials quickly learn that they can’t afford to by lazy anymore. It’s time to buckle down and get to work. One poll showed that when millennials enter the workforce, they are more likely than previous generations to sacrifice paid time off because they have a desire to be seen as indispensable (and because of the historically high debt they carry after graduating).

Perhaps the most important factor in distinguishing their generation from those before them is technology. It has not only shaped their worldview. It has driven it. Millennials were the first generation to be nurtured on electronic devices. Most young adults today don’t know life without a connected device. This is why they are lost without them. They are their lifeline. Everything comes through their devices, including their understanding of how the world works and their relationships. Their behavior and experiences center around screens, apps and images, drastically different from those of their parents.

One of the most surprising articles (in the New York Times) was “Why Teenagers Today May Grow Up Conservative.” The author pointed out that many of the hippies of the 1960s who promoted flower power, protested the Vietnam War, and embraced Woodstock, two decades later voted for the conservative presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan. Why the dramatic change? They eventually grew up, and the same thing may happen to many millennials when they get married, own a home, pay taxes and start raising children.

Before moving to the good news regarding this unique generation, consider the startling statistic claiming that 66% of 18 to 20-year-olds (the youngest of millennials) will drop out of “church” despite their church upbringing. In fact, young millennials are leaving church” by the millions.

Despite the negative stereotypes, all millennials are not the same. My neighborhood is a case in point. My closest neighbors prove that the stereotypes are accurate. Yet further down the street are several millennials who are hard-working and very responsible. They all are also conservatives, but I’ll not dwell on that. Two couples in particular have very successful businesses of their own, making a lot more than I ever made as an architect.

One positive generalization in the articles I studies claimed that although millennials are known to esteem themselves highly, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be mentored or discipled. Deep down, they long for sound counsel and wisdom. To me that’s very encouraging. They have learned that their participation trophies didn’t represent anything worthwhile in the real world, and they will attach themselves to genuine and authentic wisdom when the hear (or see) it.

Next week in Part Two, we’ll look at how this most unique group can be groomed to take the Church in a powerfully positive direction.



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