Stop making fun of millennials. There I said it. Millennials have been given names such as “snowflake”, “hipster”, “safe spacers”, “crybabies”, etc. The older generation has said 20-somethings are lazy, narcissistic and entitled. These phrases are not only broad statements but it’s insulting. If you watch TV, the news, and other outlets, you can observe millennials to be the punch line of jokes lately. Even a new viral Instagram account called Millennials of New York , pokes fun at 20-somethings living in Manhattan. It’s all in good fun and of course and it’s OK to laugh once in a while to ease the tension between the generations who are having difficulty understanding each other. Now, the older generation is not free from ridicule either. Millennials tend to perceive the those over them as: out of touch, unable to listen, “set in their ways”, judgmental, too corporate, etc. So let’s stop being frustrated and start getting serious about what the next generation’s contribution can mean to our churches and our community.
Millennials have so much to offer our church community. They are energetic, tech-savvy, and eager to make a difference. They have time, influence, passion and vision to make their lives count and your organization stronger. Unfortunately many older leaders, with good intentions, do not know how to harness this young energy or unleash the potential in these young leaders. This lack of understanding between these two generations leads to frustration with the older generation and discouragement with the younger and can lead to discontentment in their careers and resentment towards the church. This disconnect creates a gap between millennials and the older generation which gets filled with phrases about the church like:
“It’s not authentic.”
“It’s too corporate.”
“it seems so political
“I feel like I can’t be myself.”
“They only care about buildings.”
“It’s too judgmental.”
These statements are not true about church or what church was meant to be. The church is supposed to be a place where: “You can be yourself”; “feel like a family”; “be who God made you to be”; “you can come as you are!”; “believe our building to be a home base to save the world”; etc. This is the truth of what the church should be and this is the heart of healthy, sincere, older leadership.
There is a disconnect.
There is a gap between older generation and the younger generation. We can fill in the gap with assumptions, false emotions and name-calling or we can fill it in with the truth. Psalm 145:4-6 says this about how older and younger generations should work together:
One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And I will tell of Your greatness. -Psalm 145:4-6
So let’s tell this next generation how great God is and how we can learn from each other. Let’s ”praise God’s works to another” and celebrate what God is doing across the earth. Let’s refuse to dismiss the next generation and choose to bring us closer, work with millennials and see them become the next generation leading the world closer to Jesus.
One of the greatest generational tragedies in the Bible is when Solomon dies, and his son, Rehoboam, takes over the Kingdom. He’s a young King preparing to give his inauguration speech. This is his moment to lead, to inspire and be someone who has the platform and the presence to bring a nation together under new political power. He consults the older leadership of the generation prior to him, those who served his father Solomon and his grandfather, David. Then he consults the younger leadership, his friends and entourage, etc. Who does this young king listen to:
“The king answered the people harshly, for he forsook the advice of the elders which they had given him, 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men.” 1 Kings 12:8
The young King, set up for leadership, poised to lead the next generation into triumph, chose to disregard the advice of the older generation and the result was a Kingdom divided. The older generation separated themselves and the younger generation applauded themselves. The result was a nation that never came back together.
So how do we avoid creating a damaging divide between generations? Working well with millennials.
10 WAYS TO WORK WELL WITH MILLENNIALS:
1. Be flexible.
The millennial generation has been shown flexibility through their entire lives, from their schedules as children, their family structures being shaken up, to how schools and universities function today, etc. Promoting rigid work environments forcing millennials to adhere to a strict office policies with no flexibility is a quick way to lose young staff. Use technology to inspire your millennials for greater work output. For example: Instead of getting frustrated at the phones in your millennials hands, give them a productive way to use their phones to benefit your church. Put training online for your team to participate in instead of meeting in a sterile office, do a 10 minuteonline search for creative ideas at your church’s next creative meeting, etc. Creating a system of flexibility when it comes to work rules appeals to this generation's preference to resist rigid work systems and practices. Of course, there are concerns when it comes to millennials abusing these types of privileges. However, your drive isn’t to “prevent abusing privileges” but “inspire creativity and incite motivation” in your organization and leadership. So choose to see motives and intent first before you see their motions and actions.
2. Give them Permission to fail.
Millennials will fail. They don’t have the life experience or the maturity as the older generation does. But there's the problem: older leadership tends to give mundane tasks until they “earn” their worth and serve their time. From a generation that wants it “now” that takes incredible patience and process that some millennials won’t wait around for, unfortunately. Millennials are more tech savvy and innovative than we give them credit for. So help them reach their potential now by giving them responsibility earlier to help them discover their capacity. Give them a seat at the tables where key decisions are made. We need to stop underestimating the next generation and start understanding the next generation. When we do, they will show us they got what it takes even though it’s a little unrefined. Realize the question isn’t “IF they fail’” but “HOW will you help them recover” when they do? Give them permission to make mistakes and when they make one…don’t hold it so much against them. As a leader be less dismissive and more developmental with those around you because people were patient with you so shouldn't you be patient with them? Let them fail “forward” and watch them become your best employee. Many millennials came from “helicopter parents” who constantly told them they could do no wrong. This obviously doesn’t fly in the real world. It is inevitable that young leaders will make many mistakes as they grow. Churches can tend to focus on the negative rather than noticing the good things young staff members are accomplishing. Focus on the good they are doing and let them become more confident as someone on your team.
3. Practice reverse mentoring.
We know we have a lot to give millenials and show them as the next generation. But millenials can also teach us a thing or two. Millenials can teach us how to expand the reach of our churches. For example, What if we leveraged the power of their gift of online connectivity to bring robust excitement to our church and organization to resource, to create and navigate a strong online presence, to upgrade our technical systems, to create a social media platform and make our organization known online, etc. Their superpower is leveraging the internet so “let them loose” and watch your organization become seen and heard like never before. Millennials can show us how to connect more effectively with the next generation. Because they are more tech savvy than any other generation ever, iPhones, laptops, iPads, gaming systems, apps are just normal. If you want a response, text first, then call. Or direct message first. Or send a Facebook message. What you see as the older generation as “insincere or shallow” is normal to a millennial. So connect as often as you can. Millennials have grown up with access to the most information in history. Millennials can teach us a lot about what culture is thinking. Ask them about what they value, how they think about critical topics such as racism, same-sex attraction, abortion, living together, etc. Millennials are cultural landscape experts. When was the last time you asked for input from a millennial into your speech, sermon or public event? Let them speak and you listen…really listen. Collect and use that dialogue to build sermons, drive community life discussions and compel you to change your ideas on how things could and should work. Even young David told the older Saul that his armor didn’t work for David’s battles (1 Samuel 17:39). So let the younger generation try out their armor and see what they can do. I’m sure it never crossed Saul’s mind that a slingshot could defeat an army. Sometimes we put too much trust in our "armor mentorship" and not enough in the next generations mentorship. If Saul got mentored in “Slingshot 101” then maybe we could too. So when they challenge “your armor”, just let them take up their slingshot. Because they may be the giant killer you’ve been waiting for.
4. Stop micromanaging and start macro-trusting.
Millennials need permission and space to for them to thrive on their own terms at times. Micromanaging the workflow of this next generation of leadership has potential to stifle their passion and dull their creativity. Start empowering them and give them the resources, time and the place to work. Once they are empowered they will thrive and you will not be disappointed but impressed. I have the privilege to be around experienced, veteran leaders who are incredible leaders in their field. But I’ve also been around some leaders and churches who are afraid of letting go of their power and control. They hire young team members because they’re cheaper or easier to manage perhaps but they refuse to allow these new millennial hires to participate in decisions that matter. The older generation can be control freaks. It’s time we took some risks on these young leaders and allow them to experience the one thing that equips a person to really become a leader: responsibility. That means we need to be risk-takers. So get to know them, learn to trust them and trust them by delegating projects and ministry to them so they can earn the right to be followed.
5. Leverage their passion for personal mission.
Here’s what I mean: They are not interested in climbing ladders but making a difference. Give them a calling and not a career. Give them purpose to manage not portfolios to manage. Career trajectories are not the same anymore and millennials like options. So give them some. Working and serving at the same job for 30 years and collecting pension is not important to them as it was to you. They are not interested in laboring long hours building a temporary kingdom for one person or working for a “personality.” But it is about working their guts out for a cause and vision bigger than themselves. Cause is important. So tie in compassion and justice to their “normal everyday.” Causes and opportunities to give back are essential to a millennial and motivating. Find creative opportunities to partner with your missions’ organizations. What if your missions project went from collecting an offering to promoting crowdfunding (peer-to-peer fundraising by engaging your network to empower one another to donate to causes, build relationships and make money). Have millennials create awareness campaigns for causes tied to your global missions projects. Inspire your millennials to build bridges with your local needs (backpack drives, food donation opportunities, etc.). It may not fit as easily in your missions’ box but you are creating an opportunity for your church to be seen and heard.
6. Explain the "why" often.
Millennials won’t buy into WHAT you’re doing as much but they will buy into WHY you’re doing it. Young leader’s need to know you are committed to helping people more than you are interested in growing numbers. And your WHY is most likely tied to that. Recently, my friend Brad Lomenick said this about this topic:
Your identity is WHO you are. Your assignment is WHAT you do. Your calling is WHY you do what you do. - Brad Lomenick
Millennials love their calling. So when you focus on their calling, the WHY connected to their job, it will also reinforce the WHY connected to your organization. They are attracted to passion and purpose. Perhaps our older generation did a disservice to the next generation by telling them to constantly "live a purpose-driven life.” While that’s not bad advice, it is limited. We weren’t telling them the entire picture. Maybe that’s why millennials struggle with work ethic. Millennials are walking around wondering, “When is this job going to start being fun all the time?” Millennials assume that every moment at work should be gratifying; that each day should be filled with meaningful and satisfying work. That’s never the case. Work has it’s good and bad day. Work has it’s fun and it’s “boring stuff.” Helping millennials see this is critical for their success. Simon Sinek says,
"Working hard for something we don’t care about is stress but working hard form something we love is passion.” -Simon Sinek
So give them a reason to “love “ their job. And that is connected to the why. Oh, and also, the “why” clarifies the “win.” So don’t dismiss the power of sitting down with your millennial and defining what the win looks like. Most likely your “win” explain the “why.” Clearly describe what the expected outcome should look like and how they will know that they accomplished the vision.
7. Give them a reason to stay with you for the long haul.
One of the biggest trends among millennials is finding out how they can easily maneuver themselves out of the corner office and into their own businesses or look for better opportunities. You can stop the desire for these young leaders to leave by doing this simple thing: giving them more responsibility. They crave exciting opportunities, creative environments and developmental moments. So give them opportunities early with responsibility. They don’t want to wait their turn. They want to make a difference now. If we don’t recognize this, they will find an alternative outlet for influence and responsibility somewhere else. Whether that’s right or wrong, its true. Empower them early and often. Older leaders have to understand younger leaders have a much broader and global perspective, which makes wowing millenials much more difficult. They’ve been exposed to just about everything, so the sky is the limit in their minds. So be less concerned about “chaining them to their desk to do the tedious” let’s be more intentional about “championingtheir dreams to do the miraculous.”
8. Lead by example.
Millenails want examples that can be trusted. Many parental, political, spiritual, athletic and famous examples have let them down. So choose to be one of the few that they can look up to. Many older leaders think millennials aren’t interested in generational wisdom transfer. This is not true. Younger leaders are hungry for mentoring and discipleship. So build it into your organizational environment! Create a monthly mentorship group at a coffee shop with you and your younger staff, give them “office hours” to simply talk about whatever they need to (work and non-work-related issues. Broken homes have created a loss of role models for many young people. There is a need for strong, “family-like” role models and the church is the best place to find them. So create a family environment. Have “family dinners” as a staff. Take time for “family prayer time.” Make sure the work environment is experiential and family oriented. Lead each person uniquely. Creating immovable standards or rules that apply to everyone no matter isn’t helpful. I don’t connect with my kids the same (they are at different ages and stages and genders). So don’t be afraid to customize your approach at work. (I’ll admit, this one is difficult too!) Be a father in the faith. Paul said we have a lot of teachers of faith, but a father in the faith is a rare find. Stop complaining about the person you wish they would be and start being the person they hoped you would be. Even if you don’t’ have the time, find older mentors who do. This gives them a chance to understand your church or organization while learning from a proven leader. Some churches have started internship programs to inspire millennials with their best practices. You can do the same. Millennials love opportunities for quality time-individually and corporately. So make quality time a priority with your millennial-especially when they are new on the job. Throwing millennials right into their tasks when they come on board your church or organization is a set up for failure. Give them a week to not produce but to simply relate. Have them visit different department and simply soak up relationship, environment and culture. Churches can travel at such a fast pace that it is tempting to let new team members hit the ground running. This can communicate a negative culture to the new team member and also presents an environment that reacts to circumstances rather than proactive strategy.
9. Make authenticity a standard in your culture.
Millennials are cynical at their core, and don’t trust someone just because they are in charge. So help them trust you by being authentic. And you will probably have to go first, so give them the gift of going second. So be authentic. Authenticity gives you a strength and authority in the room. It promotes trust, influence and sincerity like now other. I’ve heard it said, “authenticity trumps professionalism.” So be authentic with your young leadership. Authenticity dismantles who others want you to be and enhances who you’re supposed to be and inspires who could be. And don’t just share the easy stuff but get real and share the dirt. Authenticity says, “this is who I am” and vulnerability says, “this is what I’ve done.” Vulnerability doesn’t mean that you’re weak, it means that you’re brave enough to embrace that you don’t have it all together and lean into the God who does. One of our deepest desires, and valid needs, as human beings is to be known and seen. We long to have someone look at us, know every nook and cranny of our hearts, and at the end of the day still love every part of us. This not only helps millenials know who they are but who you are. This next generation needs to know you are real and that you can be trusted.
10. Speak into their future.
Speak more into their potential and less into their profession. Or in other words: who can they be and what can they do? Tell them what you believe they can do. Tell them what opportunities await them if they are willing to put in the effort. Give them a future they can believe in. Put yourself back in their shoes for a moment. Picture your boss encouraging you and taking time to say things like, “I’m really impressed with your growth, and I can see you getting a promotion if you are willing to put in the effort,” or your parents telling you they know you are capable of doing more than you are doing now. After hearing that aren’t ready to become the person others believe you can be? Hard-working millennials need to hear us tell them directly, “We believe you are capable of creating a better future.” Even God knows we need this:
Because of your partnership of the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
If God can do this so should we. And you can’t speak into their future if you can’t see it. Sometimes millennials need you to see into their future for them. They need to know what you are believing for them and what you see in them.
Any I am forgetting or you would add?