A couple weeks ago my husband and I went over to our neighbors' apartment for dessert and games. During an epic game of Phase 10 (of which I won for the first time ever) we had some fascinating converations about culture, life and generation gaps.
At one point we were talking about the millennial generation and I made the comment "I know I'm a millennial, but sometimes I don't really know HOW I'm a millennial". We went on to discuss the common characteristics of our generation and what makes us so unique compared to our parents and generation Xers.
Turns out I'm a pretty stereotypical millennial: I want to change the world, I'm idealistic, want to do work that 'matters', highly social, very connected via technology, comfortable with diversity. I value socially conscious products and companies, volunteer, etc. I want to challenge the status quo and am ready to lead even though I'm still young. A couple articles about millennials can be found here and here. I'm currently reading the book 'Un-Christian' (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, 2007) which discusses millennials (called 'mosaics' by the authors) and x-ers (called 'busters') and the importance of engaging them in the church body. My generation is leaving the church in droves and not many are coming back. I'd highly recommend this book if you are a church leader and are having trouble engaging teens and twenty somethings.
After that initial conversation with my neighbors, I started reading more articles about characteristics of and outreach to my generation. It seems like the non profti world and the business world is starting to take notice. One of the more interesting blogs/articles I found about my generation was on Katya's non profit blog. She posted a diagram further categorizing millennials into six categories: hip- elinnials, gadget gurus, millennial moms, ant-milliennials, clean and green millenial, and old school millennials. I was going to post detailed descriptions but I figured you could check out the diagram here to see where you fit and where your kids/family/friends fit.
There's all sorts of information out there for engaging millennials, much of which comes from writers and professionals from other generations. I applaud them for thinking about generation gaps and how to engage the upcoming generation. Its extremely important for Churches, non profits, and other businesses to understand twenty somethings and how to reach them. Here are seven thoughts on engaging my generation:
Take us seriously. We can detect when you're being patronizing. For me, I can tell when I'm getting the 'cute little idealistic girl' proverbial pat on the head. If you don't take us seriously, we will never forget it, and we may never take you seriously either.
Be true to yourself. Millennials are okay with older generations, but they want you to be 'you'. I've heard countless jabs at older church leaders or Christian leaders who are trying too hard to be 'hip'. Don't wear skinny jeans or leather pants if you're over the age of 40. We are okay with old people, we have respect for them (case in point: Betty White). But only when the respect is reciprocated and if they're being true to themselves.
Understand the post modern brain Many millenials are okay with gray areas. We are more likely to believe something "isn't wrong, but different". It seems like some older generations are not as comfortable with this concept, at least from my experience. Do some research, have some conversations.
Observe sucesses. There are plenty of organizations and churches who are effectively reaching millenials. Observe them, talk to their leaders. Don't try to copy them (see number 2) but observing people who are reaching millenials or organizations that are led by millenials is a great place to start. You don't have to be in your twenty's to effectively engage my generation. I can think of dozens of older leaders I highly respect. But most, if not all of them are attempting to engage my generation effectively.
Try to change the world with them: I'll never forget a conversation I had with a church leader about fair trade coffee. I suggested that the church start serving a Faith based, missional coffee brand that wasn't harvested by slaves. His response "I would, but people here don't care about that stuff". That one comment stuck with me and caused me to feel disconnected from that particular group. If leaders aren't interested in engaging with millennial's social causes, their followers won't be either. And they'll lose the millennials they want to engage. Even the smallest organization or business can have policy on socially conscious products, causes, volunteerism, etc. Make that part of your organizational culture and the millennials will come.
Technology, technology, technology: If I go to a website and its complicated, messy and full of word art and clip art from the early 2000s, I won't stay there for very long. An organization's website tells a millennial everything they think they need to know. If its not relevant to what's popular at that current time, it won't engage us. Hint on websites: keep it simple and clean. Blogs are good ways to dissemenate detailed information. And if you don't have a twitter account, get one.
Be innovative: Millennials have the world at their fingertips. They know how its always been done, and are extremely attracted to new, innovative approaches to solving problems and running business. 'Social Innovation' and 'Social Entrepreneurship' are big buzz terms right now. Find out what they are and how your organization can encorporate innovation into your everyday practice.
Don't count us out. Millennials are highly educated, motivated, and at times naive. If we think we can do it, we're going to try, and we won't give up until we suceed. If you are part of an older generation, read up about how you can engage us. If you are a millennial like me, learn more about yourself and how culture has influenced who you are. It'll help with frustrations you have as you strive towards your dreams, trust me. Millennials want to change the world, and in true millennial fashion, I say that we WILL change the world. We just need everyone's help to meet that goal.