Millennials are not a generation linked by a common interest or purpose. Instead, as Eric Drew pointed out last week in this blog, they pride themselves as being not typical and individually unique.
If this is true then labeling and designing small groups specifically for them will become a futile exercise equivalent to herding cats. Rather than approaching them as a generation, we need to meet millennials where they are by offering Wesleyan-based small groups, open to everyone, that engage the common core values of Millennials.
Don’t think about them generationally but instead about their life stages.
Many Millennials fall into the recently identified Emerging Adult life stage. Whereas adolescence was once the usual time for investigating and making decisions about adult life, those tasks are now typically delayed. The season between the ages of 18 and 30 is when many are exploring their beliefs, passions and interests and they are putting off marriage and parenting to do so. They wrestle with questions of meaning, identity and vocation. Because emerging adults especially seek out authenticity and connection as tools for their exploratory journey, small groups can be a valuable resource for their spiritual formation.
Flashy “Millennial” programming or loud music are not keys to their hearts.
Millennials want people to pour into them and they are looking for ways to make a difference in this world. Just as in Wesley’s day, small groups are a tool today’s churches can use to move Christianity from a casual Sunday morning experience to real, vibrant relationships with God and others. Small groups can be especially relevant to millennials in both their current life stages – emerging adults and young adults who are marrying, starting families and/or pursuing targeted career goals.
It isn’t as easy as “Start more small groups, draw more Millennials.”
Millennials will seek small groups that respect millennial values. Studies show that Millennials commonly value: authenticity, being known, truth and purpose. This is a generation that has been raised during the boom of Christian commercialism and has become jaded to its slickly packaged trinkets, DVDs, t-shirts and concerts. They are not shocked at the news of Christian pop stars checking into rehab, or famous pastors falling amidst moral failure. They understand that life is complicated and yet are still willing to undertake the challenge of trying to make sense of and find purpose in it all.
Millennials will not engage in groups that feel disingenuous.
If they sense you are using small groups to sell your church’s brand or mission, they will opt out. Likewise, if the group only engages ideas and Scripture study superficially, they will dismiss the drain on their time and go elsewhere for meaningful interaction.
To engage Millennials, include the following:
- Groups that study the Bible and theology, social engagement and personal holiness issues in-depth.
Seek out curriculum that combines thoroughness with simplicity of style. Do not assume that Millennials will not commit to a lengthy study such as Disciple Bible Study, a Covenant or accountability group, or a prayer group. Instead offer these experiences with an intentionality of highlighting their engagement with Millennial values.
- Opportunities to connect work, service, faith and calling.
Barna research shows that Millennials are three times more likely to see their professional gifts as part of “God’s calling” on their lives. They are seeking guidance and opportunities to explore such connections, and small groups can offer opportunities to do just that. Intentionally bringing connections between work and calling into group discussion or identifying and participating in service activities that call upon professional gifts and skills are ways to offer such opportunities.
- Options beyond Young Adult/Singles Groups.
Many Millennials look for communities that allow them to experience and glean wisdom from others unlike themselves. They can also teach cross-cultural competencies through their involvement with more grace and poise than many others. When you train small group leaders, discuss the value of having multiple generations as well as cultures in a group. Encourage them to invite people of all ages and cultures to their groups. Small group leaders can take advantage of having multiple generations and cultures in a group. One generation or culture can speak truth and hope into another.
Millennials in small groups present opportunity for in-depth mutual learning relationships and faith exploration. Do not waste such a generational gift by compartmentalizing. Instead, up your small group game.