What Millennials Wish Missions Leaders Knew

portrait of diverse millennials standing together

Millennials. Marketers want to know how to reach us. Employers want to know how to retain us. Churches want to know how to engage us.

A few years ago, I was working at a marketing and advertising agency where our team spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars researching millennial consumer behavior and trends. I was frequently asked to join focus groups to share my “millennial thoughts” and began to realize that my generation had the power of influence.

Today, I am working at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board where I serve as a WMU specialist, and the question I get asked more than anything else is, “How do we engage your generation?”

I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t want to overgeneralize, but here are a few things my friends and I wish you knew:

We care.

Millennials are passionate and want to see the world changed for the better. This passion for change and making a difference is why fair-trade companies have seen great success with my generation. We want to make a difference and when we find a cause we care about, we stick with it. This is an excellent opportunity for missions leaders to educate us and allow us to become fully invested in a ministry.

Transparency is key.

Blame it on the media or culture, but according to Pew Research, millennials are less trusting than previous generations. Only 19% of millennials say most people can be trusted compared to 31% of Generation Xers (ages 39–54) and 40% of baby boomers (ages 55–73). This means accountability and transparency are key to engaging us. We want to know exactly where our money is going, what the dollar is accomplishing, and whom we are going to help.

We value relationships over religion.

Many millennials have become detached from major institutions, including religious institutions. Before you panic, here’s why: community is a key part of our existence. Every millennial I know craves relationships and community. (This is why social media is so popular.) We aren’t asking you to close church, but we want you to know that we value relationships more than traditions.

We want you to embrace our (millennial) culture.

Millennials have brought so much racial and ethnic diversity to American culture, but we don’t want to be singled out or looked down upon because we are young. Millennial culture is social; it is all about sharing and is full of interactive experiences. We’d love to share that with you.

We can help bridge the gap.

We can help facilitate and generate change—not for the sake of change but for the purpose of engaging Generation Z (those born beginning in 1997, according to Pew Research) and beyond. Millennials are uniquely gifted because we understand the analog world and have respect for technology because smartphones and social media took the world by storm just as we were reaching adulthood. My generation just may be the key to bridging the gap between our elders and those who are still coming of age in today’s world.

More than anything, I want to see my generation be more like Jesus. Unfortunately, there is no secret formula for engaging millennials in church or missions. We want to be respected, we want to be heard, and we want to change the world.

Juliana Wilson is the communications/childhood missions specialist for Tennessee WMU. She and her husband live in Nashville, where they stay involved in missions and live an active lifestyle.

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