Can you see us?
Can you hear us?
Can you find Christ in us?
Will you claim us as part of yourself and your community?
—The four steps toward repentance, as shared by Rev. Anita Phillips
The Millennials: They are everywhere. The news is out that they have surpassed the Baby Boomer generation in size. They are the generation that is shaping culture, and that everyone is marketing to and wants the reach, including the church. I can’t tell you how many articles and blogs I have come across about what the Millennials want and what the church needs to be if it is going to connect with the Millennial generation.
Here’s what I have observed about the Millennials: They like traditional worship. They like high-energy rock music. They want authenticity and community. They want to be engaged in service and justice. They live in the city. They don’t drive. They live in the suburbs. They live in their parents’ basement. They are diverse. They are health conscious. They want it now. They are in debt. They don’t know how to live without a smartphone. That said, you can’t make sweeping generalizations and think they will apply to all people everywhere of this generation.
I have some Millennials in my family. They are all very different people. But here is the one thing that is true about all of them: They want to be listened to. They have opinions. They have ideas, hopes, and aspirations. They have experiences and skills. And they have been raised in a participatory culture. Their classrooms consisted of desks pushed together to create teams and facilitate group work. They use the Internet as a way to share who they are. They create music, art, and literature, and they post it. They tweet their opinions.
In the church, we often say we want to reach the Millennial generation. We want young families as a part of our church. But often, what we want is for them to come play our game, to do things our way, and to bide their time before they get to change the game and add their own ideas and opinions.
For the Millennials in my life, that doesn’t work. They are not being disrespectful. They just want to contribute to the conversation, and they want to be heard and valued for what they bring to the table. They don’t want to be considered a “they!”
So, are we willing to listen? And listen deeply? When we create the space to listen deeply to each other’s stories, that is the beginning of community. That is why in all our work in congregational revitalization, we emphasize the need for relationship building. We need to go where Millennials are, and we need to reach out with some really good questions, exhibiting genuine curiosity, and then really listen. That is step one.
Step two is: As we seek to create community that is welcoming and inviting to Millennials, we need to let them have voice; they need to be in leadership, shaping what church will be.
In my life, I have found that to really listen to someone, I need to sit down. I need to focus. I need to pay attention, not to just the words, but to what is underneath the words. And in listening, I begin to hear their heart, and see them as a unique person, and yet, not so different from me. And then my stereotypes, judgments, and preconceived notions go out the door. And now we have the beginning of a real relationship where we teach and learn from one another. And there is no more we/they…but an “us”…a beautiful, diverse, dynamic “us.”
So what would it look like, in our world, if we had fewer sound bites, less talking at one another, and more open and honest questions over a cup of coffee—and we took the time to really listen? How would that change us? How would that change our world?
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church