I was born in 1981 so I think that technically made me a Millennial missionary. (Maybe I should duck and run for cover now?)
Let’s face it, a lot of people crap on Millennials. Fairly or unfairly they’ve gotten a bad rap. We’ve all seen the the spoofs about the entitlement of the Millennial generation. They’re selfish, they’re unwilling to sacrifice, they have all these “feelings” and want to be “understood” and “heard.” They want time to take naps in their hammock filled offices.
When I was running a non-profit in Uganda over six years, I had many Millennials come volunteer with the me. Some were amazing and infused our organization with enthusiasm and creative solutions, some were challenging and required a lot of work and effort. I don’t think I always handled their needs very well because leading Millennials was all new to me. I was focused on the demands of the ministry rather than if they were feeling valued and sometimes I paid a price for that.
But I’m convinced we are in danger of missing out on the most powerful force for good in the world of missions and social justice if we do not learn how to work with Millennials.
What if the passion of this generation could be harnessed for God’s work?
What if we could produce not just social justice warriors, but young people who had the skills, training, mentoring, and expertise to create ethical sustainable change.
Especially in an era where we are being confronted with our mistakes and failures on the mission field, it is imperative that we do missions thoughtfully and without doing harm.
Good intentions are not enough.
If we are going to fulfill this mandate, we are going to need to train Millennials and temper passion with wisdom and life experience.
The younger generation no longer fits the “missionary model” that the older generation set in place. This means we need a new model of missions to effectively unleash the Millennial generation.
I became passionate about this subject recently while attending a Mental Health and Missions conference and I walked away both sobered and concerned.
It led me to wonder: Is the future of missions and member care in peril?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful conference put on by wonderful people, many who’ve done hard years of service on the field, many I respect and admire. But the ratio of younger people to older people was staggeringly low.
Many of the past generation of member care and missionary heroes are retiring, aging out, or burning out.
Who will carry the torch?
There were many incredible experts with years of experience on the field, but much of their incredible expertise is all in their heads. There was a lack of technology to open source information in a relevant language to Millennials to ensure this valuable information is passed down.
We need these jewels of hard won wisdom to learn from.
My goal is to keep missionaries healthy on the field because I want them to be the best version of themselves to impact nations in positive ways. I teach, train, and heal people because I believe nationals deserve our very best, not half assed efforts. We often miss the mark in short term and long term missions because we are ill-equipped.
I do this because I’ve made a ton of mistakes already on the field and I don’t want others to make them.
I don’t want 22 year old Barbie savior types running off and starting orphanages when we now realize that these are not the best environments for children. But I also don’t want to crush the spirit of someone who has a dream. I want them to be equipped for what they will face and the best practices for how to build something worthwhile and take care of themselves along the way.
The only way this will happen is if we stop shunning and start actively engaging Millennial’s in the conversation.
So “Who is a Millennial?”
A Millennial is defined as someone born 1980 through 20 years after.
In the United States, roughly 75 million millennials were born between 1980 and 1997 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). As the largest living generation in U.S. history, millennials are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% of the global workforce by 2025 (ProInspire, 2015).
That means that the future of missions will be Millennial’s.
“I have discovered that millennials are the most active group with philanthropy and social justice issues than any other previous generations in U.S. history.” – Roy Chan
Millennials have been called “the social justice generation,” and for good reason—they are actively taking up the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. Yet the most common critique leveled at this surge in social compassion is that it comes at a great expense–mistakes are made, messes need to be cleaned up. Sure, skeptics argue, they might feed the hungry but at what cost? And are they elevating physical needs over spiritual ones?
But Barna’s study shows Millennials are sharing the Gospel more than any other generation and they are doing it globally.
In fact, Millennials are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise.
Born again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians.
64% of Millennials say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.
“If we can join these two things—a generation of people thirsting for empowering work and a world mission field that is suffering from support fatigue and disconnectedness, we could ignite an atomic force for good.” -Jill Richardson
So “What do Millennial’s want?“
Millennials want purpose
53% of Millennials want their passions and talents used to their fullest potential (2014 Millennial Impact Report) This is what makes Millennials perfect for missions and cross cultural ministry. They crave meaning.
They want to feel attached to the values of the organization. They want to be invited in to see the work on the ground and get their hands dirty. Of those who perceive their organizations as lacking a sense of purpose, only 20% report being satisfied.
Millennials want to know that they are valued, that they are doing a good job and that their desires are being fulfilled.
Millennials want significance through a purposeful community and sense of family within the organization. They need to feel attached to the values of the organization.
The younger generation will not continue with an organization who isn’t concerned with their personal development, their families, and who they can’t believe in or trust.
Work/Life Balance & Family
Millennials want to enjoy the work they are doing and they don’t want to burn out. If the job feels unrewarding to them there is a large chance they will not stick it out. They want to have a balance of home and family life mixed with their calling. Work life balance is the #1 way organizations can retain Millennials.
Care for the missionaries’ family and children should be at forefront of the organization’s mind.
Raising a Family tops their list and is more a priority than their parents generation and safety concerns will need to be addressed. Their family priorities will come first in their placement and how they are enhanced as a parent as well as effectively dealing with their third culture kids.
Organizations need to clearly state what resources for young families will be available to them in the form of member care.
Practical expressions of love
Millennials want to take risk they want to be passionately involved in God’s heart for justice – they want to first show love in a practical tangible way before ever sharing the gospel. They want practical expressions of love that are not paternalistic or tinged with colonialism. If you want to attract them, focus on social justice- sex trafficking, children orphans poor refugees, medical help, teaching, as they are concerned with deeds over proclamation.
“Millennials care holistically about communities and so not just bringing the message of the Gospel or message of Christ, but living it out. So it’s both word and deed. We’re seeing Millennials much more interested in committing to these types of holistic mission,” -Tom Lin, Urbana director
They want action in deed not just in word as they are tired of mediocre faith and crave authenticity.
“Christians are known for sharing their political opinions but not for taking tangible steps outside their comfort zone to minister or people in real pain.” Sf millennial blog
Millennials crave a relational connection with leadership and desire to be mentored and have a give and take relationship of trust where their opinions and thoughts can be heard. Leaders should be egalitarian and provide space in their schedule to offer a hands on approach, to coach them, not rebuke them. They should figure out the meaning behind their actions and ask questions- “What could be done differently in future?”
They want a leader who believes they have something significant to contribute. They are willing to work hard and sacrifice as long as they feel valued. They will make further commitments based on this sense of bonding or feeling valued by the organization.
They want to see passion in their leaders, not business as usual. They crave community and mutual learning.
Authenticity & Inclusion
Authenticity and transparency are key values for them, especially in the workplace. They need supervisors and teammates who listen, provide instruction, answer questions, and follow through on their promises. They want you to share your anxieties, your failures, and be honest about where you and the organization are at.
They want clear verbal encouragement, respect for opinions, and inclusion in decision making.
They appreciate visits that are informal, have lots of listening, prayer and a focus on how they are doing.
They don’t want decisions made for them, but prefer to be included in decision making and problem solving. This is a big mistake many organizations make.
Typically they want to brainstorm and work collaboratively in a group to solve problems rather than be given “instruction.”
How organizations can work with Millennials:
1. Don’t prejudge the younger generation especially not on appearance – tattoos, earrings, hipster clothing. They have a high commitment to love and making the world better.
2. Appreciate them: Working with young people is inspiring – they energize us and their enthusiasm can be a breath of fresh air. Their creativity is necessary for the field
3. Commitment in steps: Allow them to make commitments in steps. 2 years at a time versus a big, 4 year commitment up front. This will allow them buy in.
4. Have a sincere commitment to racial gender social equality- inclusive tolerance for race, gender, and culture sensitivity to the areas they work in.
5. Utilize their skills of technology and social media, graphic design, and video creation to benefit the organization. Allow them to work in their area of passion.
6. Flexibility: Motivating millennials in the workplace must include a degree of flexibility. There are many ways to offer flexibility, such as options to work from home, start at later times or dress casually
7. Listen to their ideas to improve the organization and to their desire to involve indigenous leadership.
8. Invite them into your life- make room for interpersonal and family
9. Group training and residential communities
10. Speak their language: Constantly reach out and encourage them through technology and social media (yes get on Instagram and Facebook and Whatsapp and whatever else they use: )
Pitfalls to avoid:
- Unwillingness to consider young workers ministry aspirations
- Not telling the full story- they want to know the strengths and weaknesses, not glossing over things
- Treating like second class citizens just because they are young
- Not letting them worship their way, with their music
- Immediate demand for long term commitment
- Authoritarian leaders
- Lack of technology use and accessibility (More than 41 percent prefer to communicate electronically rather than face to face or on the phone.) The average missionary can’t spend $5000 on a 3 week intensive but they can meet on the phone once every 2 weeks
I think the bottom line is if we want to think about the future of missions and member care we need to begin thinking like Millennial’s and training and equipping them. We need to sit down at the table together and learn from one another.
If you’re a Millennial involved in missions I want to hear from you! How can we better train and support you?
If you’re not a Millennial, how can we better prepare for the future of missions?
Millennials and Mission: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge