Rainer, Thom S., Rainer, Jess W., The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation. LifeWay Christian Research, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011.
By guest blogger Pat Olds
The context and content of this book is an “old school vs. new school” dialogue: interpretation and insight between two generations, a baby boomer father (1946-1964) and his Millennial adult son (1982-1994). The intergenerational dialogue is undergirded by a survey study of 1,200 Millennial adult respondents, males (51%) and females (49%); white (61%), African American (14%), Hispanic (19%), Asian (5%) and Multiethnic (1%). The categories surveyed and evaluated were norms, values, motivation, diversity between young and old, lifestyles, work environments, finances, future outlook, relationships – marriage, children, elders, friends, coworkers and mentors, leadership, communication and religion, soul views. The father-son millennial study of post-moderates life experiences reveals the character traits of “typical” Millennial adults includes: self-expressive, teachable, financially confused, technology savvy educated and opened to different world views.
The survey results characterized the millennial adults as being:
1. A generation that values and celebrates learning for themselves and their children; college degrees seen as being pre-requisites to advancement and success in life.
2. Impatient with traditions and institutions; minimizes, devalues or overlooks experiences and insights (p. 117).
3. A teachable generation that wants to be mentored; seek values and is motivated by feedback.
4. Self-expressive and relational generation; practice open communication, group socialization and family is highly valued. Millennial parents are also known as “helicopter parents.”
5. A technologically savvy generation; prefers cell phones, texting, blogging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail, voicemail, etc.
6. Open, diverse and realist generation; the “new normal” for millennial adults is cohabitation, acceptance of mixed racial, ethnic and same-sex relationships and marriages, and cross-generational friendships.
7. A generation that has changed family dynamics; marrying later, fewer children (zero to two children is the norm); liberal, yet conservative on the subjects of divorce and remarriage.
8. A generation overall less interested in religion, which is attributed to lack of understanding of faith formation terms, i.e., faith, spirituality, born-again Christian, religion, beliefs in God, prayer, evangelical, etc.
9. A generation that creatively balances work and play; money is important, but they are not motivated or driven by money; money seen as being a vehicle to do what they want.
I must confess that I was disappointed in this book for I chose it because the authors were father and son from two of the largest generations in American history, Baby Boomer and the Millennial. The subtitle and the thesis of the book are about connecting generations together. This intergenerational discussion between father and son about community differences, commonalities, values, family relationships, practice of open communication, and social media illustrated how generations are connected together. Hence, I struggled with how the authors identified the millennial generation as the “Bridger generation.” The term ‘Bridger’ is problematic for me. For while acceptance of diversity is applauded and viewed as normative behavior for the millennial, the image of a “bridge” connecting runs the risk of becoming a false image of community. To avoid the risk of being misinterpreted, it will be important for the communities on either side of the bridge to be intentional in doing the hard work of collaboration required to intentionally live in community and to nurture spiritual relationships with each other.
It is safe to say that the goal of intergenerational relationships was fulfilled, but there was asense of it being inauthentic. For example, according to the survey results cited, religion is ranked sixth on the list of Millennial priorities. The explanations offered by the authors for the absence and/or disconnect of Millennial parents and children in the 21st century church are generic. The absence of parents and children is largely due to religion not being a priority and viewing the church as self-serving and unnecessary. I was disappointed when I did not hear the babyboomer respond to this millennial stance with wisdom: “The seed sown today is fruit for tomorrow” (Jesus Calling Daily Devotions). The authors explain the remnant presence of millennial parents and children, who do attend and are active in the 21st century church, as being Christians who are true seekers or non-Christians who are interested in faith. I had hoped to hear or see more concrete suggestions addressing the survey outcome, but what I heard was another offering of generic solutions.
Pat Olds is a DEdMin graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary.