In an address to baby boomers about their sphere of influence within churches today, David Kinnamon, president of Barna Group, encouraged attendees to take time to pour into the upcoming generations of millennials.
Kinnamon served as a keynote speaker at this year's National Boomer and Senior Adult Ministry Conference hosted by Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio. The event drew 215 attendees, representing 90 churches and organizations from 17 states.
Referring to present-day America as a "Digital Babylon," Kinnamon described the culture as immersive, accelerated, and complex. The effects of such changes include being individuals feeling busier, lonelier, more distracted, "over-choiced," craving meaning, and looking for credibility.
He also outlined differences in millennials versus baby boomers, including delayed marriage and parenthood. Launching into adulthood has been evaluated by several key life events including leaving home, finishing school, financial independence, getting married, and having a child. In the 1960s, the majority of the population was 'launched' by the age of 30, with 77% of women and 65% of men. Presently, only 46% of women and 31% of men have achieved these life stages by the same age.
The delayed launch into adulthood has resulted in re-inventing what it means to be an adult. According to Barna Research, when asked how you define adulthood, millennials responded: pursuit of dreams 5%, career stability 5%, parenthood at 2%, legal age 5%, financial independence 20%, emotional maturity 57%.
"The central challenge for this generation is being 'in, but not of' this immersive culture, as found in John 17 (Jesus' prayer)," Kinnamon said.
This requires a mindset shift in how the church reaches this upcoming generation. Many twentysomethings are leaving the church and not returning when they enter into the next stage of life (marriage or parenting). Rather, they are gone from the church longer and making more life choices outside the church, according to Kinnamon.
Therefore, in order to reach this generation, the church needs to go to them, rather than expect millennials to come back to the church on their own. Similar to the biblical Babylonian exiles Daniel and Esther, baby boomers and other church leaders need to be willing to be immersed in the culture and "massively a part of what God is trying to do with His Church today," Kinnamon said.
Mentoring is one tangible way to impact the millennial generation. Acknowledging the requirement of time and potential frustrations which may arise, he also shared personal examples of how the Lord has used younger staff members to improve his organization.
"I can't build this business and do what God is calling me to without their help," he said.
Antidotes to the Digital Babylon included building meaningful relationships, like through mentorship; cultural discernment; reverse mentoring; vocational discipleship by helping people find their calling in what God is calling them to do; and learning God's voice.
Young people are leaving the church for a myriad of reasons, but one of the most resounding, according to Kinnamon, is Christianity does not seem to answer complicated questions in a deep, thoughtful or challenging way. With a perception of the church being overprotective, repressive, or exclusive, the upcoming generation is searching for a response, one which the baby-boomer generation could ably provide.
"So often we are afraid of not having the answer … when you don't know the answer, ask another question," Kinnamon encouraged. Rather than fleeing the conversation, take time to get to know the person and build a relationship.
Baby boomers offer a wealth of expertise, experience, time and knowledge, which millennials are craving. Taking time to invest in these young leaders can prove to be mutually beneficial and even more importantly, eternally significant.