Book review: The Millennials
Book review: The Millennials

The Millennials cover

Title: The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation

Author: Thom S. Rainer & Jess W. Rainer

Year: 2011

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Thesis: This generation is highly relational, and wants to make a difference in the world. On the church’s part this looks like direct evangelism on the part of the church members, and a strong sense of mission/outreach on an individual and parish level.

Ideas to Consider

  • Interviewed 1200 people, born from 1980 to 1992 (older Millennials)
  • People born between 1980 and 2000 are the largest single group of Americans living today, yet they are the least religious group in American history.
  • Nearly three-fourths of this generation call themselves spiritual but not religious; only 13% consider spirituality important in their lives
  • “Some of the Millennials are wondering if older generations will allow them to fulfill their potential… 85% of these young adults felt they have a lot of unused potential, and 42% felt strongly about this perceived case.” (119) “A Millennial with parents who were nominal Christians is likely to divorce himself or herself altogether from Christianity and churches.  But a Millennial whose parents demonstrated some fervency in their Christian faith is likely to become even more fervent.” (246)
  • “They are not content with their parents’ lukewarm faith.” (263)
  • “They have a keen desire to practice the Christianity of the Bible, to move the twenty-first century church to become more like the first-century church.” (258)

Critiques and Concerns

  • Rainer & Rainer made leaps in judgment that I’m not comfortable with.  For example, they said, “throughout our interviews we heard the ‘life is too short not to have fun’ theme.  In many different parts of our study, we again noted that this 9-11 generation really does have a grasp on the brevity of life.” (137)  Is it not possible that instead of attributing their gusto for life to being associated with 9-11 that their desire for fun is because they are in their 20’s?
  • They also make blanket statements that aren’t entirely helpful, such as “churches that are serious about reaching this generation must become serious missional churches.  Millennials like Melanie [someone they quoted] don’t have any patience with anything less than total commitment.” How do they define “missional church”?  What does “total commitment” look like?
  • “Missional means that Christians are sent in the community, that they are on a mission in the community.” (260)

Questions Raised

  1. On page 246, Rainer & Rainer suggest a correlation between Millennials who profess a Christian faith, and their parents’ profession of faith: if their parents were staunch believers, then the Millennials will be, too.  Is this because the Millennials learn by watching, or because people of stronger faith evangelize their children? (How active is the parents’ role?)  If it’s the latter, what can we do to support parents in reaching out to their children?  Also, if the parents have a “lukewarm” faith (per page 263), how can the church teach that the younger generation does not have to have the same expression of faith as their parents?  (In particular, without disrespecting the parents.)
  2. One page 258, they say that the Millennials hope to return to the first-century, foundational church.  This reminds me of the Reformers (Luther, etc.), which then reminds me of Phyllis Tickle’s idea that every 500 years, a major shift happens in the church.  If she’s right, and if the Rainer’s are right, then we are seeing that begin.

Main Take Away: The church must consider how it appears to the outside world; if it appears to be naval-gazing or a social club, it will not attract young adults.

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Martha Korienek is Associate Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA, and an M.A. student at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Have you read The Millennials? Let us know what you think the comments.

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