(Photo: James Yates)
Nashville, Tenn. – You could say that Dr. Thom Rainer is an accomplished “baby boomer.” The former banker, turned consultant, turned publishing executive, is the author of 22 books and is seen as a national leader in the Christian movement. He is now the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jess Rainer is the youngest of his three sons, a “Millennial” child, and is now making his own mark as a pastor and church leader at Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. The father-son duo has teamed up to help youth leaders figure out ways to reach teens and young adults with their book, The Millennials.
Both Rainers took the stage as the closing speakers at the LifeWay National Youth Workers Conference on Wednesday to share their research and ideas on how to bridge the gap between generations, with the intent on bringing more young people to Christ.
The generational contrast between father and son is apparent, yet their passion for spreading the love of Jesus bridges any gap in age or experience.
Through the years there has been a steady decrease in the number of people in America who confess they are Christian. For example, 65 percent of Americans born before 1946 said they were Christian. Now, only 15 percent of Millennials give the same response – a staggering decease over 60-plus years.
Yet despite the large drop, both Rainers were optimistic about the opportunity to reach Millennials.
Jess Rainer stated that Millennials are both the most hopeful and the most burdened generation. As part of their study, they surveyed Millennials to find out what was most important to them. The one and only issue that received a majority response from those surveyed was one that may not be obvious – 61 percent said family was the most important thing in their lives. Millennials viewed family as a source of strength and guidance in their lives.
Other areas Millennials said were important to them were friends, at 25 percent and education, at 17 percent. But only 13 percent of Millennials said that spiritually was an important part of their lives.
Therein lies the challenge, the Rainers say.
“There are two major challenges for the church to reaching out to Millennials,” said Jess Rainer. “The first is actually reaching them. They tend to reject the status quo and superficiality. We’ve got to be real with them. The second, more challenging goal is to reach non-Christian Millennials and breaking through the indifference factor.”
Millennials as a group are bombarded with information and also use social networking tools to make and maintain friends. The issue, the younger Rainer said, is many times these relationships are not as deep as they should be and that’s why family is so important to them.
“They need to know there are people they can trust and count on in this world,” he said.
Although connected to the world through social media, Millennials are also committed to making a difference.
“How many have heard of Katie Davis?” asked Dr. Rainer. “I’m not seeing many hands go up, but if you want to read an amazing story of how a young 22-year-old is making a difference, then I encourage you to read her upcoming book, Kisses from Katie.”
Davis, although single, is now the adopted mother to 13 young African girls and is an example of a young Millennial who is making a difference in the lives of others.
The elder Rainer was specific in his remarks to the group. “The best advice I can give you is that as an older generation, we need to listen more than we talk. If we just spew out advice, we’re not going to reach the younger generation. We’ve got to sit down and show a genuine interest in them.”
Eric Lloyd, a youth pastor at Walnut St. Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., said the advice on how to communicate with Millennials was on target.
“There truly is a huge gap between the older and young generation,” Lloyd said. “I definitely see it every week. But I think we as young Christians, we are making a difference.”
The conference, which ran from Monday to Wednesday, also featured Nashville pastor Pete Wilson, and David L. Cook, the author of the book, Seven Days in Utopia.