Demographers tell us that Millennials are young adults aged 18 to 33. They're often the ones you see sipping a latte at Starbucks, checking their Twitter feeds, or texting their friends.
According to a Pew Research report entitled "Millennials in Adulthood," they are incredibly well connected to friends, family, and colleagues via all the latest digital platforms. But as University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox says, when it comes to "the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment - work, marriage, and civil society," the Millennials' ties "are worryingly weak."
Let's take them in order. Concerning work, less than half of young people aged 18 to 29 are employed full time, and the numbers continue to fall. Wilcox says, "Work affords most Americans an important sense of dignity and meaning-the psychological boost provided by what American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks calls a sense of 'earned success.' "
Next, marriage. Only 26 percent of Millennials are married, compared with 48 percent of Baby Boomers at the same age. Wow. Yet Millennials are still having babies. In 2012, nearly half of the kids born to Millennial women entered the world without the benefit of marriage-drastically increasing their risk of educational failure, poverty, and emotional distress.
Finally, civil society-and in particular, religion. "Today," Wilcox notes, "fully 29 percent of Millennials consider themselves religiously unaffiliated, a record postwar high. While 55 percent of Boomers say they are religious, only 36 percent of Millennials do."
But that's not all bad news. As Southern Baptist researcher Ed Stetzer points out, the rise of these "nones"-those who say "none" when asked to identify their faith-actually provides clarity for the religiously unaffiliated-and for the church. Christianity is not as fashionable as it once was in our society, so we're getting fewer "nominal believers" than we did. Those who don't believe now are just being more honest and saying "none"! And Stetzer says this is both a concern and an opportunity.
But if we want to respond to this opportunity and actually reach this unattached generation, we're going to have to connect them with something they really value. We're going to have to refine our message and our ministry-no more half-hearted Christianity. And by the way, half-hearted Christianity, in case you were wondering, is actually not Christianity.
So regarding our message, Stetzer notes, "I see an opportunity for churches to clearly state what a Christian is, as others are no longer claiming that title as frequently."
Shane Morris, our assistant editor at BreakPoint and a millennial himself, adds this: "Part of taking the faith seriously and modeling a mature Christianity is treating Millennials like mature people. Instead of dumbing down the faith to an experience or spectacle, we've got to show young people a story of reality not only we-but they-can live."
Meanwhile, writing in Christianity Today, Princeton's Kenda Creasy Dean urges us to reach what I'm calling the "pre-Nones"-those who are even younger than the Millennials, before they drift away-in other words, our own kids. Dean says, "a highly committed personal faith as a teenager, having multiple adults of faith to turn to for support and help, praying and reading the Bible frequently, and especially having religiously devoted parents" will prepare young people for a lifetime of faith.
So the bad news about the Millennials' lack of attachment is also good news for the church, because we really do have what they are looking for, at least theoretically-real relationships, with one another, and with God. But to connect with young people, we'll have to do something radical: live out what we say we believe.
And there's no better time to start than right now.