MILLENNIAL LEADERSHIP & What Boomers & Xers must do differently to lead millennials

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, Feb./Mar. 2019.

I find it refreshing to return full time to my passion of coaching churches on church health and revitalization, after two decades of teaching graduate school and seminary students. But my teaching and consulting worked well together for two important reasons:

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  1. I became especially attuned to how to lead millennials, because most of my students were in millennial generations (Generations Y & Z). 
  2. And, I became increasingly aware that older leaders (Boomers and Xers) must change their leadership styles radically to to lead millennials, which led to my book “ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church” (Abingdon Press).

You may ask, “Why must I learn to lead millennials, most of my congregants are older?” Though this may be true, you must lead millennial generations in order to create a new lifecycle in church revitalization. 

Here are 7 ways you must lead millennials differently.

Communication systems: In the millennial culture communication is increasingly electronic mediated. Twitter, Facebook, emails, instant messaging, Instagram, Snapchat are are all efficient ways for millennials to get their information. If you’re trying to make them aware of what your church is doing to reach out, you must communicate through their electronic mediums.

Rx: Cross-cultural communication usually begins with one-on-one communication. Have your organization’s leaders each find and begin to mentor a millennial mentee. Ask the millennial to help you communicate to their fellow millennials what you are doing. A standard missiological method is to ask someone from the indigenous culture to help translate your message. They may not actually agree with your message yet, as they translate it they will be learning about it.

7.2 systems yellowReconciliation systems: Millennials have grown up in an age of outrage and cultural fissures. At the same time many want to bridge those divides. The New Testament reminds us the Good News traveled from Jewish believers to Gentile oppressors in a similar time of division and outrage. The Letter to the Romans is an example of the Holy Spirit’s ability to create a unifying Messianic subculture filled with Good News. Among my client and student millennials, I’ve found they want leaders who do not polarize the church, but rather foster a community where dialogue is accompanied by biblical fidelity.

Rx: Foster opportunities to dialogue, understand, forgive and reconcile people who have been polarized over differences. Paul said, “…we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong… Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:16–19).  To Paul reconciliation is a dual process: 

    1. “not evaluating people by what they have or how they look” (v. 16) and
    2. “anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! (v. 17). 

Supernatural system: The Hebrew word “worship” literally means to come close to God’s feet and kiss them in homage. This is how worship should be measured, not in flow, performance or excellence. And though millennials have many worship styles, most millennials are united in their uncomfortableness with their parents’ quest for worship “excellence.”

img_0632-3Rx: The solution is to take the focus away from styles and excellence of worship, and put the emphasis back upon the biblical “purpose of worship.” Worship should be evaluated by how well it brings attendees into what I have called, a “face-to-foot encounter.”

Regeneration system: The Good News is news of salvation and change. Most churches have a weak regeneration system. They often have seen few salvations and few changes in congregants’ attitudes. Because millennials have grown up in such an age of rage, they support organizations that help change people for the better. Millennials must find the chruch recapturing its rightful place as a place where people and communities are being changed for the better.

Rx: This requires praying for and allowing the Holy Spirit to work by liberating people from sins, addictions, abuse, bigotry etc. as well as changing the neighborhoods in which the congregants live. Programs that help people change their lives (e.g. divorce recovery, 12-step addiction recovery programs, grief recovery and most importantly the salvation experience) should be what a church is known for.  While researching John Wesley and the power behind his methods, I found a key method was a requirement that every small group regularly help the poor, and so fulfill Matt. 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

Involvement system: Millennials expect to experiment with volunteerism, even before they have expertise. Because millennials have experienced a world of knowledge on handheld devices since they can remember, they learn by experience more than by long training sessions or wordy manuals. 

Rx: Increase latitude on who gets to volunteer and what responsibilities they are given. This doesn’t mean giving people responsibility for which they’re not qualified or suitable, for example I’m not suggesting a non-believer distribute the sacraments, etc. But in other areas millennials can be given opportunities to volunteer, even early on in their spiritual journey.

Unified system: Raised in an enraged and divided world, millennials seek a spiritual community that has a higher degree of unity than they have experienced in the world. As Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Millennials don’t expect the church to be dissonance free, but they do expect it to be more harmonious than what they experience in the world. 

Rx: Millennials look for a church where conflicted parties sit down and discuss their differences. Conflict resolution theories suggest the first step is to get the divided parties talking directly to one another. The second step is to ensure the leader does not get in the middle. This takes the leader out of being a go-between (who can be blamed by both sides) and gets people connecting directly with one another to understand and grow through face-to-face discussion.

Competent system: On the one hand, millennials often focus their churches on a few signature programs that draw people from across a region. On the other hand, Boomers and Xer churches often saturate a narrowly defined community offering a wide variety of programs (often with mixed results). Studies have shown that healthy churches have a specialized ministry competency that is appreciated by the non-churchgoing community. Not surprisingly, millennials have come to expect churches to know what they’re good at doing and to focus their time, talent and treasures toward what God has empowered them to do.

Rx: Ask community leaders what your church is known for and which of your programs the community most appreciates. Then with millennial mentees assisting, begin to sketch out what God has uniquely empowered your church to do well and that the community appreciates. Ask your millennials to help you expand on these signature ministries by slowly allocating more time, talent and treasure toward your God-given ministry competency.

Find more ideas for church revitalization at www.7Systems.church 

Download the article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel – What Boomers & Xers must do differently to lead millennials, Church Revitalizer Magazine, Feb. 2019

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