Thus begins my one-word summation of the father-son collaborative effort The Millennials. But before we dive into the book itself, it might be helpful to hear where I’m coming from:
Born in 1981, I’m on the older end of the Millennial generation (born between 1980-2000). I work at a Christian multi-generational, non-profit in sub-urban Chicago with largely Baby-Boomer leadership. I love talking about “missional” movements, diversified ownership in the church context, new ways of communication, and I’m eager to “make a difference in the world.” Philosophically and methodologically, I proudly and neatly find myself the “Millennial” category.
Upon first cracking the spine of The Millennials, I was skeptical (perhaps that ironically betrays my generational perspective). Do we really need another book about this? It’s not like the subject of generational relationships hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseum. Much has been done in the way of statistics (“87% of married, sub-urban, white males believe ____ about the institutional church…“). Much has been done in the way of whining (“if those old folks would get out of the way” / “if only those arrogant ___’s would shut up listen“). I was a little nervous that I’d end up adding yet another unproductive book to my ever-growing library of analysis and whining.
I was wonderfully surprised.
Through 11 chapters, the Rainers present their findings on a survey of 1200 Millennials‘ perspectives on the workplace, the media, the church, money, the environment, family, and conflict, faith. They also spend a fair amount of time unpacking some of the key motivations for the Millennials. The Rainers’ tone is largely educational – and graceful at that. This may be one of the most understated values of the book. More on that in a bit. The father-son duo tag-team the writing throughout the book, actively seeking to craft a duel-voiced expression of the issues at play.
Who will read this book:
Baby-Boomer leaders. Probably the strongest audience for The Millennials are Baby Boomers (currently 46-64 years old) who are looking for ways to lead, mentor, and connect with those who will soon inherit their ministries. Being a Baby-Boomer who leads one of the most influential para-church ministries in the country, Thom provides a perspective that is balanced, insightful, helpful, and (most importantly) pastoral. He gently lays out principles that will guide his Boomer counterparts in passing the baton to the Millennials. In their closing chapter, the Rainers make their well-founded appeal: “Our question is more one for those who are not Millennials. How will we receive them? how will be channel their ambitions and impatience? …are we ready for the Millennials?” (page 288).
Millennial followers who are frustrated in our positions. The Millennials clarifies and articulates things that we instinctively feel. We want to change the world – and we believe that we can. We grow tired of largely unresponsive leadership. The Millennials doesn’t seek correct that ambition – only to temper it by placing the emphasis on building healthy relationships. Without endorsing or condemning, the question essentially becomes: “what is needed at this point to create a bridge to our Baby Boomer leaders?” You will walk away more eager to listen – not because you’ve been shamed into it, but because you recognize that our ambitions are best served by studying the lives of those who have preceded us.
What this book will do for you:
1. Paint a general-but-accurate picture. The Rainers paint with an admittedly broad brush – this is part of the simplistic beauty. Because their aim is primarily educational, they give the reader a few essential, helpful, and largely indisputable characteristics of emerging adults. Their stated hope is to “speak to the churches and church leaders who need to connect with this generation before it’s too late” (page 277). If you’re looking for a more detailed analysis of the emerging adults, you might find other reads like Souls in Transition from the National Study of Youth and Religion more beneficial. If you’re looking for specifics, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a general work that will go a long way in helping to bridge the generation gap, The Millennials is it.
2. Give hope. This cannot be overstated. In my experience, one of largest difficulties in bridging the gap between Baby Boomers and emerging Millennials seems to be simple breakdown of understanding. To Millennials, Boomers appear slow and out of touch. Their way of “doing business” appears entrenched, comfortable, (quite honestly) a little boring. To Boomers, Millennials appear disrespectful and arrogant. Their ambitions – while noble – frequently overstep common courtesy. What we have in The Millennials represents a truly collaborative effort from two authors – a Boomer and a Millennial respectively – who see the importance of creating a shared understanding of generational dynamics. The Millennials is an artful, necessary, and even pastoral work.
3. Cause you to think. Hopefully. Chapter 11, entitled “The Church Responds to the Millennials” will likely be the most beneficial chapter for most readers. But the real value here is that they wisely stop short of spoon-feeding the reader. For example, when they write that one of the keys to reaching millennial christians “is to direct revenue outwardly” (page 266),” they stop there – leaving the burden of responsibility on current church and organizational leaders. They refuse to give easy answers. In so doing, the Rainers take on a near prophetic role – simply furthering the discussion and forcing current Boomer leaders to discover their own answers through conversations with their Millennials counterparts. Probably one of the best applications for The Millennials is in a multi-generational staff or group-study setting.
Finally. Someone has written a book that neither buttresses any of my latent bitterness (I’ve already read plenty of those), nor bores me with cold stats (I could just pick up the paper). The Millennials stands to be one of the most conversation-generating, bridge-building, and helpful works to date.