Last week, research company the Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life released a comprehensive report on who the
Millennial generation is and how they think. This group, which is comprised of
people aged 18-29, will soon be the America of tomorrow. On the surface, young
people seem less religious, less materialistic, yet, less relationally anchored
than previous generations. I would like to talk about what Millennials’
attitudes toward faith are and what the evangelical church and social
conservatives should do in response. I am convinced they can be reached,
empowered and mobilized … but not with the same old tired rhetoric and
judgmental approaches. Before I give a prescription, here are some of the specifics
of the spiritual views listed in the Pew report.
Opinions on legalized abortion have
shifted from earlier surveys. Previously middle age categories (those 30-49 and
those 50-64) tended to support legalized abortion while young people and seniors
expressed more opposition. From a 2009 survey, most groups have expressed a
more conservative direction in their attitudes toward abortion. The only
exception to this seems to be young people, 52 percent of which say that
abortion should be legalized in all or most cases.
In terms of views on pornography, 21
percent of Millennials believe pornography should be illegal, compared to 24
percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of Baby Boomers. Current data for older
generations is not available, but data from 1970 and later point toward the
trend that people become more and more opposed to pornography, as they get
Prayer, Bible Reading in Public Schools
As different generations have been
asked about prayer and Bible reading within the public school system, those
questioned in early adulthood have given comparable opinions; 51 percent of
Baby Boomers, 54 percent of Gen Xers, and 56 percent of Millennials approved
the ban on Bible reading and prayer. However, as the generations have grown
older, the Boomers and Gen Xers have expressed less support of the ban on
prayer and Bible reading.
I believe that
the above survey findings can give us important direction. The greatest
opportunity for evangelicals to bring Millennials back to church has to do with
messaging and outreach. In the area of
outreach – as Millennials come of age,
they will want to know how to raise their children and maintain their marriages
and other significant personal relationships. Historically, previous
generations have returned to church when these needs became evident.
But will our
churches be ready when they darken our doors? This is where messaging comes in.
In my many public appearances, especially on television, I have found that how
you deliver your message is often more important than the nuances of your point
of view. A few months ago, a clip from comments I made about health care reform
went out across the Internet with a vengeance. I was depicted as a preacher
without compassion and a legalistic sell-out because of my views on abortion
and maintaining the quality of care for life-threatening illnesses. The mistake
that I made in that presentation is the mistake that many preachers make when
engaging the culture in moral arguments. We must be clear, concise and
understand that the biblical and ethical illiteracy of our generation requires
masterful crafting of our viewpoint.
many from the theological world believe is very, very simplistic may have to be
communicated in stages over a long period of time, even to people within our
own flocks. This communication gap is often why our young people or Millennials
don’t understand the problems with pornography, abortion or divorce, for
example. Our churches have not made the sociological cases that prove the moral
admonitions against these vices have modern-day weight. Preachers are often
guilty of simply banning behaviors the culture sees as normative instead of
giving listeners an opportunity to make informed personal choices, which also
have cultural and political ramifications.
The best example of someone who has
done this right in recent months is the story we shared with you recently about
Catherine David of Georgia Right to Life. People did not see her provocative
billboard campaign as judgmental, but rather informative and helpful. Thus
young women who most needed to make the life choice about abortion were
positively affected while simultaneously promoting the political action to
defund Planned Parenthood in their state.
Like Catherine David, we must
personalize our faith and help new converts and younger generations understand
their choices and their own needs. Today’s clergy need to be a combination of
biblical expositors, social commentators, and moral activists who do perform
these roles with a heart of compassion for people caught up in the fast-paced
rhythm of our times.
Harry R. Jackson Jr. is senior pastor of 3,000-member
Hope Christian Church in the nation’s capital. Jackson, who earned an MBA from
Harvard, is a best-selling author and popular conference speaker. He leads the High-Impact Leadership Coalition.