Sandi Villarreal—How Do We Engage Young Millennials?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As part of the rollout for "Millennial Values Survey" from Public Religion Research and the Berkley Center, I sat at Georgetown University and listened to a very long list of what pollsters think makes up college-age millennials. I’m in the right age bracket, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what a difference just a few years makes.

I’m part of the millennial generation, albeit at the high end of the spectrum. At 29, my attitudes and behaviors look completely different to those on the lower end. Part of it, of course, is phase of life. I’m a professional, married, with a few life experiences under my belt. Most of the respondents of the survey are in college or recently graduated—half live with their parents.

In discussing the survey results with a 23-year-old friend, we worked through both obvious and subtle differences.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryEvangelism and Church Growth* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureYoung Adults

Posted April 22, 2012 at 7:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

I am one of those people that was born right on the cusp of being a Millennial but am not really a Generation X’er either. So, in some ways, I have one foot in each generation, being not really firmly planted in either. I think I am about 3 or so years older than the author of this article. I was about to graduate college when 9/11 happened. As such, I am sometimes baffled by behavior of the younger “Millennials,” and at other times completely identify with them.

I think the major issue that separates the younger Millennials from any other generation (even older Millennials) is technology. I grew up in a world without cell phones, the internet, or computers (and associated gadgets). I was largely a senior in high school before I or any of my friends had access to the internet.  I remember distinctly having a conversation with my buddies in high school about whether we should get an e-mail address. The general consensus was, “Well, what the heck do we do with an e-mail address?”

I think technology is all the difference in understanding Millennials. They cannot fathom a world without cellphones, computers, and the internet. It is as integral a part of their world as oxygen is. For all other age groups, we know what life was like before all that stuff and we know it was not really bad. Yes, life is easier with all these gadgets, but we are not necessarily dependent upon them, or at least remember a time when we were not.

They are much more interconnected as a group and therefore not as independent and self-reliant. Helicopter parents are a cellphone call or text away (or closer.) Facebook is the oracle of all social knowledge. Cyberbullying is a real threat, which is a concept that people who were kids before computers cannot really get our heads around. I mean, my gut reaction is simply, “Well, turn the silly computer off. End of problem!” To be a Millennial is to be on the grid, so to speak. I think that’s the key to understanding them.

April 22, 8:44 am | [comment link]
2. Vatican Watcher wrote:

#1, Archer, I agree completely with your assessment.  I’m only a few years behind you, I think.  I graduated high school and was already in college at the turn of the millennium.  Signing up for Hotmail accounts and coming up with dumb handles for email addresses was a big time-waster when I was a junior in high school.

I am one of those people who really dislikes the label ‘millennial’ simply because it really does nothing to describe me.  I prefer ‘Generation Y’ myself simply because it logically follows the cultural trends of ‘X’ more so than the techno-generation coming of age today.

April 22, 10:24 am | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

As a decade older, and thus irredeemably Generation X, I’m struck by how 9/11 was for you the defining moment, in the way that the Fall of the Berlin Wall was for my cohort. I had just entered university in 1989 and still remember the sense of euphoria that followed so closely on the tragedy of Tiananmen Square.

For Generation Y, post-Communist Europe has been an ever-present reality and it is the confrontation between militant Islam and the West that has has shaped its consciousness.

So much has happened in the quarter century since the Velvet Revolution.

April 22, 12:44 pm | [comment link]
4. Teatime2 wrote:

#1 Archer, Good reflections. I can relate because I’m on the high end of Gen. X but have very little in common with the Boomers even though a few descriptions/parameters would count me as one.

What astounds me about Gen. ME is how apt they are to believe whatever they read on the Internet, even if it’s from sketchy sources. When I was teaching, I spent a LOT of time on Internet sources and site evaluation with my Juniors and Seniors to make them stop and really think about what they’re reading and from where it came. I gave them scavenger hunt activities and tests aimed at helping them find legitimate sources and learning how to use them. I thought it was that important.

I still do, and I think this is where the Church can both help and challenge youth. One one hand, this generation is very tech savvy but, on the other hand, they are extremely naive and are apt to be taken in by slick, beautifully packaged and professional-looking/sounding websites and other tech.

I’ve been running into sites, short films and the like that supposedly provide evidence that Jesus never existed. I see and hear things from the likes of Deepak Chokra that lack substance and don’t make sense. There is a LOT of bad info and non-existent “evidence” out there these days that aren’t reasonable or logical but they’re making headway with our young people, many of whom want some of life’s greatest questions and journeys packaged neatly into a couple of indie documentaries and websites. It doesn’t work that way.

I really think it’s up to the Church to say, “Time out, slow down, we respect your intelligence more than that. Join us for some in-depth encounters, real human discussion, and journeys shared.” That’s what is pathetically missing from the 21st Century experience, oftentimes.

(Jeremy, you’re right. I’m remembering just how much the music reflected the new reality in Europe!  There were even groups from Germany and Eastern Europe singing about the end of Communism, with a beat you could dance to, lol.)

April 22, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
5. Vatican Watcher wrote:

#3, Jeremy, to whom are you speaking when you say ‘you’?  Just a general catch-all for Gen Y/millennials?

April 22, 5:12 pm | [comment link]
6. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Vatican Watcher,

To you and Archer, since you were the only two contributors at that point in the conversation. I didn’t necessarily mean to imply that you were typical of your generation (although you may be).

I guess the sense of generational formative events (which I understand intellectually) was brought home to me four years ago when I taught a group of college age millennials and realized that Bill Clinton was for them what Jimmy Carter had been for me. And I started graduate school the year Clinton was first elected. Very unsettling.

April 22, 10:11 pm | [comment link]
7. Formerly Marion R. wrote:

Neither of my school-aged kids, nor any of their friends, use Facebook. They say it’s for old people.

April 23, 10:45 am | [comment link]
8. Teatime2 wrote:

#7 Formerly Marion, hahahaha, yep, the grannies did hijack FB. Truth be told, if I find one more “isn’t she cute?” baby pic from a grandma of my acquaintance, I may scream. Yes, she’s cute, but we’ve already told you that at least a few dozen times and the kid is only a few months old! My friends who are at least a few years older than myself are firmly planted in Nana-land and FB is their herald of choice.

April 23, 5:52 pm | [comment link]
9. Vatican Watcher wrote:

Jeremy, thanks for the clarification.  Archer is older than I am and being born in ‘81 myself, I do have firm memories of Reagan, Gorbachev, and the Cold War in general along with its end.  Of course, as a little nine year old, I can’t say I was totally cognizant of the meaning of it all, but it still made an impression.

Personally for me, there is no one defining moment.  The nineties really made an impression over all with Clinton, his presidency and never ending scandals, the Republican revolution, the culture wars (from which we all took a break after 9/11, but which have now returned with a vengeance), and of course the straw that broke the camel’s back for real political discourse in this country, the 2000 presidential election.  9/11 is more a terrible climax to me than a single defining moment.

April 23, 7:06 pm | [comment link]
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