“See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. Exodus 35:30-35
I’ve got Millennials on my mind this week. I will be spending this next weekend in Dallas at Christian Unity Ministries’ first annual “Five Principles of Unity” Retreat for the Next Church Generation…where I expect to sit and learn how Millennials interpret and apply some of the Biblical principles which form the core of our ministry’s message. So, I am thinking about Millennials and the church.
First, I admit right up front that my only “expertise” when it comes to the Millennial generation (those who are now roughly ages 15-35) is that both my adult daughters are in that generation…and I have studied my kids for a while now. Therefore, “Millennials” are important to me. I am, nevertheless, as ignorant as the next Baby Boomer when it comes to understanding them. So, rather than hold myself out as an expert on that generation, I am going to rely on the “facts” about Millennials as presented by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in October, and on a few anecdotal observations I have made of Millennials and ministry. Also, I often read Donald Miller’s and Rachel Held Evans’ blogs, so surely I get some points for that as well.
Secondly, as little as I know about Millennials, I would like to think I am much more credible, even a little authoritative, on “the church”. Understanding the church is, after all, how I make my living. “Church Whisperer” has to mean something, right? And so it is with tremendous interest and a little trepidation that I have begun to merge these two subjects (Millennials and the church)…I feel a blog series coming. But for now, let me just start with this observation and question…
Bezalel and Oholiab were not Millennials. But could they have been?
Here are some facts reported by the Council of Economic Advisors (and how they may or may not relate to the church):
1. Millennials are now the largest, most diverse generation in the U.S. population. That means we Boomers have now officially been replaced as the “bulge in the belly of the snake” in terms of mass alone. That, in turn, means Millennials will be the largest single generation in the world we (the church) say we are trying to reach for the next 20 or more years. That makes all these questions about how Millennials think awfully important. That has nothing whatsoever to do with Oholiab and Bezalel. But the next few observations do.
2. Millennials value community, family, and creativity in their work. If this is true, it likewise stands to reason that they value these same things in their church. With their generation, the church will likely become the friendliest it has ever been to the creatives among us…like Oholiab and Bezalel. We have been seeing it for years now…as churches grow, more and more of them are adding communications offices (with Directors of communications and graphic designers and writers and branding specialists) to their staff or at least to their contract employees. And guess which generation is bringing us the lion’s share of these creatives? Correct. Millennials.
3. Millennials are invested in human capital more than previous generations. According to these findings more Millennials have attended college than any previous generations. Moreover, they are more likely to attend graduate school than any previous generation. What does this mean for the church? It means that, to the extent Millennials do come into the church and help, there will be a higher percentage of professionals helping to build the kingdom of God than ever before. Think about it…an entire generation of little Oholiabs and Bezalels! The question, however, will be this…will their generation be inclined to offer those gifts and talents (and time) as a gift unto the Lord for the building of His kingdom? It may be too early to tell. I know I would be well into my 40’s before I felt the financial freedom to offer my professional skills and knowledge to the church as a free gift. Nevertheless, my own observations of Millennials as a generation are that they seem to be a little more oriented toward others and toward community than we Boomers have been, so there is great hope for them as givers of themselves to this revolution we call Christianity.
I will make this one last observation, just for what it is worth. I have no statistical evidence to support it, but I have heard it repeated so many times that it at least represents a common perception among us that Christian Millennials are not interested in investing their resources in church buildings…that they would much rather invest them in actual hands-on ministries to hurting people, like digging water wells in underdeveloped countries or feeding hungry children or fighting against sex-trafficking. That would seem to take Oholiab and Bezalel out of the Millennial camp. But not so fast! I am not yet willing to paint Millennials with such a broad brush stroke. Is it possible that, as a generation, they are just needing to see the testimony of God’s activity around a proposed building program before they are willing to join it? I would like to think so. For now. Time will answer that question for us.
One bottom line is certain: with or without Oholiab and Bezalel, the church is going to look different in the hands of Millennials. And I am so very glad for that!