3 Keys to engaging millennials on your ministry team

September 4th, 2014

“It was just very, very hard at times,” Sean said of his first ministry position. “Pastor and I didn’t always see eye to eye, and we didn’t always understand each other. He didn’t understand where I was coming from, the mind of a 23-year-old.” Sean, like many other Millennials who once felt called to ministry, found himself working in corporate America just two years after graduating with a ministry degree. His experience on his first ministry team left him disillusioned and resulted in his pursuit of a new career path.

Millennials, aged 18-35, are the youngest members of most ministry teams. The generational views they possess affect communication styles, work ethic, expectations of leaders and colleagues, views on ministry priorities, and definitions of success. They sometimes conflict with the views of more experienced team members. Wise leaders understand the importance of engaging these differences for the growth and effectiveness of the team before they threaten ministry effectiveness. While perhaps the most important step for any healthy team is understanding the basis for generational differences (download a free chapter of my book for more on this!), there are several keys to engaging Millennials on your intergenerational ministry team:

Take time for team relationships.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy team, but it takes time and effort. Amidst the urgency of ministry demands, team building requires intentionality and prioritization, especially for those whose personalities or perspectives do not naturally resonate. Millennials desire ministry teams that feel like a family, not a business. When was the last time your team sat around and discussed why they feel called to this ministry? Do you know what is going on in each other’s families? Is there regular discussion of what dreams God is putting in the hearts and minds around your church office? While team relationships are critical, even more important to Millennials is how team members relate to leaders. Accustomed to engaged parents, Millennials expect leaders who want to coach and mentor them. Is there a culture of honesty, trust, mentoring, and encouragement between leaders and those working with them? Without healthy, authentic relationships, young adults will quickly become disengaged. 

Encourage questions and honest dialogue.

“Why?” is the question of childhood and youth, and today it has become the question of young adults. In many leadership contexts, questions arise from those holding dissenting opinions. They come as a form of challenge to decisions or goals. As a result, we sometimes develop a resistance to questioning, seeing it as a sign of conflict to resolve and thus additional work in our already busy lives. When young adults ask “why?” however, they genuinely want to understand the reasons behind traditions, decisions, and initiatives. Like a three-year-old who wants to know why the sky is blue, they are not asking to annoy us, they truly desire to understand.

Consider the young man who asked, "Just when was it decided and who decided that a church service consisted of singing a few songs and then having to sit and listen—bored or not—to someone speak to me for 30 minutes to an hour?" His leader explained to me that in her experience, “The act of ‘going to church’ was the important thing—not necessarily what we got out of it. The loyalty was built into me—going to church was important. I just did not question if it was the right thing or not.” She said, “I see Millennials more concerned about the content. That's a good thing.” Strive for Socratic interactions in your conversations and meetings. Create an environment where young adults feel safe to ask questions. Embracing the “why” questions vocalized by Millennials creates an opportunity to truly reflect on reasons for ministry practices being what they are, analyze them in light of Scripture, and pass on valuable truths to the next gen¬eration! Honest and thorough answers will accomplish much in helping young ministry leaders make sense of important values and ideas.

Give and request timely and consistent feedback.

Gone are the days of annual performance reviews. Millennials are accustomed to instant and specific feedback. This generation has been conditioned to receive a gold star or trophy just for showing up and participating, so an absence of affirmation communicates something is wrong. When her pastor asked Nina if she needed more feedback, she responded, “Yes! If I don’t hear what you are thinking, I automatically assume something negative. If I don’t get any encouraging words, I automatically think I’ve done something wrong.” Thus, feedback not only encourages, but also contributes to the ability of young leaders to serve confidently. Millennials also appreciate the opportunity to give feedback. They are used to engaging with information by “liking,” “commenting,” “sharing” or “retweeting,” so asking for their input on ministry initiatives and decisions will do much to engage them on your team.

Adjusting our leadership styles or team dynamics to engage and empower young leaders is an investment into their ministries for years to come. Blessings as you correct, encourage and inspire the leaders of tomorrow!

Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker and college instructor, passionate about empowering a new generation of leaders for ministry. Her new book, Millennials in Ministry (Judson Press), discusses the perspectives of young ministers on the church and ministry today. She blogs at www.leadingtomorrow.org

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