so far #1: generation observation

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, at the end of my semester I had two opportunities to talk publicly about my trip. Between the two, there were a wide range of questions, discussion topics, etc., that came up – all based on what I’ve been seeing throughout the country on this giant trip.

I thought some of that info would be good here in the blog, too, as a recap of the themes and adventures I’ve seen. So without further ado, here’s “So Far #1,” with several more to follow in the days ahead.

So Far #1: Generation Observation

I saw the movie “Enchanted” a few weeks ago, and it certainly struck me as quite a “This Generation” sort of film. There Disney was, at once making fun of themselves and providing a happy-ending sort of fairy tale. That “mosaic” approach – where notions can be both debunked and explored, where anti-traditionalism and traditional values are equally appreciated – is just one of the many characteristics people in this newest generation share.

This pick-and-choose approach to reality is also how, in some circles, this generation has earned the name, “Mosaic Generation.” You’ll also hear it called “Generation Y” (as a follow-up to “Generation X”) or the “Millennial Generation.” That last one, for now, is the name I tend to use. (Although it can be tricky to remember that “millennial” has two Ns…)

The Millennial Generation is generally thought to include all those born from the mid-80s through the early 2000s. That means Millennials began entering college in the early years of this decade and will be in our college ministries ’til 2025! And it means understanding this generation matters for everybody – from Senior Pastors to Children’s Ministers!

But why do I bring up this “generation stuff” here? Because one of the ministry trends I’ve seen during the Road Trip is Christian ministers taking a serious look at these issues. Instead of just painting with a broad ministry brush, leaders are working to minister in ways specific to the culture of “Millennials.”

One way to begin understanding this huge subject is to recognize how the Millennial generation contrasts with the last one, Generation X. While the two aren’t always “night and day” and do share some key similarities, we should take note of the major differences. For example, see which of these you’ve noticed:

  • Cynicism (Gen X) vs. optimism (Millennials)
  • Grunge bands (Gen X) vs. Bubblegum Pop (Millennials)
  • Technology appreciated and applauded (Gen X) vs. technology assumed (Millennials)
  • Formerly, young church-goers often saw service projects as for particularly mature Christians. Millennials, however, are often attracted to service early – sometimes even before accepting Christ!
  • Generally positive impression of Evangelical Christians (last decade) vs. often negative impression of Evangelical Christians (today)

And so on. (What contrasts have you seen?)

Sure, you can overgeneralize when you’re talking about “generational culture,” and any individual can be an exception in different ways. But as we approach individuals or groups that make up this generation, it still helps immensely to know characteristics, mentality, worldviews, and other things they often share. It’s all part of getting to know the “tribe” to which we’ve been sent on mission.

When I mentioned this trend at a recent conference, one minister asked an amazing question: “What happens when all these optimistic Millennials have us Gen X-ers as their pastors?” That’s a GREAT question for all of us – whether the we happen to be Millennials, Gen X-ers, Baby Boomers, or older. How can we keep from discouraging the positive things about this Millennial generation? Indeed, how can we encourage and focus these good aspects? At the same time, how can we best respond to the negative characteristics of this generation?

These are good questions, and I’m seeing them asked all over the country.


A few items that could get you started on this subject are below, although this is just scratching the surface of available resources. If you’ve got other things you’ve heard about (or used), please let us know in the Comments!

Utterly Updated: The State of Students Today from Growing Leaders. This phenomenal 12-page pdf document is probably the best primer on this stuff that you’re gonna find. They’ve put together info from 9 different sources (like Coca-Cola, Barna, etc.). It costs just $10 to download and is well worth it! (In other news, they’re actually having a 2-day forum on this stuff in June! Click here if you’re interested – it sounds pretty awesome…)

A Wicked Generation?” post on Exploring College Ministry. Hopefully this post from a while back can flesh out some of the ideas here, even if you haven’t seen the musical “Wicked.”

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. This book studies 16 to 29-year-olds, which include both young “Busters” (another term for Generation X) and Mosaics. The book is certainly helpful, though, for understanding how Christians are perceived by that entire age span, as well as (presumably) how we will continue to be seen as the Millennials continue to enter our youth ministries, college ministries, and beyond.

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