Episode 127: Reaching Your Millennial Friends with the Gospel
Millennials are one of the most diverse generations today. That’s why it’s so crucial we take the time to consider this generation – primarily in regard to how we can reach them for the gospel. It’s great to have author and blogger Chris Martin with us on the show to talk about how we, as millennials, can help reach other millennials with the gospel. What do we need to know about this generation to help them know Christ? Whether or not you’re a millennial, we know you’ll be encouraged and informed in this conversation.
With me today is Chris Martin. Chris is an author, development specialist at LifeWay, and the guy behind LifeWay Social. He’s blogged for many years and has just released a new book as well. So welcome back Chris.
Thanks, thanks for having me man.
For those who have just recently started listening to indoubt, we actually had Chris on the show back in February. We talked about how we can do social media well as Christians. It’s a really important subject, so I’d love to direct you to that. It’s episode 110 and it’s called Social Media to the Glory of God. But anyways, Chris, to those who don’t know you, what’s your sort of brief, two-minute summary of who you are?
Yeah sure. So, I work at LifeWay Christian Resources here in Nashville, Tennessee. I just help with all kinds of content. Social media, online content strategy stuff within our organization. I also run a little service called LifeWay Social, which is purposed to help Christian leaders, pastors, churches, really anyone who wants to use social media kind of to the glory of God, as we described in our previous podcast. So that’s a significant amount of my work. And then I have a personal blog on the side called Millennial Evangelical at MillennialEvangelical.com. I’ve been doing that since about 2014 when a friend, Trevin Wax, encouraged me to do so. He kind of talked about the importance of, or a need that he recognized as pastors, particularly middle age and older pastors to reach young people. And he thought that I could do a good job addressing that. So, he encouraged me to do that. So, I’ve been doing that since 2014, and yeah. So that’s just a little bit about me and the work I’ve been doing. Like you just said, I just published a new book along those same lines in mid-April it released.
Yeah, absolutely, and that’s kind of what I would love to talk to you about today, this new book that you published called Ministering to Millennials. I guess the first question, which is pretty basic, but it can also be very deep, but we’ll just keep it to the basic level. Tell us what this book really is about, and you kind of already said what Millennial Evangelical serves, it’s sort of the same thing that your book serves, but why did you write it?
Sure, so, I started the Millennial Evangelical blog in May 2014. When I first started, I was actually super opposed to doing anything millennial-centric. Generational studies have been interesting to me since I first read book called The Millennials, so it’s always been kind of interesting to me, but I also understand the kind of perception that it’s pretty gimmick-y too. I understand that.
I have a t-shirt that my wife bought me for Christmas or my birthday that says, it’s like a collage of headlines from articles on the internet about everything millennials are killing. And so, it is kind of cliché, and so even back in 2014 I recognized that. I was really opposed to doing it.
But Trevin Wax, like I just said, who’s a blogger, author, works at LifeWay, was mentoring me at the time, and still does to some extent, and he was encouraging me to start a blog along these lines. I really pushed back against it, but he really just said, “Look, it’s a need that I think you can address, and I think you should use the gifts God has given you to address it.” So that’s why I started the blog. I was going about it for a couple years and then a friend of mine who helped me get the blog started from a technical side, he helped me set it all up, his name’s Jonathan Howe. He said, we were having lunch one day, and he was like, “You should try the millennial thing as a book.” And I was like, “Really? I’m so young.” At that point I was like, 25, and because this was 2015, early 2016, and he was like, “Yeah, just see if someone can get you kind of what a sample book proposal looks like, and try to pitch it as a book.” And I said, “Okay.”
So, I tried it then, and nobody took it, but I was shooting for the biggest publishers, LifeWay and others, and LifeWay wouldn’t even take it. Which I didn’t expect them to, because I’m nobody. Nobody knows who I am. So, I pitched it to a bunch of big publishers and nobody took it, so I just kind of tabled it. I was in seminary at the time. Probably didn’t even have any time to be writing a book anyway. And then about a year later, in summer 2016, I pitched it again to some smaller publishers and someone took it. And the whole point of it is helping pastors, church leaders, parents, really anyone who’s interested, but particularly those people, better understand millennials, reach unbelieving millennials with the gospel, and equip millennials who already believe the gospel with tools for ministry, to equip them to do ministry.
There’s a section for each of those in the book. The book’s broken down into three major sections, a few chapters, I think it’s three chapters per section. So, three chapters on helping people better understand millennials, three chapters on helping people reach millennials with the gospel, and three chapters on equipping believing millennials with tools to do gospel ministry.
That’s awesome. That sounds so good. And you know it’s interesting, because it is a generational specific book, from your point of view, you could write it very specifically, you could write it a little bit more generally, but I’m just thinking, how much life do you think this book has if that makes sense?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. I mean, honestly, when I was finishing writing it, I think a lot of authors would tell you this. By the time I was finishing writing it, I was sick of it. I just wanted it to be over with, and even in the processing time from when I submitted the first draft manuscript to the time that it was published, I mean, I submitted my first draft in July of last year, and it came out in April of this year. So, nine months or whatever. Over that nine months I just kind of forgot about it.
Over time I was like, “This book is just getting more irrelevant every day that passes.” That was my thought, and I wanted it to release immediately because it, like you said, it’s such a timely thing. I don’t know how much life it has. Millennials are going to be around for a long time. So, I think it’s going to be relevant to that extent, but millennials are going to be changing. It might have a five-year shelf life, but I think it’s important to note that millennials and Gen Zers or iGen’ers, the folks following millennials, the people in high school, basically birth to high school right now are a lot like millennials.
I think over time they’re going to show how they’re different from millennials, but millennials and those who follow them, those who are younger than them, are more similar than millennials and those who came before them, and so I think the book, even though it’s called Ministering to Millennials, I think there is a significant amount of application that even a youth pastor today could apply to the students in his youth group, even though they’re not technically millennials.
Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s so good.
Now Chris, you write that after analyzing dozens of millennial studies, and this is your quote, “I’ve concluded that only one generalization can be made about the millennial generation. It is too diverse to generalize.” I guess, can you bring this statement to life just with what you mean by that. What do you mean?
Yeah, so one of the most common critiques that people often have of generational study in general is that it’s too stereotypical. I address this right at the outset in the introduction of the book. I say, “Isn’t generational study hogwash? Isn’t it just pointless?” You could say anything, isn’t it just like reading horoscope? You could say anything about a generation and it’s going to be true for someone. And yes, to some extent that’s true, but when it comes to millennials, I make that statement that the only generalization you can truly make about them is that they’re too diverse to generalize, is because millennials are the most diverse generation in American history, at least in United States history, I would say probably in North American history in general. They’re the most diverse racially, ethnically. I would say that’s what people mean when they say, you might see headlines sometimes, or if you read studies that are like, “This is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history.” And it’s true.
Now I-Gen is already kind of going to show they’re going to be, they’re going to beat us at that. And it’s going to, I think, every subsequent generation’s going to be more ethnically diverse. It’s, every generation’s going to be topped. But the millennials have been for a long time, and so I think ethnically they’re diverse. Ideologically they’re diverse. Politically they’re diverse. Religiously they’re diverse. Americans for a long time have been- we’ve always been a melting pot, but they’ve been semi-monolithic. I think as millennials are showing us, because of so many different immigrant groups, and so many different marriages across racial lines, or ethnic lines, there are just all kinds of different people that haven’t really been in generations before.
I think because of that reality, it’s harder to make generalizations about the millennial generation that maybe some folks have been able to make in the past.
Sure, yeah. So that proves pretty difficult for you then. Having written this whole book, right? No, that’s awesome. Now, many of those listening, I mean right now to us, are millennials. You and I are also in this camp. So, for those of us who have a burden, and this passion and this zeal to share Christ with our millennial peers, what are three to five things you’d think would be necessary for us to understand about our generation so that we can be the most effective in reaching them?
Sure, yeah. I think one of the biggest things is that family and relationships are more important than institutions. Now family is an institution, but when you think about how church is conducted, there are some churches that feel more like a family gathering and some church experiences that feel a bit more institutional and perhaps cold or rigid I guess you could say.
Millennials tend to be pretty institutionally averse. They’re not huge fans of institutions. Now this is not to say institutions need to go away. I work for a big one. And I think institutions are valuable. But I think when it comes to the local church experience, it’s important for us, and that applies to Sunday morning gatherings or community group times or whatever that looks like for your church. I think making the atmosphere feel a bit more familial and relationship-driven rather than institution-driven can be key.
And that doesn’t mean you have to change your values or anything like that. This is just sort of practical advice for how you present the biblical content you need to be presenting. So, this is why community groups and small group settings are so huge for millennials. It feels more like a family, a support system, than a sort of big institutional machine that people are feeling a part of. So that’s an important one.
I put a huge emphasis on humility. I think humility is everything when it comes to having conversations about faith matters with millennials, especially those who don’t believe. So, I think, what I mean when I say humility is everything, something that, and this is sort of a social media conversation, but I think it applies in just normal conversation as well. There is this tendency to not give people the benefit of the doubt and to assume the worst about people, or if you’re having a conversation with an unbeliever, you may be tempted to assume that they’re anti-Christian or they’re super opposed to the gospel, whereas maybe they’re just unsure. They just genuinely don’t know. Or they might have doubts that they, significant doubts about the Christian faith that they express.
It might be tempting to get defensive or assume they’re trying to attack, and I think it’s important to just have the humility to say, “My assumptions about these people may be wrong. And I need to see them as they see themselves.” Now I understand, you can have this whole conversation about the LGBT issue. I think that the biblical ethic of sexuality is the one we need to be preaching and adhering to, but I think when having conversations with people who are promoting the LGBT lifestyle and identities, I think it’s important to hear them out, to let them define themselves, and basically play on their home turf and show that the gospel is better in a way that you’ll actually get a hearing.
So rather than coming in and just brow beating people, having the humility to come in and say kind of to yourself, “I know that the gospel is better than this. How can I have a conversation with this person in sort of a savvy enough way that I’m not just hitting them over the head with the fact that I think the gospel is better, but I actually just show them within their train of thought, within what they believe to be true, that this way is better?” And that requires a significant amount of humility.
Third, I think you should be ready to reason, be ready to prove, be ready to make your case. One of the things I write in the book, and I’ve said as I’ve spoken about millennials a number of times, is that a person, a 15-year-old growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in 1965, had a very different experience than a 15-year-old growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in 2005. In a number of ways, obviously, but one of the biggest ways is that the 15-year-old growing in Des Moines, Iowa in 2005 was able to access a vast network of websites, social media platforms, Wikipedia, Google, that may have exposed the 15-year-old in 2005 to vastly different ideas and ideologies, political, theological, or otherwise than the person in 1965, who largely probably grew up looking, thinking, and acting like other people who lived in Des Moines, Iowa in 1965.
So, I think because of this, young people, whether they be millennials just out of college or even a Gen-Z kids who are high school and younger, they’re being exposed to a wide variety of ideas and thoughts about life and how life is to be lived, and what the meaning of life is, at a much younger age than anyone before them. And so, I think what this means is that we need to be more than ever, be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. Be ready to have those.
And this goes back to the humility thing. People aren’t just going to take what you say at face value. They’re going to ask you to be able to defend it or prove it or whatever, and that’s not to say we can reason someone into the faith. Don’t hear me saying that. But I do think it’s important that when we’re trying to have conversations about faith issues with millennials, whether they believe in it, maybe they’re just having a tough time and they need to be encouraged, or they don’t believe and you’re trying to show them that the gospel is a better way, I think it’s important for us to know that we can’t just expect to be able to say, “The gospel is the right way. Don’t you understand?” But be able to actually explain why.
That’s so good. And I think, you sort of pretty much answered my next question about how exactly it would look like to preach the gospel to someone, the Des Moines kid in 1960’s compared to the one in 2005. So, I think that’s important. I like that a lot. That’s really good.
Yeah. One note on that. I think there are faith conversations that can go in all kinds of different ways. I think it’s D.L. Moody who said that, “I like the way I evangelize better than the way you don’t.” So, I’m hesitant to critique the way anyone shares the gospel, because I think the Lord can work through in any number of ways. But I will reiterate that I think, you know, I wasn’t around 50 years ago, so I can’t say what gospel conversations largely looked like 50 years ago, but I think today it should be understood that a gospel conversation might look a lot more like two friends who have had a trustworthy, lasting relationship with one another, having a conversation about faith over coffee, rather than stopping a stranger in a grocery store aisle and asking where they think they would go tonight if they died.
I think that that method may just not be as effective with millennials as perhaps it has been with previous generations.
Absolutely. That’s a good point there for sure.
Chris, as we kind of begin to wrap this up, what are some practical ways that we as Christian millennials can really keep updated with the millennial culture of our day? It feels like culture does move pretty fast. How can we stay relevant with our generation?
Yeah, it’s kind of a funny question. I think you’re relevant with your own generation simply by being a part of it. I don’t know that you really have to try. I think you just be who you are, and you will be defining your generation. I think we need to better understand those who are younger and older than us. I think that’s best done really by spending time with people. Whether you’re trying to better understand the generation of which you are a part, or you’re trying to understand people who are younger, or you’re trying to understand people who are older. I think studying people, and not impersonally, but personally, I mean one of the best pieces of marriage advice I ever received was, “Study your wife.” I think the same applies to reaching people of our same generation or younger or older.
I’m a student pastor at my church, or student minister at my church, and I could read books on iGen’ers all day, but the way I’m going to learn most about them is by having them over to my house to play video games and have conversations about life. I think that’s really the most practical way we can do that.
I love it. This next one is kind of a personal question, I think others would be interested in, and that is this: What do you think has a more positive light towards non-Christians? You have one, a Christian millennial who adopts many trends of millennials in order to reach out and befriend them, so this could be just what they’re wearing, their social media trends, cultural slang, all that kind of stuff, or a Christian millennial who lives sort of counter-culture and tries to look and act a lot different than their peers? And maybe there’s a place for both, but I’m just wondering what your thoughts are for that?
I think there may be a place for both. I think one may look, one may be more appealing to one group of millennials, and one may be more appealing to another group of millennials. I think I’m active on social media because it’s interesting to me, not because I’m trying to fit in or get people to accept me.
I think what’s most important is that people who are trying to reach millennials, be yourself. One of the most awkward things I ever see, whether it be about millennials or anyone else, is a youth pastor who’s trying to be like his students or something like that. I would encourage you, if you’re trying to better understand, reach, and equip millennials, to just be yourself. Don’t try too hard, because the people you’re serving will recognize that.
I’m more concerned about us who are trying to minister to millennials, understanding them, than I am about trying to become like them or adhere on the outside to what they may want. So, I think if you’re a trendy person, and you like to keep up with the latest in fashion, or the latest in social media, or cultural language and slang, do your thing. If that’s how you are, go for it, because some people are like that. I’m not … I almost see myself as kind of a mix of these two.
When I think about me relating to my iGen youth group, I like to keep up with what they’re watching on YouTube, and I’ll ask them what their favorite YouTubers are, and I’ll watch them. I like to keep up with what kind of music they’re listening to so that I can understand it. And sometimes I come to like those things. But I don’t try to act like I’m in on the game so they’ll accept me. I try to act like I’m interested so they know that I care about them. I think there’s a difference, you know what I mean?
Yeah, absolutely. No, I think that’s really powerful. That’s really good. You know, thanks so much Chris. I really did appreciate our conversation today.
If you’re interested in what Chris has been talking about in regard to reaching millennials, then I definitely suggest that you go check out his new book Ministering to Millennials, and I’ll provide all the links relevant to this conversation, including the book, on this episode page. Also including a link to LifeWay Social. Again, like what Chris was saying at the beginning of the show today, it’s an excellent resource on how to do social media well for the sake of the gospel. I know I benefited a lot from reading the different blogs and things like that, so.
Anyways, great to be with you again Chris.
Yeah. Good to talk with you, man. Talk to you later.