What This Barna Report Means for the Young & the Old

I have fond memories of playing Skip-bo with my great grandmother and two of my great aunts when I was a kid. As a college student I worked in a nursing home. I’ve been a part of multi-generation churches my whole life. I truly love and appreciate older people.

Courtesy pexels.com

Courtesy pexels.com

As much as I value the generations ahead of me, one of my biggest frustrations is being dismissed because of my age. I’m 33 now so it doesn’t happen as much anymore. But, for years I felt like my thoughts didn’t hold as much weight because of my age.

I don’t want to get into an us vs. them debate. Besides, I’m convinced there’s a way to fully appreciate the wisdom and insight of older people while fully appreciating, valuing, and empowering young people. That’s the way it should be. 

I was really interested recently when I came across something in a Barna study called “Making Space for Millennials.” They list five major reasons millennials stay connected to churches. Two of the five reasons are relevant for this discussion…

1. Life Shaping Relationships

First of all, it’s unChristlike to enter into a relationship believing that you don’t have anything to learn. This is true if you’re young or old. Paul painted a picture for how we should relate to one another…

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

With Paul’s words as the backdrop, here’s the first thing about the study that was interesting to me. According to Barna, one of the five major reasons millennials stay connected to churches is…

consistent, long-term friendship with at least one older Christian adult who invests time and resources into their lives.

Not only do young people desire this, it’s necessary for a life of faithfulness. 

My experience with teenagers, college students, and young adults has taught me that they crave relationships with older people. I also crave those relationships. We’ll gravitate toward the oldest person who will take us seriously. 

2. Reverse Mentoring

Ironically, another one of the five major reasons millennials stay connected to churches is…

being valued for the knowledge, skills and energy they can offer to older members of the community of faith.

Barna refers to this as reverse mentoring.

Relationships are two way streets. It’s true to say that young people want to be valued for the strengths they bring to a church or ministry. But, isn’t that true for everyone? I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to be completely valued.

If we’re going to have meaningful relationships both parties need to value one another and be open to learning from one another. Anything less is arrogant…no matter how old you are.

This means we all need to be open to the idea of being led by people who are younger than us. 

I know there are people younger than me who happen to be more mature than me, more insightful than me, and better equipped to lead than me. Some young people are ready to lead and they’re ready to lead now.

That shouldn’t threaten us. It should encourage us.


What jumps out to you about these two points? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

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