Perspective: Michiana Adventist Forum Presents Panel Discussion on the Millennial Generation and the Adventist Church

(Spectrumbot) #1

On Saturday, February 21, the Michiana Adventist Forum held a panel discussion on the campus of Andrews University entitled, “The Millennial Generation and the Adventist Church.” The article below is a summary of the discussion, written by Scott Moncrieff, Professor of English, and first published in Andrews University’s official student newspaper, the Student Movement on Wednesday, February 25:

Millennials are eclectic, pluralistic, and don’t like labels. “Eclectic, pluralistic, and don’t like labels” are themselves labels, but that paradox inherent in the task did not prevent the Michiana Adventist Forum discussion from going forward.

Part of our expected national consciousness these days is a label for each generation, from “Silent” (1928-1945) to “Baby Boomer” (1946-1964) to “Gen Xer” (1965-1980) to “Millennial” (1981-)1 to “Generation Z” or “The Plurals,” depending on your label-maker. But before presenting ideas from the panel about particular characteristics of Millennials, it should be noted that defining a generation’s profile can obscure the fact that all these generations share many things in common—ex. they’re human beings, interested in community, love and friendship, security, personal growth and development.

A few indicators about Millennials:

*The term is used to refer to young persons in Western developed countries *They are the children of Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers *They are aged 12 to 33 this year *First generation of digital natives *9/11 is the most important historical event of their lifetimes *They are the most racially diverse and racially tolerant generation so far, and also tend to be liberal on same-sex marriage and families, and immigration *The most educated generation in history *They are very individualistic in dress, musical preferences, and other ways

The individuals included in the panel discussion were:

Panel Moderator Meredith Jones Gray, Chair of the Department of English, who has used a “Millennials” focus for her English 215 classes for the last two years.

Nancy Carbonell, Coordinator, Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, and Associate Professor in Graduate Psychology and Counseling, Andrews University.

Jan Age Sigvartsen, Adjunct Professor of Old Testament, SDA Theological Seminary, and Co-Author of Beyond Beliefs I.

Leanne Sigvartsen, Researcher, Project Manager and Co-Author of Beyond Beliefs I, and author of Religious Verbal Fluidity: What Nice Christian Folk REALLY Think...

Alisa Williams, Annual Giving Coordinator, Office of Development, Andrews University, and Spectrum’s Spirituality Editor, and a Millennial.

Curtis Vanderwaal, Chair, Department of Social Work.

Note: There has been an attempt to present quotations that can somewhat stand alone, or with minimal context, given in brackets. This is not a transcription of the 90 minute meeting, and there are gaps of edited out content between the responses below. A link to the full recording of the discussion is included at the end of this article.

CV: I think there’s a great interest in the Millennial generation in being authentic. That means authenticity in music, in personal relationships. . . . This is a generation that is incredibly eclectic in terms of its musical tastes, in part because they no longer purchase music like we used to do. They just find it, and it’s on the Internet, so it’s available. . . . They love various styles of music, it doesn’t matter if it’s bluegrass, if it’s classical or if it’s gospel, or if it’s hip-hop, what they want is authenticity in their musical styles. And the other thing I’ve noticed in my own kids’ lives is community. A very strong interest in relationships and friendships and networks, and part of that is evident by the use of social media to stay connected with everyone at all times.

AW: [In response to a question about how Millennials feel about the church]: There’s an interesting juxtaposition for Millennial Adventists, because we are far more liberal than Adventists from other generations, but when it comes to Millennials that are in the rest of the world, we’re much more conservative, so we’re in this interesting no-man’s land for our beliefs.

NC: It’s very important for Millennials to be “a part of.” It’s amazing to me how the advertising world has really picked up on this. Lay’s potato chips sent out a message saying “invent your own flavors,” we’ll put them in and see if it works, and a lot of people responded to that. A few years back my son gave me a pair of Converse tennis shoes for my birthday, and he literally picked the color of each part of the shoe, the shoelace. That kind of interaction, that show of “we’re interested in hearing from the people out there,” is very key, and I think has implications for us as a church as well.

AW: We’re a generation that has all the information we need at our fingertips already. Whether it comes to Lay's potato chips or any other corporation out there we can Tweet at them, we can post on their Facebook page if we’re happy or not happy, we have these (it feels like) direct relationships with authority figures, whether in the advertising world, or actors and actresses. We’re reaching out and we’re having conversations with those people. And a lot of times when it comes to the church, we’re very disconnected from the church leaders, and we feel like they don’t want to hear from us, they don’t think we have anything worth saying, yet we have these very authentic conversations with the rest of the world.

JSV: [talking about how Millennials relate to the 28 Fundamental beliefs, as detailed in the book Beyond Beliefs 1]: The most popular belief is the Sabbath. . . . The emphasis was “this is a day you can take off guilt free.” It has something to do with where you are in life. If you are busy studying and all, yes, it is good to have a day off where you can relax without feeling bad about it.

LSV: It was interesting with Vegetarianism . . . stewardship of the earth was very important to [Millennials]. When we sell vegetarianism to this group, it might not be the best thing to say “hey, you could be healthy if you are vegetarian.” Social consciousness about what happened to that animal before it arrived on your plate, that seems to resonate more with the sample that we looked at, rather than a health perspective.

AW: As Leanne said, [Millennials] have a pretty positive view of the 28 fundamental beliefs, when we know what they are. But when it comes to how the church relates to people on a day to day basis, I think that’s where Millennials start to have trouble, and really take issue with how the church treats people—which has little or nothing to do with the 28 Fundamental Beliefs.

JSV: [When asked about what they don’t like about the church, Millennials say] it’s too judgmental. . . . They liked that we have standards, but when it comes to being told how to live these standards out it becomes a different issue. We have to leave it up to the Millennials themselves to decide what they will do with these principles.

Audience member Mercedes McLean [Junior Religion, English, and History major], added: Our generation is very skeptical about one-way looking. We are much more interested in discussion than a narrow truth. What our generation really wants is more discussion.

1 These labels and years are used by the PEW Research Center. Other definitions vary.

A recording of the entire forum is available at:

Further information about the Sigvartsens’ research on Millennials is available at:

Photo Credit: Scott Moncrieff. From left-to-right: Curtis Vanderwaal, Jan Age Sigvartsen, Nancy Carbonell, Alisa Williams, and Leanne Sigvartsen.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Margaret Ernst) #2

What’s English 215, Scott?

(Kim Green) #3

For this generation just “having the truth” is not going to cut it.

(Sirje) #4

We sure like labels. guess it’s away of creating community when none exists. According to the descriptive designations, I’m part of the “Silent” generation - that’s how accurate that is.

This has always been the problem. We all feel this way when we’re sure we know everything but nobody’s listening. That has nothing to do with being a “Millennial”. It’s about being under thirty. :slight_smile:

(Kim Green) #5

Well, I’ll agree with you on the “Silent” part…lol

(le vieux) #6

Who is it that insists on creating these labels? “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X,” etc., etc. They’re meaningless. “People are people and folks is folks.” Human nature has not changed since sin entered the world. There are those who adapt their situations, and those who cave into them. There are those with integrity and those without it; givers and takers. It’s always been that way.

I’m not convinced that “millennials” are more in need of a sense of belonging to a group than any other generation. Most people don’t like isolation or being different from the rest of the crowd. It’s always been that way, and teenagers seem to feel it the most, maybe because of all the hormonal changes going on. The proof of that is in Solomon’s admonition not to follow a multitude to do evil. “Groupthink” was alive and well 3000 years ago.

(Interested Friend) #7

Well said, Birder. What often impresses me when we hear about the alleged plight of the young is that they are in need of special handling, as it were. Their needs are paramount and hang the oldsters. These are my impressions.

Further, having seen much of the streaming video in the latest GYC confab I saw little, if any, of the promotion of themselves as a special interest group.

I find this preoccupation with a certain group as maybe bordering on being faddish.
In The Grip of Truth

(Thomas J Zwemer) #8

Technologically Savvy, time and space independent. Free from doubt, Impatient, deeply in debt in every dimension, superficial in relationships. The roaring 20’s look alike. post moderns gift. gifted with no mission or purpose beyond self and a BMW. Tom Z

(George Tichy) #9

Pici, different generations have different characteristics. They react to the times they live in and to the development around them. Who can deny that? You sound as being against some facts just to be oppositional. It the main emphasis of your thinking on “just being opposed” to everything people say and the way things are?

(k_Lutz) #10

I may be a bit presumptive here, but I believe that you, me, George, Elmer, Dee, and Pici are all about the same age, graduating from Academy/High School between Woodstock and Watergate. That was the opening barrage of flushing the youth out of the denomination. Of the three SDA Academies I went to less than a third remained faithful. Why?

I believe it was that the ‘oldsters’ failed to recognise the massive cultural shift that occurred during the previous decade: Kennedy’s assassination placed a TV in virtually every home, so now most every kid growing up in that era became connected to each other through the various TV shows they were want to watch, they were awakened by pop music on their clock radios, the media saturated peer group outweighed the family in directing our paths. This was inconceivable to the generation(s) which had lived through two world wars and the economic depression. The primary response was “This is the time of the end! Get ready!”

Now, fifty years later, a similar paradigm shift has occurred with instant connectivity, not only to others with whom we are physically familiar, but with everybody else, media stars, politicians, spiritual gurus, business leaders, plain ol’ Jane and Joe. As was pointed out in the discussion, everybody except denomination leaders who, by this disconnection, become increasingly more irrelevant in their influence upon these kids. One can decry this instant information and contact all they want, but it cannot be shoved back into Pandora’s box.

I believe the organisation is acutely aware of the severe lack of depth of leadership from our generation along with those succeeding it. To whom can they pass the baton?

So yes, hang the oldsters. They have already proven their mettle. The present was always the future before. If the future is not tended to now, the rest of the schools will be closed and the monolith in Silver Springs will become a mausoleum.

Trust the Process.

(Kim Green) #11

For those who believe that every generation is the same…just ask the marketing and advertising professionals! They would tell you much of what has been quoted at the Michiana Adventist Forum. The SDA church is operating in the 1970’s at the very most and if they want to ignore technology and other modern forms of communication they can- however they shouldn’t be surprised to see more of their youth walking out the door! Adventism want others to conform to established ways and that just isn’t going to happen with this generation in NAD.

(Interested Friend) #12

Not only do I believe too often the oldest members are thrown under the bus those in the middle age bracket are ignored in what one might call the fetish for the millennials.

Think back when you were a millennial was anyone in the church pandering to you and what you wanted? IMO modern culture is seeking to impose special interest groups on us.
Outside the SDA church it reveals itself, e.g., on the emphasis on retaining one’s culture rather than assimilating. How often do the intellectuals advise us peons to accommodate to other cultures in USA but when we go to a foreign country we should blend in.

I could go on but certain aspects of the culture of the world have invaded the SDA church in my view.
In The Grip of Truth

(Elaine Nelson) #13

Think of all the “under 30” great inventors, some millionaires before 30! Age and knowledge do not go hand-in-hand, but wisdom comes with age plus experience; and experience comes from learning from one’s mistakes, not from successes.

(le vieux) #14

I was opposed to labels and pigeonholing long before I darkened the door of Spectrum. I think it was probably when I first heard the Baby Boom generation being described with certain characteristics, as if they were some unique group. Fact #1: most young men were in the military during WWII. Fact #2: those who came back went back to their wives or got married. Fact #3: shortly thereafter a lot of babies were born. It didn’t take a sociologist to figure that out. But once they started labeling, they had to keep it up: generation X, generation Y, millennials, and so on. It gives sociologists something to do, I guess, and provides fodder for their PhD dissertations. Beyond that, I’m not sure that it’s very useful.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

Tom, you’re beginning to sound like an old codger :wink:!

Generalizations are usually just that. I think of many young people I have known who were very intent on gaining and education, were very thrifty (and still are) and their mission was not all focusing on self and fancy cars.

Are you describing all the young people you know personally? Who do you think will be running this world after we’ve gone if not those young people?

(Steve Mga) #16

The description I see as being analyzed in this discussion is that the younger generation want
Authenticity of belief.
Think Progressively
Emergent in Thinking. NOT WHAT to believe. But, HOW to believe. Put belief into action and
How does my belief relate to the environment I live in?
How do I put into practice my belief system?
The “Value” of “Church” is seen differently than what the older generation views “Church”. And
this is where the discontent and the dissociation about and with the older generation come about.
They are more inclusive of Human Beings with the Gospel that they associate with than the Older
Generation is.They want to be able to Invite ALL in their environment to sit in a pew next to them and
to have Full Participation in “Church”.
They Believe that the Holy Spirit is more INCLUSIVE of All the Spiritual Gifts to All Human Beings than
what the Older Generation believes.
They are willing to allow ALL Human Beings Shout the Gospel Message. NOT just One Sex [MALES].

(Kim Green) #17

I.F…the church “panders” to those who fund the most things :slight_smile: So, that would be the middle agers and the older agers. I used to live near the Adventist Media Center and I could tell stories about fighting over donors…most of them are older :smile:

(Kim Green) #18

Birder, those with some of the most specific information about the differing groups are marketers and advertisers. Why? Because it is their business and, believe me, they know every detail about each generation and they are definitely different. In fact, as a copywriter my job is to know EVERYTHING there is about EVERYTHING that can be dug up about who I am trying to impact, what the motivations for buying are, etc, etc. This amount of research is carried out every time there is something to be sold or communicated and is a sophisticated enterprise.

The Adventist periodicals are geared towards a certain demographic and socioeconomic segment. It isn’t difficult to tell if you are in the business of communication, marketing and selling. The Review is written on about the level of the Reader’s Digest for example. Anyways…most of this is geared towards a specific cross section, no doubt!

(k_Lutz) #19

I am wondering why/how those owning and driving the bus are getting thrown under it? It seems some bus-riders are fully intent upon keeping off any other riders.

Trust God.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

Elaine. I love young people, I’ve spent my life teaching. What I don?t like is groupies of any moniker… so as soon one identifies him or her self as part of a generational mentality I get negative vibes. Class action is for the brain numb. I grew up when Rudy V. Was hot stuff. I thought it sucked then. I was an early Boston Pops fan though. Tom Z