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 http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6665