As American Bible Society catalyzes its vision to put Scripture in the hands, heads and hearts of millennial Americans, researcher David Kinnaman shares his findings on the characteristics that make the next generation distinctly different from its predecessors.
Understanding their thoughts, ideas and viewpoints is key to effectively reaching them with the power of God’s Word.
Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, draws on more than 27,000 interviews and 260 studies with millennials, describing them as “brutally honest, candid, blunt and dismissive of the long arguments we might make,” he says.
“This is a different generation,” Kinnaman emphasizes. “The world of millennials is accelerated, complicated. They need real answers to questions that get swept under the rug—questions about science, sexuality, culture and lifestyle.”
Changing societal norms are part of the reason they’re so different, says Kinnaman. Many millennials are now being raised by single parents (41 percent now vs. 5 percent in 1960.)
Furthermore, the percentage of millennials who completed major life transitions by age 30—including finishing school and getting married—is dramatically different from those of the past. In 1960, for example, 77 percent of women completed these transitions vs. 46 percent of women now. For men, 65 percent completed these life changes in 1960 vs. 31 percent now.
Daily media exposure further elucidates the differences. “The media is discipling this group and shaping who they are,” says Kinnaman. In addition, digital tools have redefined boundaries so that millennials can do nearly everything online—including making friends, doing banking and learning about Jesus.
It’s shortsighted, Kinnaman adds, to believe that millennials will come back to the church after they’ve married and had children. Instead, the church and organizations such as ABS have to discern what God is calling them to do.
Part of the answer lies in Scripture itself. Kinnaman emphasizes that we need to examine how the Bible informs vocation, as well as answers the hard questions millennials ask.
Challenges abound. But Kinnaman is optimistic. “We have a window of opportunity to advocate for the Bible and help young people understand its importance,” he says. “But we don’t have 10 years to wait.”
That’s why ABS is committed to acting now to meet rising generations where they are socially and culturally, explains Geof Morin, chief communication officer at ABS. “The Bible’s message of love, hope and forgiveness is for every generation. ABS is making sure that the millennial generation has an opportunity to engage with that message,” Morin says.