My wife hasn’t read my book. I don’t know if she will. But she has read the foreword Dr. Thom Rainer wrote to my book. “It makes me cry every time,” she says.
I have to admit, I don’t feel worthy of the foreword Dr. Rainer wrote for Ministering to Millennials. Reading it doesn’t make me cry like it does my wife, but it does make me feel embarrassed and unworthy.
Perhaps most importantly in the context of my book, Dr. Rainer co-wrote The Millennials with his son, Jess Rainer.
I asked Dr. Rainer to write the foreword for my book because of his experience writing and speaking about Millennials and because I could not be more grateful to be working under his leadership in my role at LifeWay.
He is an introvert like me. We love not talking to each another. We don’t worry about awkward conversations when we happen to get on an elevator together. We may grunt a few syllables, but then move into blissful silence.
But I like Chris for more reasons than his introversion. I like him because he knows his generation. He understands the Millennials. He is more than a casual observer. He is a researcher of the highest caliber, not just a numbers and stats researcher, but a keen observer of all things Millennials.
Indeed, when I want to know the attitudes of Christian Millennials, I look to Chris. When I want to get a deeper understanding of the non-Christian Millennials, I look to Chris. When I really want to know how they think, how they work, how they are motivated, and how they will respond, I look to Chris.
In your hands is an incredibly valuable tome about the Millennial generation. Frankly, you will find few resources with the kind of insights you are about to read. You will be amazed at his prescient knowledge, his thoughtful insights, and his fair treatment of a generation that has been analyzed, categorized, and stereotyped.
By the way, Chris works for me at LifeWay Christian Resources. I know him in that context as well. From day one at LifeWay, he has made a great impression and far exceeded any high expectations we may have had of him. If the entitled Millennial myth had any traction with us, he destroyed that fable quickly.
If you are leading a church, you have the right book to learn about the Millennials. If you are in the business world, you have the right book to learn about the Millennials. If you are a student of generational studies, you have the right book about the Millennials.
But, even if you are none of the above, you have the right book. You see, this book is a clear mirror of our society and culture today. It offers insights even the most casual reader would enjoy and derive great benefits.
I am thankful for Chris Martin. I am thankful for this book. But, above all, I am thankful for the heart of the man behind this book. You are about to enter the world of the Millennials from the perspective of one of the most gifted and insightful men I have ever known. He is a gift to many of us. And because of his relative youth, I pray he will be that gift for many years to come.
Thom S. Rainer
President and CEO
Lifeway Christian Resources
I work in marketing for a publishing company. I help market books for a living.
When I received news that my book, Ministering to Millennials, was live on Amazon the other day, I texted a friend and said, “You think I’d be better at this, but now that it’s available, I don’t know what to do.”
In the spring of 2014, Trevin Wax and I were having lunch in the LifeWay cafeteria when he said I should write a blog on how evangelical pastors can better minister to Millennials.
I balked at the idea…hard.
“It’s so cliché to talk about Millennials,” I remember saying to him, “I just don’t wanna be ‘the Millennial guy.'”
Well, here we are.
I Didn’t Know
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of college was largely spent in the sweltering hot halls and classrooms of Most Precious Blood Catholic School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
I was teaching summer school because I got the job when I was still planning on pursuing a career in teaching high school English.
On break between classes one day, I saw a free Kindle deal on The Millennials by Thom and Jess Rainer. It looked interesting. So I downloaded it. Why not? It was free.
Again, this was the summer of 2011. I was 20 years old, not yet a junior in college. Let’s travel back in time to see what I didn’t know back then:
I had no idea who Thom and Jess Rainer were.
I didn’t know what LifeWay was other than a bookstore at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
I didn’t know LifeWay Research existed.
I didn’t know that I would decide to pursue seminary after college.
I didn’t know I would haphazardly apply for a job to manage Ed Stetzer’s blog.
I didn’t realize that getting that job would require my and my new wife to move to Nashville, Tennessee.
I didn’t know Dr. Thom Rainer was the President of LifeWay Christian Resources.
I didn’t know my favorite blogger to read in college, Trevin Wax, worked at LifeWay.
I didn’t know he would ask to mentor me in writing and thinking and life.
I didn’t know I would start a blog about Millennials.
I didn’t know that reading the book on the Kindle app on my phone in between teaching summer school classes would eventually lead me to write a book of my own on the same topic.
I didn’t know that Dr. Rainer would be willing to write the foreword to the book I didn’t know I would write.
Reading The Millennials the summer of 2011 did not immediately inspire me to do anything. It did not make me want to work at LifeWay. It did not make me want to write a blog about Millennials. It did not make me want to write a book.
But the Lord surely used it to lay the groundwork for a lot that was to come in my life, unbeknownst to me.
How the Book Came to Be
In the spring of 2015, my friend Jonathan Howe and I walked to The Gulch from LifeWay to eat lunch at The Pub. He was craving the pimento cheese burger they have there.
At our lunch meeting, he told me I ought to try writing a book along the lines of my Millennial blog, which was about a year old at the time.
I thought he was crazy, but he said I should at least try. So, I reached out to a couple of friends in the book department at LifeWay to help me figure out how to even propose a book idea.
One was kind enough to give me a proposal template. I filled it out, which was A LOT of work, and prepared to send it to publishers.
I sent it to about five publishers through some connections with friends. I knew it was unlikely to be accepted by anyone, but I put so much work into the proposal, I had to give it a shot.
All of the publishers turned me down, including B&H, the book publisher at LifeWay. (I knew they would, but I had to send it to them to be sure.)
After everyone passed on it, I dropped it for a year and just kept blogging.
Then in the spring of 2016, I decided to try again. This time I passed it around to a bunch of smaller publishers that were a bit more realistic than the big ones I tried before.
The guys at Rainer Publishing were kind enough to accept me that summer, and I began working on the book right away.
I will write more on the writing process later, but I turned the book in around June 2017 and have been not-so-patiently waiting for it to be released until now.
How to Purchase
This book is not going to be a bestseller, and I am more than OK with that. But many have been asking me about how to get a copy or even how to get a signed copy (weird). Here are the two best ways:
From Me (Preferred)
I would prefer if you purchased the book directly from me for $15.
It’s more expensive than Amazon, I know. Because I have to pay to ship it myself. I prefer if you purchase it from me because it gives me a higher return than if you buy it through Amazon, who takes a cut.
Also, for the few family and friends who have asked for a signed copy, this is your best bet. I can grab it out of the box, sign it, and ship it.
The data is presented on page 141 of Crouch’s book, in which he writes, “The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.”
What Do the Numbers Say?
According to the research, 59% of all U.S. parents set a limit on the amount of time their children can spend watching TV. Millennial parents are the only generation of parents who beat the national average—Gen X and Boomer parents fall below this national average.
About 72% of Millennial parents set a limit on the amount of TV their children can watch. This is compared to just 57% of Gen X parents and 53% of Boomer parents.
“But wait a second!” you may protest, “I thought Millennials are the young folk who are obsessed with technology and constantly lusting to be in front of a TV screen.”
This is why stereotypes are unhelpful, and not just for when we’re looking at Millennials, either.
Why Do More Millennials Set Limits?
The data doesn’t tell us this. We have to discern the “why” for ourselves, but I do have an idea.
I think more Millennial parents set limits on their kids’ TV time because they know the negative effects of limitless TV time firsthand.
Millennial parents grew up as the children of Gen X and Boomer parents. Millennials grew up in the 1980s and 1990s when traditional TV consumption was much higher than it is today.
Sure, children today are still consuming a lot of video content, but they are consuming it via YouTube and other internet services more than via the traditional TV medium.
I think Millennials are setting more limits on their children’s TV time because they know how bad it was for them to have as much freedom as they did and they want to protect their kids from such freedom.
There could be other reasons. The question is sort of vague and leaves a lot of the response open to how the respondents understand “TV,” but I think it is most likely a peek into the pendulum swing of indulgence and discipline that is seen across generations.
How Can Parents Realistically Set Limits?
So, disclaimer: I am not a parent, if you aren’t aware.
But, a couple of tips on how parents can set limits on their kids’ TV time that I’ve learned, and hope to employ someday, from friends and books:
1. Don’t have TV in your central room.
I have not adopted this in our house yet, but once we have children I think we may give this a shot. Keep your central room, your family room, or whichever room you spend the most time in as a family, TV-free. This will cause you to have more conversation and open the door for more creative activity.
2. Don’t buy a big cable package.
If you are spending a bunch of money on a fancy satellite or cable package, you are going to be tempted to use it as much as possible. Skip the cable package, use an antenna, and stick to Netflix or another online video service that doesn’t make you feel as obligated to have the TV on all the time.
3. Don’t let the TV stay on if you’re not watching it.
I am guilty of doing this too much, especially during baseball season. I love passively watching a baseball game while reading or writing, like I am doing right now. When your children are around, avoid this and you can cut down on their TV time.
Millennials are more likely to be limiting their children’s TV consumption. Likely because they feel they had too much freedom to consume limitless TV when they were growing up.
Are you limiting your children’s TV consumption? Why or why not? If you are, what strategies can you share? What mistakes have you made?
As of November 2016, an estimated 62 million Millennials (adults ages 20 to 35 in 2016) were voting-age U.S. citizens, surpassing the 57 million Generation X members (ages 36 to 51) in the nation’s electorate and moving closer in number to the 70 million Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70), according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Millennials comprised 27% of the voting-eligible population in 2016, while Boomers made up 31%.
In 2016, Generation X and members of the Silent and Greatest generations (ages 71 and older) comprised 25% and 13% of the electorate, respectively. In addition, the oldest members of the post-Millennial generation (those born after 1996) began to make their presence known for the first time – 7 million of these 18- and 19-year-olds were eligible to vote in 2016 (comprising just 3% of the electorate).
Here’s a graph depicting the impending change:
Why Is This Happening?
It’s pretty simple (and grim): all Millennials are now old enough to vote, and Baby Boomers are beginning to die.
The growth of Millennials entering the electorate has tapered off and plateaued the last few years. Why? Because as many Millennials as can join the electorate have. No more Millennials are being born, those are members of Gen Z or iGen, and according to Pew (and many other research institutions) the youngest Millennials have all turned 18 years old.
Why Does This Matter?
Millennials and Baby Boomers are VERY different when it comes to their political views.
Here are a few key graphs from Pew’s Millennials in Adulthood study from 2014:
Millennials are more independent.
Millennials are more Democrat.
Millennials identify as more liberal.
I could go one for a while, but, in sum: Millennials are more liberal and Democrat than Boomers. This was all true in 2014, as the graphs depict, and you can bet it’s even more true now.
One BIG Consideration
A major factor that I haven’t mentioned yet is voter turnout. It doesn’t matter how many Millennials are part of the electorate of a small percentage of them actually turn out to vote.
Here’s a graph from Pew depicting voter turnout rates since 1996:
It comes down to this:
A lot of Millennials are unhappy that Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. If they want to change that in 2020, they’re going to have to do more than bark about it on Twitter.
If Millennials want to actually affect change in their country, they have to be as willing to drive to their local voting precinct as they are to march on Washington.
Voting and doing the hard work to drive change in communities is not for the impatient or attention-hungry.
I read the Bible in a year for the first time in 2010. I was a sophomore in college, a Biblical Studies major, and was pretty sure I had never read some parts of the Bible in my entire life. I figured it was a good time to try reading through the Bible in a year for the first time. So I did it. It was great, but it wasn’t easy.
After reading through the Bible in a year for the first time, I decided I would try to do it every other year (so every even year). When it comes to reading and studying the Bible, I prefer to read a small passage and dig deeply into it, so reading a bunch of text in one day is stretching for me.
I read through the Bible successfully in 2010, 2012, and 2014, but I failed in 2016. In the past, I have read the Bible in a year by reading it chronologically. This year, I am using this five-day plan, which offers some flexibility in case you miss a day during the week. I love that this plan gives some Old and New Testament each day, which should make it easier than the chronological plans which don’t give you any New Testament until late in the year.
So, if you’ve started a Bible reading plan for the year, you need to be ready for what happens when you fall so far behind on your reading plan, and you realize you aren’t going to read the Bible in a year.
What do we do when we fall so far behind on our Bible reading plan we “fail?”
First, don’t be discouraged.
You aren’t a terrible person if you fall three weeks behind on your Bible reading plan. Life happens, and sometimes we fail to make Bible reading a priority.
In the past, when I have failed at my Bible reading plan, I have become so discouraged that I stopped reading my Bible consistently for long periods of time.
I remember shortly after I failed my Bible reading plan in the spring of 2016, I would get so discouraged when I would sit down to read my Bible, I would just not read my Bible.
Don’t do that. Don’t be discouraged. It’s OK to fail your Bible reading plan.
God’s love for you is not determined by whether or not you read the Bible in a year like you planned.
But, when you fail your Bible reading plan, what should you read? If you don’t have any ideas, it’s pretty simple…
Keep using the plan!
This is my plan for this year, if I happen to fall far behind in the plan. If, for some reason, I fall so far behind in the Bible reading plan that I come to terms with the reality that I won’t be finishing in the year, I am just going to keep using the plan as my Bible reading prompt until I’m done with it, even if it’s halfway into 2019.
I work with students, and a lot of them struggle reading their Bibles because they don’t know where to start. They sometimes have this idea that they just need to open their Bible to a random page and just start reading. I know the feeling.
If you fail your Bible reading plan, you may have this feeling, too. But you don’t have to have that feeling. If you fail your Bible reading plan, just continue using it as your guide whenever you are able to take time to read.
But, about time for a minute. I want to remind you of what I often remind myself: “I don’t have time to read my Bible,” is a poor excuse. We make time for what we want to do. “Not having time” to read our Bible is our own fault.
We are not a victim of not having enough time, our inability to prioritize Bible reading is our problem to solve.
If you are trying to read the Bible in a year like I am, I hope your first couple of weeks are going well. If you fall behind, don’t get discouraged, and just use your plan to guide you throughout the rest of the year without the urgency of finishing before 2019!
Hey there, everyone! It’s been a long time since I’ve published something on this blog. I’ve drafted a few pieces in the last few months, but I didn’t like any of them enough to publish them for everyone to read.
So here we are in 2018. Just a couple of days in and a few weeks away from writing the right date on stuff.
The purpose of this blog post is to look back at what happened in my life in 2017 and ahead toward what is coming this year.
What Happened in 2017
We got a puppy. His name is Rizzo. He’s pretty great, but also super frustrating sometimes. He eats socks. Like whole.
I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with my M.Div. in May. It was good to graduate. Attending SEBTS was a great experience, but I am happy to have a bit more time to spend with friends, serve in the church, and read a bit more widely than I had time to do in the past.
Then, about a month after I graduated, I turned in my 30,000+ word book manuscript to my book publisher. Ministering to Millennials should be released in the first quarter of this year. We are working on the final edits and the cover art right now.
Beyond that, the summer was pretty uneventful. A highlight was definitely leading a summer Bible study with some of the students in our youth group. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot closer with the youth guys that I help lead at our church.
Spanning the entirety of 2017 is a little project called LifeWay Social.
Like most people who work in social media, I have done a lot of contract work on the side. Around the summer of 2016, I decided that when I finished seminary in the spring of 2017, I wanted to formalize the contract work into more of a side business.
Long story made short, that project turned into LifeWay Social and it became part of my job at LifeWay instead of a project on the side.
LifeWay Social was announced in July 2017 and signups opened in October 2017. So far, I have been really happy with how it has done and my hope is that 2018 will be a great first full calendar year for LifeWay Social.
The LifeWay Social project is the main reason I have not written here on this blog nearly as much as I used to. So much of my time is caught up in, basically, studying social media and coaching Christians on how to use it better. From October through December of 2017, I was working 10-12 hour days pretty regularly as we ramped up LifeWay Social and got it rolling.
After doing all of that, when I finally have some free time at the end of a day or on the weekend, the last thing I want to do is sit down in front of yet another WordPress screen and write more blog content.
So, if you’ve been sad that I haven’t been writing here, I apologize. But I know most of you don’t care, so let’s move on to looking ahead to what 2018 holds.
What Is Ahead in 2018
We are just a couple of days into 2018. I love the start of the New Year. There isn’t anything spiritually significant about going from December to January, but it is helpful to have a sort of mental reset, and the changing of the year does that for me.
Also, the last two weeks of December each year are about the only time I let myself be lazy as a creator for any significant period of time. I try to write nothing, post little, and just relax the last two weeks of December each year.
By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, I am chomping at the bit to get back to work and get back to writing blog posts or articles for the various outlets I have the opportunity to serve.
Every even year since 2010, I try to read through the Bible in a year. I failed in 2016, but am picking it up again this year. I tend to like reading small chunks of Scripture and diving deeply into them, so read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans are a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s a good practice and I have always enjoyed it in the past.
At a professional level, I hope I learn more in 2018 than I have in any year previously. I hope I become a better co-worker and a better coach. I learned a ton about social media and content creation in 2017, and I hope I learn as much in 2018. I want LifeWay Social to continue to grow and be a valuable resource for Christians trying to use social media well.
But beyond that, I hope 2018 provides me more opportunities to create content and put into practice what I have been learning the last year.
Through LifeWay Social and perhaps some other outlets, I am hoping to create more video content than I have in the past. I detest being on video. It makes me very uncomfortable because I lack self-confidence and I don’t like watching myself. But, it’s a growing area of content creation and I think I can be good at it if I work hard.
On a personal level, I want to be more involved in the lives of the students I have the opportunity to lead at our church and I want to be a more selfless husband for my wife. I want 2018 to be the year Susie and I look back on as the year we opened our home up to more people than we ever had before.
Anyway, that’s a bit of an update from me on the last year. I hope this site is still helpful for any of you who may read this.
Here we find ourselves, in the first week of 2018.
What does it hold? Who knows?
The turn of the year provides us with a mental reset and it should remind us that, while the year on the calendar may change, the Lord doesn’t. The faithfulness he has shown throughout our lives will remain in 2018, regardless of how unfaithful we may be.
One of the many unique attributes of Donald Trump’s presidency is his prolific use of Twitter. President Obama used Twitter, but not in the same ways President Trump is using the platform.
President Trump’s Tweets on Trial
In the last week or so, there has been even more attention directed at President Trump’s use of Twitter than normal, primarily because of what he is tweeting about North Korea and the effects his tweets could have on geopolitical relationships.
Here are a couple about North Korea from the last month or so:
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!
President Trump’s tweets have been interpreted as threats by many including North Korea. Really, anyone with common sense would interpret these tweets as threats, however realistic or unrealistic these threats may be.
So, how did Twitter respond?
This is how Twitter responded on Monday (see full thread):
THREAD: Some of you have been asking why we haven't taken down the Tweet mentioned here: https://t.co/CecwG0qHmq 1/6
President Trump being an exception to Twitter rules has upset Twitter users and people in general. So then here’s the question:
Should Twitter Ban President Trump?
No. Twitter shouldn’t ban President Trump from Twitter. They should change their Terms of Service to reflect the unwritten reasons they have allowed him to stay on the platform, which is exactly what they said they’re doing.
Obviously, I don’t think making threats on Twitter is good, I just think banning everyone who makes threats on Twitter is an impossible expectation. I think people who make threats should be able to use Twitter because policing every threat on a platform like Twitter is unrealistic and potentially does more harm than good, especially when AI and algorithms get involved (just ask Facebook about that).
The reality is that hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts are making threats to other Twitter accounts on the platform every single day. In one instance, it may be a friend jokingly threatening to punch another friend in the face if he doesn’t pay him back for the lunch he bought for him. In another instance it may be a head of state threatening nuclear war with another head of state.
Neither user should be banned, I believe, for a number of reasons. The first of which is that the user could just create a new Twitter account with new information and continue making threats as he or she so pleases, so the banning wasn’t really effective anyway.
Another reason is that, if President Trump was banned from Twitter, Twitter would be compelled by its users to go through and ban every single user who has ever made threats to others on the platform, which would be an impossible task.
President Trump and celebrities like him should not be protected from being banned for violating Twitter’s Terms of Service, and nor should President Trump or celebrities like him be more likely to be banned than the average Twitter user for violating the Terms.
Either you ban every single person, famous or not, who breaks the Terms, or you don’t ban any of them. I think the second option is more realistic and manageable than the first.
Further, from a business perspective, Twitter would be silly to ban President Trump from their platform because he has brought more attention to the platform than anything else in its history.
Twitter has their reasons for not banning President Trump. Whatever they actually are, I think they are doing the right thing by letting him stay. If they decided to ban him, they’ve be opening up a Pandora’s box of subsequent actions they would be compelled, and I believe unable, to take.
I’m curious what you think. This is just my opinion. I could be convinced otherwise.
My primary work is helping authors with their social media, but as anyone who works in social media will tell you, when you work in social media, you get questions from all kinds of people.
One of the groups that asks me questions most often is local churches. Church leaders often have a dozen good, relevant questions about social media, but one of the most common is simple this: “How should I use Facebook?”
To many (especially young people), that may seem like a simple question. But for church leaders who spend the majority of their days trying to counsel hurting people and prepare for weekly church events, Facebook strategy is one of their least concerns.
Here are three basic ways I think churches can cut through the complexity and use Facebook well:
1. Share gospel content.
Anyone who spends any amount of time on social media can attest: social media can be a dark place more often than not.
For many Christians, this has made them leave social media platforms altogether—they simply cannot justify willingly coexisting with such darkness. I get that.
At the same time, I think the common darkness of social media creates an even stronger case for Christians to be involved in these online spaces.
One of the best ways a church can use its Facebook presence is to share encouraging, gospel content such as blog posts, Scripture, or sermon videos. This lets the church shine the light of the gospel in the darkness of social media conversations.
2. Create gospel conversations.
When churches share gospel content on Facebook, gospel conversations often result. Whether in the comment sections, privately via private messages, or offline, churches can create gospel conversations with a healthy Facebook presence.
If you’re unsure about what to post on your church’s Facebook page, just post Scripture or ask people for prayer requests. Know that Facebook’s algorithm favors videos and images, so the more of those you post, the better. But, creating gospel conversations usually starts with sharing gospel content.
Along these same lines, be sure to avoid unnecessarily controversial content. Yes, the gospel is going to be offensive to some people no matter what, and you’ll have to deal with conflict of that kind at some point. But church Facebook pages need not be a battleground for political or cultural skirmishes. This often does more harm than good.
3. Buy Facebook ads.
You may be thinking, “The church doesn’t need to do any marketing! The gospel is attractive enough itself!” Ok. I understand. But hear me out.
If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on paper flyers to post a coffee shops or post cards to put in mailboxes, I would contend that your money would be better spent on purchasing Facebook ads.
When used correctly, Facebook ads allow your church to reach people in your communities more effectively than paper flyers or post cards, and with less hassle.
Really, buying a Facebook ad really just amounts to you promoting a piece of content on Facebook so that it can be seen by more people in your community that use Facebook and may be interested in checking out your church.
But, buying Facebook ads and figuring out the best audience to which you should boost your content can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re doing.
A while back, I announced that I’m launching a new service through LifeWay called LifeWay Social. The purpose of LifeWay Social is to help Christian leaders, including local church leaders, better use social media to serve other people.
Next week, the LifeWay Social site will launch. I’m super excited.
If you want to stay aware of the latest regarding LifeWay Social, join the email list here. I only email you once a week. I promise I won’t annoy you.
Why has Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 150 million copies? (It’s not just because of the content.)
In the book’s “interlude,” Thompson gives a brief history of teens. Studying Millennials is fascinating to me, but studying teens of any generation is just as fascinating. Teens are on the forefront of popular culture. As go teens so go their parents (see every social media platform).
(FYI: current teenagers are not Millennials, but are part of iGen, or Gen Z, those born after 2000.)
Perhaps the most interesting part of this interlude on the history of teens was on the effect phones are having on teens and their relationships with each other. After explaining that the logos on teens’ clothing once defined them, Thompson writes:
In a new age of cool, the smartphone screen has displaced the embroidered logo as the focal point of teen identity. It was once sufficient to look good in a high school hallway, but today Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are all high school hallways, where young people perform and see performances, judge and are judged. Many decades after another mobile device, the car, helped invent the teenager, the iPhone and its ilk offered new nimble instruments of self-expression, symbols of independence, and better ways to hook up.
This paragraph just breaks my heart for today’s teenagers. I was a teenager only eight years ago, which seems both like it was yesterday and it was long ago, but even we didn’t have it this bad. The iPhone was released when I was a junior in high school and even then few students had such phones. We often “performed” in online spaces like Myspace and AOL Instant Messenger, but we weren’t carrying those platforms around in our pockets, thankfully.
In an article published earlier this summer in The Atlantic titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” Dr. Jean Twenge makes her readers aware of what’s at stake for a generation of young people glued to their phones:
What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.
(Dr. Twenge just released a book called iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us, which is now on backorder at Amazon.)
Today’s teens are always in the hallway because the 21st century adolescent catwalk is the smartphone and the terrifying worlds it holds.
Whether you’re a parent of a teen, a boss of a teen, or a pastor of a teen, please be aware of the sad fact that teens today feel as though they are always performing—perhaps they’re even performing for you. Be a person in the lives of the teens you know who doesn’t require them to perform. Be a person teens can approach with their real selves.
Breaking down both white Catholics and white evangelicals by age cohort, millennials (18-to-20-[sic]-year-olds) constitute just 11 percent of the total, making them the two oldest religious traditions in the country. White mainline millennials come in at 14 percent.
Among all millennials, eight percent are white mainliners, eight percent are white evangelicals, and six percent are white Catholics. By comparison, among Americans 50 and older, white evangelicals outnumber both white mainliners and white Catholics roughly three to two.
Rather, what (relative) strength it [Mainline Protestantism] shows is likely to be coming from outside — from millennials raised Catholic or evangelical who want some other, dare I say more liberal, form of Christianity.
Dr. Silk cites the recently-released PRRI data to imbue hope into Mainline Protestants by effectively saying, “Hey, I know we’re hemorrhaging followers, but this latest data shows we’re grabbing the ex-evangelicals!”
As if that’s supposed to be encouraging news.
Is Growth By Acquisition to Be Celebrated?
In the business world, growth by acquisition is often regarded as an unsustainable, unreliable means of growth. Sure, growth by acquisition is better than precipitous decline, but if business leaders had their choice, they would prefer to grow by improving their own products and services rather than relying on their ability to purchase the right companies that add to their worth.
Dr. Silk says in his article that the future of Mainline Protestantism largely relies upon young people leaving more conservative Christian traditions like Catholicism and evangelicalism and joining Mainline Protestant churches.
Is that sort of growth to be celebrated? Is that kind of growth even sustainable?
The sort of growth upon which Dr. Silk says Mainline Protestantism is relying for its youth movement requires young people to leave one tradition for another because their views of Scripture become more liberal than the conservative tradition of which they were a part.
Such growth isn’t really sustainable and can barely be called “growth.” It is not as though all young evangelicals are going to decide evangelicalism is too conservative. At some point, the winnowing will cease and a certain number of young people who reject the conservative tradition of their youth will leave it for Mainline Protestantism and the “growth” will cease.
Then, it will be up to Mainline Protestantism to do what evangelicalism could not: convince those young people that the God of the Bible affirms the liberal views to which they so tightly hold.
The Problems With the PRRI Data
To this point, this blog post has been taking the PRRI data and Dr. Silk’s piece at face value, without taking a critical look at the actual data or how it compares to other religious survey data.
We’re going to do that now, and it…changes things.
The problems with the PRRI data are best explained by Tobin Grant, himself a columnist for RNS. He tweeted shortly after the data was released:
Not identifying as "born again" or "evangelical" doesn't make you "mainline"
What a lot of people don’t understand about comparing the growth/decline of various Christian traditions is that how you categorize people as “Mainline,” “evangelical,” or otherwise matters.
In its report, PRRI says this:
In this report, “evangelicals” are defined as those who self-identify as Protestant Christians who also identify as evangelical or born again.
Then, in a footnote on that sentence, they say this:
All respondents who identify as Christian are then asked the following question: “Would you describe yourself as a ‘born-again’ or ‘evangelical Christian,’ or not?” Respondents who self-identify as white, non-Hispanic, Protestant and affirmatively identify as born-again or evangelical are categorized as white evangelical Protestants.
That sounds all well and good, but the problem is exactly what Mr. Grant says: “Not identifying as ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical’ doesn’t make you ‘mainline.'” This is a common mistake in surveys such as this. Mainline Protestants are not just “those Christians who don’t identify as “evangelical.”
This is problematic for a number of reasons, but one timely issue is that this survey was done in 2016, a period of time in which many Americans would have been hesitant to self-identify as “evangelical” because of the unusually harsh political ramifications of that word throughout the election season.
Another major issue with the PRRI data is that it runs contrary to almost all other data of its kind.
Here is Mr. Grant again in a series of tweets:
A 5% drop is 10 million fewer Americans? Wow.
But @PRRIpoll didn't really do a 100,000+ survey. It did lots of little surveys 2/
The best longitudinal surveys to compare PRRI’s results are the GSS and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Both have the advantage of being large, national samples, and both include two different approaches to measuring evangelicals – affiliation with specific denominations and self-identification with evangelicalism (which PRRI used). There is some scholarly debate about which evangelical measure is best, so we thought it was helpful to include both. In either approach to categorizing evangelicals, we limited our evangelical category to white Protestants, which is common practice. Essentially, comparing the GSS and CCES data with the PRRI results using both measurement strategies allows us to fully assess if there is decline. The GSS and CCES also allow us to look at two different survey methods, as the GSS is conducted face-to-face, while the CCES is conducted online.
Then they shared this line graph of the data from those studies:
Further down on that article, they shared this graph, which depicts what I said above: the PRRI data may be a bit exaggerated because of its methodology.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking:
Dr. Silk’s optimism about the youth movement of Mainline Protestantism is founded upon unreliable acquisitional growth and wobbly survey data.
The purpose of this blog post is not to say, “Evangelicalism’s decline isn’t as bad as Mainline Protestantism’s decline, let me prove it to you.” Evangelicalism is experiencing a bit of decline, and we evangelicals will simply have to trust that faithfulness to the Scriptures will outlast the seduction of liberal theology.
The purpose of this blog post is to say that a movement that celebrates a youth movement founded upon acquiring young people disgruntled with conservative theology from conservative movements is in a dire place, indeed.