I have a love for Millennials. At nearly 80 million in the United States alone, they comprise the largest generation in history, and will shape much of what takes place in our nation and around the world. Even though the Millennial generation (those born approximately between 1980 and 2000) outnumbers the Boomer generation in terms of its size, they are practically nonexistent in churches. By one estimate, only 15 percent of Millennials identify themselves as Christians.
While there are many Millennials in total, only one of five is in church today. Within Adventism, the population is not only largely absent in churches, they are also generally underrepresented in leadership within the church. This is one group that our church needs to intentionally reach out to.
With the topic of Women’s Ordination as a key agenda item at this year’s General Conference Session in San Antonio, some researchers wanted to know how Millennials viewed this heavily discussed topic. So, there was a study released by the ClergyEd.com and the Religion and Biblical Languages Department at Andrews as they investigated the views of ordination and women clergy within Adventist Millennial young adults (that is to say, those Millennials who remain in the church). Through a connection with a friend, I was able to get a copy of the full report which you can read by clicking here. What were the results of this survey and what lessons can we learn from it for the future of our church?
Within the survey, 679 Millennial young adults, approximately a third of which were born outside of the United States, were asked the following five questions:
- If they agreed or disagreed with the ordination of women clergy
- If the decision to ordain would positively or negatively influence their perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
- Would the decision to not ordain would positively or negatively influence their financial support of the church
- If they identified with conservative or liberal ideologies
- If they would withhold tithe if the corporate church organization endorsed inequality in hiring practices with regard to female ministers/corporate leaders
The report drew the following conclusions from that survey in brief:
While Millennial young adults (18-32 years) largely support the idea of women being ordained to ministry and many would have a positive to very positive response to this action, it would seem the decision to not ordain women, for many, would not be a deal breaker when it comes to their perception of the Seventh-day Adventist church and their willingness to support this church financially.
If you’re a more visual person, you may find the following charts helpful:
Being a Millennial myself, I see three positive take away points.
- The future looks bright for our church.*
The findings seem to imply that young adults aren’t caught up in the labels that seems to infiltrate the larger population of the church. Only 25% considered themselves as either liberal or conservative. I’ve shared before why I hate labels, but this point builds a strong foundation for meaningful dialogue and tackling the hard issues we face to face as a church in the future.
*Of course, it goes without saying that, unless we do something to reach and nurture Millennials on the path of discipleship, statistically speaking, the church of tomorrow might also look bleak.
2. Adventist Millennials are committed to mission.
Contrary to what some fear mongers have claimed in the recent past (that no matter what the vote is this summer, there will be a split in the church), Millennials generally aren’t in favor of taking their toys and going home or starting a new organization. This issue is not a make or break deal for them. Although many are in favor of ordaining women, we can hold convictions and live with those who disagree with us.
3. Further study is needed.
This survey was very eye opening. It revealed some unexpected findings. For example, there was the realization that, although small, there is a higher percentage of women than men who disagree strongly or disagree slightly with ordaining women. This apparently left the surveyors wondering why this manifested itself as well.
In their opinion:
It could well be that hostility towards women by women exists within the Seventh-day Adventist church or that some women feel that the type of woman who presently enters ministry is one they feel is not suited to this role. Additionally, this result could simply be due to opposition not being gender specific, given females outnumber males both in this study and in the church organization. Further analysis should be undertaken as many more factors other than those mentioned above could be influencing this unexpected result found in Millennial young adult women aged 18-32. The church organization should thoroughly investigate the underlying factors of opposition towards the ordination of women, as there may be some very real and problematic issues that may need to be addressed outside the ordination issue itself. This analysis will be undertaken using Beyond Beliefs data in the near future.
Either way, this provides some informative and relevant information for those who are passionate about reaching and understanding the next generation.
Note: The Beyond Beliefs study is a major research project that sought to investigate what 679 Millennial young adults (ages 18-32) really think of each and every one of the 28 Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist church and 90 other factors that influence their faith. See www.beyond-beliefs.com for more information about this study and to sign up for email updates about current and future publications and free reports.