A healthy stewardship approach is taught by example, recognition, and constructive feedback - not shame and stereotypes. Yet even in the church, young people are often the punchline of jokes and complaints. So, this week, Rev. Anders Peterson does some myth-busting on what it means to be a Millenial. Being a Millienial church leader, myself -- one who has taught Confirmation classes to the next generation of church leaders -- I find the article refreshing for us all.
Strength & Peace,
Program Assistant & Editorial Fellow | Center for Stewardship Leaders
Millennials! Am I right?
During my regular commute into San Francisco, there are many billboards trying to capture my attention. Amid the hubbub, I noticed an advertisement for a major financial services company: “They say Millennials are lazy. Retire early and prove them right.”
This statement is a great conversation starter on the topic of Millenials and stewardship. For Millennials, those born around 1980-2000, there stereotype goes that we are more lazy than other generations, as well lacking financial literacy and discipline, prone to instant gratification without solid plans for the future.
The reality is that Millennials are not as lazy nor as financially uninformed as the stereotypes assume. Here are a few key findings from a report by David Ramsey, one of America’s most well known and trusted financial advisors:
“Ramsey Solutions commissioned a 2016 survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults to evaluate the state of retirement in America. In the first of a four-part series based on results from the survey, 38% of Millennials reported they already know how much money they’ll need to retire?—?essentially the same as Baby Boomers, 37%, and Generation X, 36%.”
“Even though Millennials have had less than 20 years to build their retirement wealth, they are not that far behind many of those who are closest to retirement.Nearly 60% of Millennials have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, but roughly half of Baby Boomers are in the same boat, despite the fact that this generation has had as much as half a century to save for their retirement.”
We would do well to remember that, in turn, every generation is dismissed as the “Me Generation!” -- a designation clouded by the veil of nostalgia, constraints of skewed sample populations, and squinting suspicion toward changes in power and technology. In addition to this attitude cycle, my generation has dealt with its unique challenges. Early Millennials struggled to launch their careers in the midst of the Great Recession, losing important momentum after completing their education. While becoming the most educated generation to date, we’ve been saddled with exorbitant student debt and predatory credit card schemes.
The realities of adulthood today are different than those of previous generations. Such change is nothing new, but as discussed in my previous article, the rate of change is accelerating. Meanwhile, our saturated media environment can reflect or ignore or misrepresent such changes; stirring anxiety while stroking nostalgia is lucrative business. There are billboards and television shows and social media posts cementing the idea of how things used to be and are therefore supposed to be. With this mismatch between expectation and reality, it’s no wonder emerging and established adults as a group are perceived as juvenile or unaccomplished, even by in-group peers.
So, when it comes to the church and stewardship and our participation in giving, are Millennials really less involved or less concerned than former generations?
Despite our challenges, we are, in fact, a generous generation -- just like the generations before us. According to reputable research by the Blackbaud Institute, more than half of Millennials gave to charitable organizations in 2018, which covered 14% of all charitable donations received across generations last year. Millennials may not give the highest amounts of money, but there are justifiable reasons. We are focusing on family priorities, paying down debt, and increasing our savings -- knowing we may not be able to rely on social security in retirement. Still, one third of Millennials plan to increase their giving next year, a significantly larger percentage than Gen X, Boomers, or Matures/Silent Generation.
My encouragement for churches is to let go of the myth that Millenials are not generous. Instead, celebrate us for who we are, which included being part of a generation of emerging stewards. We truly see stewardship as both a call to sponsor important causes with financial gifts, and as a call to engage in the movements and organizations that we believe in, as active participants through advocacy and volunteering. Our time will come when we can provide a larger slice of the giving pie. Be patient with us (and each other, for the Millenials reading this) knowing we hold the same desire as former generations to be generous stewards, helping to make a direct and positive impact in the world.
If I could write my own billboard advertisement encouraging Millennials and stewardship, it would read: “They say Millennials can have a bright future. Live and give generously and prove them right.”
For More Information
Rev. Anders Peterson is an ordained minister in the ELCA and helps foster curiosity, community, and social good with the spiritual but not religious, spiritual and religious, and not spiritual and not religious through Middle Circle, a mission development ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area (Sierra Pacific Synod). You can learn more and even make a donation to support the ministry by visiting middlecircle.org