By Thom Rainer
My son, Jess Rainer, and I conducted an extensive study of the Millennials, those persons born between 1980 and 2000. We specifically surveyed 1,200 of the older Millennials, those who were born between 1980 and 1991. The results of the study were fascinating on a number of levels. But, probably to the surprise of few, we found that views on sexuality among these young adults are dramatically different from previous generations.
As a Boomer, I thought I was part of the generation that ushered in the sexual revolution. But I had no idea that views on sexuality would change so dramatically with the generation of my three sons. The implications for local congregations are staggering. Allow me at this juncture to offer five of those implications. I will expand on them later.
1. Most Millennials, including Christian Millennials, see nothing wrong with unmarried persons living together. Many of them will come to our churches and be surprised to hear their behavior is sinful. How churches handle this reality will determine the success of efforts to reach the generation.
2. While the trend toward approval of homosexual marriage is growing in society at large, the positive view is pervasive among Millennials. Churches that choose to ignore this issue have little hope of impacting culture positively.
3. Millennials will exit quickly from churches whose members are shrill and unloving toward those with non-biblical views on sexuality. Unfortunately, many Millennials stereotype all Bible-believing churches as filled with members who carry Westboro-like placards that scream “God hates fags.” While this is not the case in most churches, there are still some Christians who do a good job of reinforcing that stereotype.
4. Ironically, Millennials will not stick with churches that have no convictions. Liberal churches with compromising views on biblical sexuality will not attract and retain Millennials. Though Millennials are indeed increasingly liberal in their views and actions on sexuality, they view churches as places that should be convictional and even counter-cultural.
5. The greater opportunity lies with those churches that are able to speak truth in love, and to demonstrate that love. The preceding sentence sounds a bit cliché, but it is increasingly a reality. Many of our church members are very uncomfortable engaging, for example, a homosexual in a way that demonstrates the love of Christ. But that is the world and the culture where our churches and Christians reside. We can choose to either engage or withdraw.
There are nearly 79 million Millennials. Most of them are not Christians. Indeed, we estimate in our research that only about 15 percent of those in this generation are believers in Christ. So that means that this generation is a mission field of over 67 million men and women who do not know Christ.
We can bemoan the state of culture. We can withdraw from culture. Or we can choose to love these sinners as Christ loved us sinners. We should not and must not compromise our biblical convictions. But we should not and must not neglect to demonstrate the love of Christ to those who need Him as much as you and I do.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.