Millennials value authenticity. So what?

I have heard for a while now that millennials (born 1980-2000) highly value authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. I’ve been pondering with some others (like the group of millennials that make up my advisory team, the Y&F Working Group, and our millennial summer student) what this means. Here are some of our thoughts.

• Millennials aren’t staying away from church because they’re not interested in spiritual things. They are staying away because the church doesn’t jive with their values. They highly value authenticity in themselves. Rather than “hang-out” somewhere or with a group of people that don’t match their values, they stay away.

• Gimmicks won’t work with millennials. They see right through them and are suspicious of churches. They are watching for any hint of bait and switches from the start. The free gift for filling out the visitor card will just make them want to fill out the visitor card less. Just give them the real reason, the WHY, behind why they should fill in the visitor card, give money, be a part of an event…

• Millennials get excited (expressing itself in multiple hashtags or Instagram pictures of them jumping up in the air) when a group of people start making a real difference in the world. Hmmm….didn’t Jesus come bringing His Kingdom that rights wrongs, heals brokenness, corrects injustices and frees the oppressed.

• If you don’t have places in your church for people to find safe, authentic community where they can be real with each other about life, millennials won’t stick around long.

• Millennials like to know they are getting the real you, especially if you are one of the upfront leaders. Share yourself, share stories and be vulnerable – from the stage, on social media and in community. It has stuck with me that a millennial told me they were at a leadership event where they were talking to one of the “known”, key leaders. They’d asked this key leader how they were doing and they responded with an over the top “Great…” explaining how well things were going. This millennial said they were two steps away when that key leader started saying to someone else how tired they were in this season. That was all it took for that millennial to be completely turned off that leader.

• Millennials are open to intergenerational relationships that talk about real life and where they can see real life lived out. They are not just looking to hang out with their own age group, but especially value spending time with anyone that will listen, value their thoughts and opinions and be vulnerable back.

• Millennials value experiences, because experiences are authentic. You are experiencing the thrill/emotion/newness for yourself and no one can take that away.

• Millennials look for character, especially in their leaders. Character is revealed over time as they see their leaders in various situations and settings. In a class I teach to both undergrad and graduate students (mostly millennials in the class), I set-up a debate arguing for either competence or character in leadership. While the obvious answer is we absolutely need both, it was clear the millennials highly valued character.

• Millennials are interested in getting to know the real Jesus, not the Jesus constructed by an institution. They want to see a Jesus that works and makes a significant difference here and now.

Church is completely foreign to most millennials, and so can feel inauthentic because it is so outside their normative experience.

Help us out – what are the implications of these things? How do we use this awareness to connect with millennials?

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood


(Source: Odyssey)



  1. westheadcsi · July 26, 2016

    I’ve been meditating on this blog, discussing it with some thoughtful friends and I think I’m ready to comment. The question I have is whether it is possible to truly welcome those who value safe, authentic community into a system that values convincing them that its way is the only way to think and be. I’m NOT talking about Jesus as the Way, because that’s foundational. But I am talking about the difference between introducing people to Him in an individual relationship and indoctrinating them into a corporate interpretation of scripture.
    For example, are we intending to convince millennials that women are not to serve in pastoral and elder/deacon roles in the church? What if they don’t agree with our teaching on equal marriage and church participation of members in the LBGTQ community? Is there still a place for millennials who may never agree with our teaching on these (and other issues) in our churches? Are they in a “holding tank” for those who are “immature” or can they be truly honest and still serve as full members? Is faith in Jesus our litmus test for full participation or are we denominational first and Christian second?
    These things matter to me because I have 3 millennial children who are in relationships with Jesus that on the outside don’t measure up to what I was taught were the “image of Christ”. And frankly, I don’t want them to ever feel they are measuring up to what a church expects of them because then I’ll know they’ve exchanged their relationship with Jesus for the approval of their church.
    I know you work with kids and I’m curious as to how you walk the line between teaching which invites processing, evaluation and (perhaps) assent and indoctrination which requires blind obedience, often with the reminder that “it’s not us, but the Bible” that says this.
    The other question I ask is “Do I, myself, know the real Jesus?” Working with millenials who aren’t impressed with my talk so much as watching my walk, I need to have authenticity myself. Do we? Are we qualified to lead them? Are you asking us to own our inauthenticity?


    • Renée Embree · August 4, 2016

      Thanks so much for pondering this so deeply. It is not easy. The hope is Christian communities would be places of true belonging, even if people don’t believe what we believe or never believe what we believe. However, it needs to not only be respectful for those to share their doubts/struggles with Christianity it also needs to be respectful for those to share their belief/hope/certainty. Creating places of belonging, where it is safe to be real and even doubt, calls for authenticity, vulnerability and trust both ways. Yes, of course we hope experiencing belonging in Christian community leads to an encounter with Christ and believing in Christ. Even those of us who have, by the grace of God, come to believe in Christ, are still becoming more like Christ. We need this authenticity and safety in our becoming too. I hope you and your children discover places of true belonging. Thanks again for your engagement!


  2. Pingback: Availability and vulnerability | One Neighbourhood

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