Dealing with Millennial Volunteers
Our human brains love to categorize things. We are drawn toward symmetry. Our brains, just like our bodies, are fighting for a type of mental homeostasis. When we encounter things that don’t make sense or don’t seem to fit, our brains try hard to shove them into existing categories. These predefined classifications help us understand quickly how to act or react, what to say, or what to think. Most of the time, these help us function more efficiently. They are nothing more than easy categories that help us define our behavior without expending too much energy.
However, this is one major reason why racism and prejudice still exist, because we are wired to take the path of least resistance. It takes a lot of energy to create a new category or accept the fact that people can’t completely be stereotyped, so we don’t. And that is where we get into trouble.
Being born in 1980 puts me in a very interesting position. I am right on the line between the generations of Gen-X and Millennial. I tend to relate to both groups, but I definitely lean toward a more Millennial worldview. The Pew Research Center has conducted a vast amount of research over the past few years specifically focused on Millennials, and the results are fascinating. We are a large and complex generation. The things that motivate us differ from previous generations and often seem mysterious. We are non-conformists to the core. The way we view success and the world around us is broad and varied. This makes the task of leading Millennials complicated at best.
Leading Millennials is a task that defies categorization and this is where the challenge begins.
I recently had a conversation about Millennials with a prominent pastor in our city who is a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964). He talked of the entitlement of this generation and his own personal frustrations with staff members. In the end, he was dismissive of Millennials as a whole. He concluded, “This generation is full of entitlement. If they aren’t willing to work, there’s another generation coming right after them that is hungry and ready to take their place.” This is a tragic mindset from a seasoned leader, but not an unfamiliar stereotype for Millennials.
The Millennial Leadership Challenge
This is my challenge to you as you lead Millennial staff and volunteers. Let’s stop stereotyping and marginalizing this generation. In our positions of leadership and in our churches, we should choose to stop using the word “entitled” when referring to Millennials. It is a negative stereotype that gets us nowhere.
Because Millennials are difficult to understand, it is natural to try and categorize them. Resist the temptation to stereotype them and instead seek understanding. Your willingness to get out of your comfort zone of leadership could unlock the power and potential of the Millennial in your organization. These are the sheep God has given you to lead. Don’t waste time and energy wishing for a better flock.
Begin With Trust
The Pew Center research found that Millennials are less trusting of others than older Americans are (19% compared to 31% Gen Xers and 40% Boomers). So how do you lead them well? Begin by building trust. Part of the reason they are distrusting is because they have been labeled and looked down upon since they were young.
How do you build trust with them? Start speaking life into them. See the potential in them and speak truth into their lives. Millennials crave authenticity, so tell them your story and learn about theirs. Learn how to leverage their non-conformity to help you think outside the box. Take a deep look into each of these young leaders and find what drives them or what makes them unique. Then figure out how to use those traits to benefit the organization.
Is it challenging? Absolutely. Is there also potential for great reward? You better believe it. Choose to believe in this potential. After all, you can’t lead people to any place worth going if you don’t first believe in them.
Millennials are not a throwaway generation. God has uniquely wired them to be the next generation of leaders. Let’s take it upon ourselves to develop and shepherd them. They are the least religious generation statistically, but those who do choose to be involved are more likely to be deeply committed. That commitment is valuable.
Millennials have the right mix of passion and non-conformity to break new ground and accomplish incredible things for the Kingdom in the coming decades. If they are to reach that potential, though, they need leaders who are committed to them—committed to doing the hard work of recognizing their strengths and calling up maturity and great leadership within them. Be that leader who is willing to build trust with them and lead them well.
What is your experience with leading Millennials? I would love to hear your stories of both successes and failures. Please share in the comments below.