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Dealing with Millennial Volunteers

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.

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.

Let’s stop stereotyping and marginalizing this generation.

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.

Millennials crave authenticity, so tell them your story and learn about theirs.

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.

Commit

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 are not a throwaway generation. God has uniquely wired them to be the next generation of leaders.

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.

(For more research on Millennials.)

About The Author

Aubrey McGowan

Aubrey served for twelves years on staff at one of the largest and fastest growing churches in America. Now he speaks to pastors, Christian business leaders and their teams teaching them how to cultivate a culture of trust that eliminates disunity and frees them to pour greater resources into their mission. Visit AubreyMcGowan.com for more info.

2 Comments

  1. Terri

    I’d suggest that everyone drop the labels that you refer too. There are and always have been non- conformists, non trusting, uniquely passionate people in every generation. In our small town the younger people are a huge asset to our church and very active. I’d suggest we not focus so much on putting up fences with a label but focus on nurturing and relationship. We’re all in this journey together.

    Reply
  2. Lynn

    Your comment, “Part of the reason they are distrusting is because they have been labeled and looked down upon since they were young,” seems purely editorial, especially when I read the research to which you refer. And, if it is true, certainly does not excuse any millennial from following through or being dedicated to ministry.
    Our experience, not prejudice, with millennials in staff and volunteer positions has been largely frustrating. When dealt with individually (not labeling, not stereotyping), most of them have demonstrated enormous potential, but by their actions, an unwillingness to buckle down and do the hard work involved in ministry. We have some exceptions to rule, and they shine amongst their peers – what distinguishes them is their ability to take action and actually follow through, not just talk. The true test of anyone in ministry, staff or volunteer, is their willingness to submit to Christ’s will and leadership’s authority, and through their actions, live out what they profess to believe.

    Reply

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