An Alternative to the Generational Label?
The term “millennial” refers to those born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s, and church leaders have been searching for ways to connect with this generation, who are largely religiously unaffiliated though open to spiritual conversations and experiences. The most common strategies have involved a form of contemporary worship, social justice initiatives, and artisanal coffee.
In order to understand millennials, we’ve set parameters, conducted research, and identified common themes. Then, we’ve tried to create a space for millennials, utilizing growth strategies based on target groups and homogeneity. But there is a problem: not all millennials fit the predominant narratives of their generation, and not all churches have the necessary resources or critical mass necessary to create generation specific ministries.
One solution to this problem has been to coin a new term, “Perennials.” Baptist News Global reports that some churches are being advised to do away with references to millennials altogether as a way to avoid generational stereotypes and to establish a cross-generational common ground for ministry.
The term “Perennial” was coined by blogger Gina Pell. Perennials are “ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages.” Pell wants to avoid the negative stereotyping that so often dominates descriptions of millennials and to create a new way of speaking about a group of people without relying on age-based demographics.
Church and clergy consultant George Bullard picked up on this term as a means for opening the scope of ministry involvement to people of all generations. Rather than narrowing an initiative to one particular age group, Bullard encourages churches to identify initiatives that people across generations can be passionately engaged with, such as hands-on ministry efforts like Habitat for Humanity. Members of older and younger generations are interested in serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. Rather than describing a ministry effort for “seniors” or “millennials,” church leaders can call “Perennials” to join together in doing good.
Like Pell, I am no fan of stereotypes. Labels can be used to divide, and when we speak in generalities we do not always remind our hearers that there are exceptions, unique individuals who do not fit the mold. However, there are generation specific needs and concerns that must be addressed. Labels can be used to increase understanding. Generational labels are still of use, even in light of the dangers.
But Pell and Bullard are right to encourage us to find ways to connect people across generations in common initiatives. Serving together can be mutually transforming and can strengthen the body of Christ. Further, this kind of thinking can be helpful for smaller congregations, who may not have the size or resources to launch generation specific ministries, but who are in need of a language that can help those of different ages connect with one another.
The label “Perennial” may be limited, but the idea behind it, that there are common traits across generations that unite us, is one church leaders would be wise to keep in mind.