Avoid Condescension In Outreach To Millennials and Gen Zers

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Words have power, and how we use words is vital in reaching out to Millennials and Gen Zers. We’re called to use our words well, which means we should never speak condescendingly. Never.

Here is an example of what not to do. The Lexington Legends, a minor league baseball affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, decided to host a “Millennial Night” at the ballpark. After offering Millennials a compliment, the team’s press release fires this zinger: “Instead of Occupying Wall Street, Millennials are invited to Occupy Whitaker Bank Ballpark.”

There’s more: “Upon entering the gates, fans can expect to receive a participation ribbon for showing up. We know it's a big feat to leave the safe confines of your home with Netflix beaconing [sic] you to stay on the couch, so the Legends are ready to congratulate fans on their accomplishment, even if they are still in sweatpants.”

The press release takes other swipes at Millennials, with references to avocado toast, naps, ride sharing and selfies.

The blowback was negative. Team officials were surprised. They shared that it was Millennials on their staff who pitched the idea.

But they should’ve seen this coming. Comedians and late night talk show hosts can get away with these kinds of jokes, but organizations cannot. Churches, especially, cannot, for even if we fail to always live up to our highest ideals of loving God and neighbor, the ideals are nonetheless public facts, and both insiders and outsiders are right to ask if we practice what we preach.

Sadly, churches and church leaders can be guilty of speaking negatively about emerging generations. We can perpetuate false stereotypes, and sometimes we do so without carefully considering all the facts. Like the Lexington Legends, our attempts at humor can fail miserably.

We need a different way of speaking with and to Millennials and Gen Zers. Colossians 4:5-6 reminds us, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

As a church leader, I’ve been researching Millennials and Generation Z for years while also working in ministry alongside them. I’ve sought to understand emerging generations personally, and I’ve also looked to other ventures for ways to communicate broadly and effectively. I’ve tried to stay on top of trends, interests, memes, and culture. Why? I want to connect.

Proverbs 15:4 says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” Matthew 12:36 warns, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken,” and Proverbs 15:1 wisely instructs, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Churches should use their words to bless and not curse, to invite, welcome, encourage, and instruct. There’s a place for correction and rebuke, but this should never be done condescendingly. The highest law that should guide our speech is that of love. Always.