The American Dream


How is the American Dream doing these days?

Among millennials, the results are interesting.

MSN reports that a study produced by Bank of the West found, “...Millennials (18-36) still view the American Dream as owning a home, paying off debt, and someday retiring from a fulfilling career. However, they've amended it a bit to include travel and pursuing their passions and living abroad. It's an American Dream that doesn't all take place in the U.S., and it requires significant capital to back up.”

Time Magazine adds another layer, reporting that a new study from the U. S. Census Bureau concluded, “A large majority of young Americans now believe education and economic accomplishments are extremely important parts of adulthood, and more than half — 55% — believe marrying and having children is not very important.”

The Census Bureau also found that an increased percentage of millennials now live at home with their parents, and that if researchers had one big conclusion concerning how adulthood has changed for young adults of today compared with those of forty years ago, it is that adulthood is becoming increasingly complex.

Research has also found that millennials who do get married are doing so later in life, and they are also waiting longer to have children. However, Pew Research has found that college-educated millennials are less likely to have changed jobs than Generation X workers were at a like stage, suggesting less transience and a greater desire to remain in one place and a desire to establish roots.

Millennials are delaying marriage, delaying children, are slightly less transient, value education, and want to make money. They also want to travel.

But is the American Dream equivalent to the Dream of God for the church, the dream of the Kingdom?

God’s Dream includes a compelling vision for our relationship to a place (a topic Jen Pollock Michel profoundly explored in “Home”),  family, and our stewardship of resources. God calls us to love our neighbors, and our neighborhood. God calls some to marriage, which is meant for more than financial security or romantic fulfillment. God uses the bonds of matrimony to teach us about sacrificial, covenant love. And God calls all people to generosity and wise stewardship of money. While travel may be exciting, it is a luxury. God may call us to utilize our travel budgets to instead help a person in need.

How do we move forward?

First, church leaders will have to make the case for marriage and family. There are several reasons millennials are delaying marriage and children. One is the perceived (and very real) cost. But there is also the fear of divorce, and perhaps the scars of an unhealthy family dynamic they are worried they might replicate. The dominant paradigm for marriage is driven largely by representations of romance given in popular media, which can be countered by church teachings concerning both the beauty and the power of sacrificial, covenant love. And children are seen more as responsibilities than gifts. Your congregation will need to give testimony to the goods of marriage and children, but also to teach and convince millennials that the pursuit of these goods is worthwhile.

Second, you’ll have to address financial stewardship, and the immense good that can result from a life of generosity. Millennials desire home ownership and an ability to travel. They also value education, likely because of its correlation with employment. Millennials will need assistance in stewarding the resources they do have toward achieving these goals. But church leaders also have an opportunity to challenge millennials to think creatively concerning how they might bless others with their earnings through generosity, or to discover ways to enrich themselves culturally through engagement with their communities. Travel is not always required to enrich oneself culturally, as many of our communities are multi-ethnic and culturally diverse, especially in our urban centers.

The research is telling: millennials differ from preceding generations, and in several important and significant ways. Talk to the millennials in your congregation. If there are none, ask parents or grandparents if they would help you set up a coffee with a family member who is a millennial. If you want to connect with--and minister to--those in younger generations, find out what they are longing for and discern how the gospel connects. Research studies are a start, but speaking directly to millennials is even better.

If adulthood is becoming increasingly complex, we need those like the Sons of Issachar, people who understand the times and know what to do. The first step in helping millennials is understanding them, and the best way to gain understanding is through asking questions, making friendships, and listening carefully to what they are telling us. With God’s help, we can walk alongside millennials as they discover the Dream of God that is ours together in Christ.

They may even trade in the American Dream for the Dream of the Kingdom.