Why Study Generational Cohorts Like Millennials


Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, recently conversed with Dr. Jolene Erlacher, founder of Leading Tomorrow, an organization that “exists to equip a new generation of leaders, resource and inform experienced leaders, and develop inter-generational teams for influential and effective service in a rapidly changing culture.”

You can find audio from their conversation here. Anderson and Erlacher explored the challenges faced by Millennials, how they compare to other generations, and how they view the world. They also offered reasons why we should study generational cohorts, using Millennials as a prime example.

Erlacher says we should study and talk about Millennials because of the size of their generational cohort. As the largest generation in America, understanding them is a major key to connecting with your community at large. But that isn’t the only reason she cites. She adds two reasons:

Another thing that we see with generational cohorts as we look throughout history is that you tend to have a dominant generation and then a less dominant generation followed by a more dominant generation. So there’s kind of this ebb and flow or pendulum swing. Howe and Strauss talk about this a lot in their generational studies. So really Xers and now Generation Z, who is the younger generation, are more of the non-dominant or less dominant generations whereas Boomers and Millennials are more dominant. That’s one of the reasons.

The other thing that I think is so key for us to understand with Millennials — why Millennials really do merit the attention they get — is because our society in the last several decades, starting really with the ‘60s and ‘70s, has undergone massive cultural shifts. When we look at the scope of history, we see that every couple hundred years in a society or civilization, there’s massive cultural upheaval. If we go back a couple hundred years, we have things like the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, which propelled us out of an agrarian society into an industrial or urban society. A couple hundred years before that we had the European Renaissance, which propelled us out of the Middle Ages into the Modern Era. So we see this trend that every couple hundred years, there’s massive cultural upheaval that reorders the whole way that a society functions. Right now with Postmodernism and a lot of other things related to that, we’ve seen a massive shift in how our society functions and how we view things and our worldviews and values.

In Acts 17:16-34 we read about Paul in the city of Athens. Paul’s concern for the Athenians is born of his study and understanding of their city, culture, literature, and religious outlook. We are told that Paul first walks around the city and finds that it is full of idols. He uses one of their statues, dedicated “to an unknown god” as a springboard for his sermonic discourse. While some reject Paul and his message, others are compelled and asked that he come and speak to them again. Some even believe.

It is the same today. We study and talk about generational cohorts because it is one way to understand our neighbors, find points of connection, and invite them into life with God through Jesus.