From an era that could be considered the start of the fourth Industrial Revolution (1980-2000), millennials now find themselves as adults entering the workforce, as well as volunteering. This is the generation that has been born into using personal computers, the internet and iPhones as everyday objects and necessities.
Differences from their era, and how they see the world, paired with their priorities and expectations, can seem unorthodox to some. How they do so might even be viewed as problematic, and self-serving at times, by those of prior generations, who are still wrapping their head around how fast ideas and innovation can be the driving force behind movements. We can look to Twitter, Instagram and crowdsourcing as examples.
If older generations better understood millennial challenges - those that almost no other past generation has experienced - such as finding employment among the most educated workforce in history, massive student debt, high levels of anxiety, stress and depression, as well as a tendency to marry or own a home later in life - the motivations of millennials might be more easily understood. Whereby the disconnect in expectations, rooted in change of norms, might be more easily overcome.
Diversity and change are hard, especially as we get older and change becomes tougher to accept. Understanding the millennial generation is no different.
Many of us were taught to automate behavior by command - obey, comply, fit in, walk single file, sit down, be quiet. This isn’t how most millennials were brought up.
This generation was taught to think differently, to challenge the norm, to take a stand, to become active and engaged in what they believe in. They are a generation that continually seeks out and adjusts to learning new technology. As a whole, they adjust their thinking as new ideas come to light.
This generation colors outside the lines.
For this reason, it is important for them to volunteer, and why they may need a more personal experience, especially if they have worked in an agile adaptive culture.
Millennial motivations to volunteer are typically more focused toward their goals. This era is more intentional about their life, future and the choices they make, particularly when thinking about creating a better future for those generations after them. As a result, it may appear that they think about themselves more, but it may be their prioritization and organization that makes it look that way.
When the right opportunity presents itself, they will be more likely join in and stick with it.
To some, such behavior by millennials might include showing up super casual in shorts to church, preferring texting to email or phone calls, and having to show them upfront the real impact by volunteering for a cause that they care about makes, before they commit to volunteer. This is the generation that needs to break things apart, to see how they were built.
Dealing with these differences while working with millennials is actually a great way for one to be challenged and grow as a leader.
How do you continue to learn if you refuse to engage with those that are different from you?
As leaders, we value each and every volunteer and strive to make every volunteer feel valued in the ministry. We need to understand those that communicate and work different from us, and we need to figure out ways to translate that to our team, such as showing the team how their skills complement each other.
In the end, you as the lead should be the model of good leadership and show others how to respond to those differences, even if that means helping volunteers to come up with the actual words to say in response.
Above all, we need to be kind and generous especially with complements and gratitude.
The most important piece, though, is managing expectations by educating others. Other aspects that cannot be ignored might be tolerance or grace and to remember that “you never know what is going on in the background in people’s lives.”
It all starts with leadership, and leadership has changed.
As a lead, it can sometimes feel that these more personal interactions are more work than you have time for, but as leadership changes, so must the work you do.
Make sure that the larger church management team understands this as well, to better understand that the scope of the ministry leader’s job has grown, because of the need to personalize more interactions with volunteers.
1) Be casual, approachable and friendly, while delivering personal attention in telling them a story of your call to action, and why you need them as a volunteer. A tour of your ministry location, equipment and usage is always helpful.
2) Explain why what you are working toward is an important endeavor. Millennials want to know how much they should actually care about, what others are so insistent upon believing.
3) Show them specifics of how volunteering will help impact their community, promote good and make an impact for a cause they care about, so they understand what they will achieve.
4) They also want to know what this can teach them, i.e., technical skills, team building, goal setting, and problem-solving skills.
5) They need to see and feel impressed with actions and service that are happening and feel they could make a difference. Resources for millennials such as money to donate might be slim, so volunteering for a cause is a perfect opportunity for them to contribute.
6) If a volunteer shows interest, and is curious, consider encouraging them by asking questions such as, “Can you see yourself doing this work?” If this is met with positivity, this might be the opportunity to ask them to join the ministry.
1) Support and inspire, especially those that are tentative or have little skill. You may suggest a training session or shadowing someone, until they are comfortable. At some point, you might need to become a cheerleader, for example, saying something like, “I think you got this. Don’t worry about making a mistake, I’ll be here if you need me.”
2) Continue to be purposeful in helping volunteers find a reason they can connect to their community or cause, by helping your team.
3) As a lead, every volunteer should know you are supporting them and walking with them, to make their efforts a success, even if the volunteer is challenging. Help them understand that you welcome challenges and that challenges help us grow.
4) As a ministry lead, you might find you need to be flexible with the schedule and their hours. You may be competing for other causes that millennials are interested in.
5) Some millennials need to know exactly how they will reach their goals in volunteering. As the lead, you may need to sit with them and help coach/mentor them to get to their immediate goal as a volunteer.
6) Millennials like to be appreciated and feel part of the team. Make sure to inspire this attitude and help team members communicate this to each other.
7) When possible, remember to personalize messages, i.e., emails, newsletters, and such, to be unique and different when you can, and let them be unique and different as well.
8) If after all this, a volunteer doesn’t show energy or enthusiasm, they might just not have the desire or intentionality they thought they would for this ministry. You may be left to suggest that those people try other ministries that might be a better fit.
1) Think about how you are exciting and motivating millennials. Perhaps there are other methods you can try, that might appeal to more volunteers?
2) Sometimes it is by connecting the dots for people and helping them organize and prioritize that works best in retaining volunteers.
3) Millennials value authenticity.
4) Find ways to keep them learning and growing. Incentivize with training sessions that will bring them more skills they can use professionally. Bringing in experts to teach or answer questions might bring new insights and be helpful. Explain how the skills they learn with your ministry have a purpose and help build skills they will use in their workplace.
5) Ask pastors and other church staff and laity to stop by and say a word of appreciation with enthusiasm to your volunteers. Again, millennials need to feel they are making a difference, to go along with being recognized for their efforts.
Most successful ministry leads learn to engage in differences. When we work together across generations, cultures and needs, we get the best of all our knowledge and skills and grow a stronger team.
The way the work gets done might change, but the quality and end result will improve in tandem.