Millennials are a hot topic right now.

Leadership expert, Simon Sinek’s video “Millennials in the workplace” has 7.8 million views on YouTube.

You either hear praise of their innovative and entrepreneurial skills, or of their poor work ethic and entitled attitude.

Both I think are right to some degree. But overall I think that millennials receive a bad wrap. While there are some glaring weaknesses, they have grown up in a unique world that has developed unique skills and perspectives.

I have worked extensively with millennials. I led a large young adult ministry for 4 years. Our mission was to engage and disciple millennials. I was surrounded by them – almost 200 every Sunday night! I now lead a staff team that has 18 millennials on it. This means that over 50% of our staff team were born between 1982-2002.

To add to all of this: I am a millennial myself.

So I get them. I am one. I lead them. I listen to them. I work with them. I am passionate about them. I believe in them.

So as I have been leading millennials, here is how to lead them well: 

  1. Give them flexibility with their schedules

Gone are the days of the stereotypical 9-5 church job. Varying weekly schedules (youth nights, different service schedules) don’t allow a blanket expectation that you are to be shackled to a desk. In my experience, millennials value flexibility over wage.

Don’t get me wrong, we are clear about 40+ hour work weeks and ask that all staff are working hard and passionately in their area. But in the midst of all different types of schedules, flexibility is key.

Instead of bringing out the handcuffs and policy manual, you need to be flexible with millennials. Understand their weekly schedule and rhythm and make their schedule fit into it.

I hear the pushback: won’t this allow them to take advantage of the arrangement and work less than they should?

I would argue that if you are worried about a staff member working as little as possible and taking advantage of your generosity, you need to re-visit your hiring process as they shouldn’t be on your team in the first place.

  1. Give them a voice and influence

When I started working at my church, it took all of 2 weeks to have the ear of my Lead Pastor. I was a new and I had a desire to influence, to be listened to and built into. His availability and initiative started an amazing mentorship. He took time to listen and coach me and has had the most impact on my ministry and leadership than anyone else.

I have been able to model this to the young leaders on our team. There is space on virtually every team for millennials. I have fought to give them opportunities to lead the wider team (not just their ministry) and influence the direction of our church. This means that they have spoken to our vision, strategic plan, new hires, capital projects, and church-wide events.

Of course, the foundation of all of this is trust. Tasha, a millennial leader on our staff team said, “For me to flourish in a church leadership role I need trust from older leadership.” It’s pretty simple.

If you desire to attract millennials to your church, you must get millennials to lead at all levels in your church.

  1. Give them clear boundaries 

I know this is leadership 101, but you have to be reminded about this again. The source of almost all resentment in church staff situations is unclear expectations. So how do you fight against this resentment? Clear expectations. This is important with every person on your team but is most important to this generation.

I have found that if you are explicitly clear with millennials they are a joy to work with. As long as they know the parameters of the sandbox you have asked them to work and play in, they will flourish and so will your church.

  1. Give them space to dream 

Last winter one of our millennial leaders approached me with an idea to host an outdoor church service. Our city had just built a new amphitheater – a perfect place for a few thousand people to gather. I was skeptical but heard him out and gave him some things to do and research.

The long story short: Church at the Lake was one of the best attended and momentum gaining events in recent memory for CA Church. We had over 2000 people attend, 5 people accept Jesus as Lord and baptized 6 people. This would never have happened if I would have rolled my eyes, lead with fear and stonewalled the idea by putting up red tape. There are young leaders in your church who have equally as crazy (and effective) ideas.

They just need to be asked and empowered.

  1. Give them an engaging culture to work in 

I admit it –  you very well could exchange “engaging” with “fun” but I didn’t want to perpetuate the millennial stereotype.

But let’s just say you had the option to work at Church A: known for it’s demanding and stagnant environment. Or at Church B: known for its fun, engaging and forward-thinking culture. Which one would you pick? It seems clear to me.

What this has meant for our team is that we work together, but also play together. We intentionally craft engaging environments and activities for our team to experience both during work hours and after hour events. This builds unity, clarity, and momentum for the team and for the mission as we work together.

This is one of the reasons why we have obtained a “Best Christian Workplaces” status from the Best Christian Workplaces Institute two years in a row.

A great question to ask yourself: would you want to work at your church? If not, then maybe some changes are needed.

So what? 

The first step forward is to change the (your) narrative around millennials. Of course, there are complaints – remember 50% of our staff are millennials – but you would be better served to engage, equip and develop these leaders.

They are the leaders who will take over the Church next, so let’s do whatever we can to lead them well.