At our last Directors’ Council, we looked at how we can better incorporate the generation called “Millennials” or Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 2000) into our mission. Dr. Jim Raymo, assistant professor at Northwestern College, and former US Director for WEC International presented his research on this topic. For us Boomers, this generation is the age of our children, but almost all of our areas now have a significant percentage of members from this generation.

We have every reason to be excited about the potential these young people bring to our mission, but we also recognize that there are significant differences in the way they (some of you) think. A great resource to understand this generation and their contribution to missions is a free Mission Exchange webinar entitled “Reset with this Student Generation: Engaging Millennials in Missions.”

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Successfully incorporating millennials into our mission means that we will have to be ready to make some changes in the way we do things, particularly in our offices and on our teams.  We may feel uncomfortable with their lack of respect for our established procedures and policies, and think that they need to put in their time before they have earned the right to question and lead (like we did).

A quick summary of some challenges and recommendations for welcoming millennials on to our teams can be found in David Mays’ book review of the book, The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace by Lancaster and Stillman.   A couple of sentences in particular resonated with one of our millennials in our mission:

Many have not learned tact or company etiquette so their straightforward questions often seem offensive. Talk it out. Show respect – both ways. If they are badgering you for feedback, advice, or input, consider it as eagerness, a desire for engagement.

Joshua Javery, one of our newest missionaries headed to Poland, commented:

I laughed when I read this. So TRUE! ‘Tact’ can be seen as a form of dishonesty to people of my generation. The Y-generation prefers direct communication.  Even critique is welcomed when done within a secure, positive relationship. We want to know where we stand; we want feedback and reinforcement. We are quicker to ask questions than older generations because we want to be proficient and work within the bounds set. I have seen questions taken so often as an attack  in organizations. The assumption that questioning is an undermining is completely an assumption of the older generations. I was taught to be constantly evaluating any situation in which I am and to be an active agent in its direction.  

Further, collaboration and teaming is essential. The biggest turn-off to a person my age looking to join a organization is the lack of team spirit or what we see as a genuine relationship among it’s current members. A distant ‘respectful’ environment can be a culture clash when a new missionary starts off with SEND and more importantly a deterrent when one approaches SEND at the beginning. I can almost guarantee that the personal connection a prospective SEND missionary has with another missionary or group of SEND members is the key to them pursuing or not pursuing SEND — and continuing to pursue SEND through departure and beyond (i.e. retention).

Well said, Joshua!  I am glad you ended your email with “I LOVE SEND!”   I am thankful that you are able to look beyond our “organizational culture” or “office culture”, and are confident enough in our willingness to listen to let us know what you think.   I would like to think that your generation’s questions and insistence on genuine and transparent teaming relationships would always be welcome in SEND.  I am enough of a realist to recognize that I and my Boomer colleagues may not always be totally comfortable with these questions and this transparency.   But that is a direction that I want to go, and I want my mission organization to do the same — not only so that we can add millennials to our teams, but because greater openness and transparency will prevent complacency and encourage ongoing growth.