The Parental Factor

The research we gathered for The Millennials showed that Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are strongly connected to their parents. We cited how important family is to this generation. Indeed there is not a close second in importance. Family was deemed really important in life by 61 percent of the Millennials. The second most important factor was friends, at only 25 percent.


Again, once we delve into all the family matters, the relationship between parents and Millennials is nothing less than remarkable. More than one-half (51 percent) of the generation says that their parents have a strongly positive influence on their lives. Another 37 percent say the influence is somewhat positive. The remainder of the Millennials say that parents have no influence (9 percent) or negative influence (3 percent).

Let’s summarize these astounding statistics once more. Nearly nine out of ten (88 percent) of the Millennials look to their parents as a positive influence, and only 3 percent view the parents negatively. Also, 85 percent of the Millennials look to their parents as their primary source of advice and guidance.

These numbers are important for two main reasons. First, I want to remind you of the powerful influence of parents on this generation. Second, we need to see how this influence affects Millennials in matters of faith and religion.

In the subjective portion of our study, we noticed an interesting and significant trend. Millennials tend to follow the examples of their parents in matters of faith, but they also tend to take the level of commitment one step further. For example, a Millennial with parents who were nominal Christians is likely to divorce himself or herself altogether from Christianity and churches. But a Millennial whose parents demonstrated some fervency in their Christian faith is likely to become even more fervent.

The bottom line is that most Millennials will not be lukewarm in their Christian faith. Most of them have made the decision not to embrace Christianity and to be forthright about their beliefs. Again, for them religion is not a major issue as it was with their parents. Many of their parents at least affirmed some low level of Christian commitment. The Millennial children no longer will play that game. The vast majority is declaring that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is not high on their list of priorities.

Many consider themselves to be theistic, believing in one god. But they have not embraced the Christian faith, and they view religion in general to be relatively unimportant in their lives.

There is, however, another perspective to the parental influence of the Christian faith on Millennials. In most cases where the parents showed true commitment to Christ and to their local church, their children have embraced that faith for themselves. But like those who turned away, who took their parents’ nominal commitment one step further, a few Millennials will take a true commitment one step further to a fervent commitment. These Millennials will likely be few in number but may very well demonstrate the greatest Christian commitment of any generation in America’s history.

These Millennials are the hope for the American church and for Christianity in America.

While I would not suggest the present-day Millennial Generation is preparing for another experience of Pentecost, I do see some parallels worth noting.

First, the Millennial Christians are relatively few in number. Again, I am reticent to estimate with any claim of precision, but I have suggested the number of Christians in this generation is 15 percent of their total. In round numbers, let’s just say there are twelve million Millennial Christians.

You’re right. Twelve million is a lot more than the 120 of the early church at Pentecost. But in the context of 300 million U.S. residents or a world population of nearly seven billion, the number is small.

But what I learned about this relatively small number of Millennial Christians is that they are passionate about their faith. They have no patience for business as usual. They see the urgent need to share the gospel and to start new churches. And they will not wait on tired, established churches to get the work done.

Though some of their fervency may need some wise guidance, the Millennial Christians have a burning fire within them that can revolutionize churches to make a kingdom difference. How will churches in America respond? Will they embrace the energy and zeal of the Millennials, or will they disregard this generation and force these young people to venues of ministry beyond existing churches?

What will it take for churches today to embrace the Millennials and to capture their passion for reaching their neighborhoods and for reaching the nations? What will it take for churches to reach the rest of the nearly seventy-eight million Millennials who are not Christians? I know that the statistics on the American church are dismal and have been so for nearly half a century.

I see the presence of the Millennial Generation as a great opportunity offering much hope for the coming years. But the American church cannot do business as usual. Many changes are sorely needed.

Yet there is indeed hope.

How has your church engaged Millennial Chrisitans? What can you do better to reach them? What might you be doing currently that turns them off?

Adapted from The Millennials (2011, Broadman & Holman Publishing Group)


  1. Scott Bradley says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for addressing this age group. I am seeing some of what you are talking about as I serve our young adults through Bible teaching on Wednesday nights at The Glade Church in Gladeville, TN.
    We have fired up young people and we have those that are just fringe. I even see it in my own children: three daughters who have, in many cases, out-served us as parents in the midst of our own service in the church and in the world.
    Another thing that I’ve noticed is the things that our young adults find acceptable with regard to moral purity compared to what we grew up with and have tried to teach them. From language to sexuality, there is a breaking down of the convictions that we’ve adhered to.
    Where I grew up with (and tried to teach) a love for sinners and hatred for sin, there seems to now be an equating of the hatred for sin with a hatred for sinners. It seems to come across to Millennials see hatred for sin as judgmental. If you speak out against sin you have judged sinners. I’m finding this a strong challenge to overcome with our young adults.
    Thankfully, there has been an increasing interest in this age group in our church. I look forward to the impact that they will have on our aging generation.
    Thanks, again, for sharing.
    Scott Bradley

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