Millennials and the future Asian church

Director of Asian Centre for Christianity, Head of Ministry and Practice, Lecturer in Ministry and Mission

In his provocative book, The Future is Asian (2019), Parag Khanna argues that while the nineteenth century could be characterised as the ‘European’ century, and the twentieth century the ‘American’ century, the twenty first century will be shown to have been the ‘Asian’ century. He notes that Asia represents half of the world’s GDP, has several of the world’s largest economies, more than half of the world’s population, many of the largest banks and technology companies, and, the majority of the world’s megacities. What Khanna could have added is that not only is the future Asian politically and economically, but also in regards Christianity. In the past 100 years, the percentage of Christians in Europe has more than halved, dropping from 66% to 26%, while the number in Asia-Pacific has almost tripled from 4.5% to 13%.
 If the future is increasingly Asian, then the future of the church lies in the hands of Asian millennials – those currently aged in their 20’s and 30’s– as they are the future leaders, decision-makers and financial supporters of the Asian Church. Let me share some brief thoughts from what I gleaned from Asian millennials themselves while in Singapore in August on what they are like and what are they looking for in a church.

Millennials are the first generation that has grown up with technology and the internet. They are EPIC (experiential, participatory, image-rich, connected). They tend to look for instant gratification and don’t like to wait (so order in food rather than cook; use Spotify rather than wait for a particular song on the radio). Compared to their parent’s, millennials are more ambitious, experiential, and have a greater risk appetite. They don’t like being told what to do. Rather, they want to be told the goal/ destination and they will work out how to get there.

They are characterised as having a need for approval from others, a sense of entitlement, easily distracted, self-obsessed (the ‘selfie’ generation). They are also often characterised as ‘snowflakes’ (fragile), ‘bananas’ (bruise easily), and strawberries (bruised without contact) who act like young, reckless teenagers. But the reality is that many millennials are post-university, married, and stable. Not only that, but soon they will be the largest working generation, adult generation, and voting generation.

There are a number of key things that millennials are looking for in a church. Most significantly they are looking for authenticity – for the message and ministry of the church to be aligned. They also want to be in a church where people care, and where they can share about their lives. They like their pastor following them on Instagram, Twitter, and making comments about them online. They want to be part of a vision and are prepared to do so sacrificially. They also want to be known −for the church leaders to show interest in them and their families – not just asking them to do jobs in the church.

We are living in the Asian century. God is at work growing his church in places like China, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Mongolia, and Taiwan. The future leaders of the Asian church − the millennials − are looking for authenticity and opportunities to serve sacrificially and really make a difference. What part might you be able to play to help make this a reality?

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