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Millennials and Marriage: pt 3, some hope

In the continuing conversation about Millennials and Marriage, too often the soundtrack is one of negativity and diminishing expectations. This leads older generations to think poorly of the succeeding generations. Of course this seems to always be the case.

However, with Millennials there is some hope in how they are approaching the topic of marriage. Though the data is thin on some of these points there are some positive takeaways for churches and ministry leaders that will hopefully be of encouragement.

As we’ve previously discussed, finding the data behind on Millennials is a difficult task. We also must acknowledge that there is a changing cultural landscape taking place underneath Millennials Marriage Hopeour feet. For Millennials, marriage will be approached differently, but that doesn’t mean they devalue marriage or will never be married. It simply means it will look different.

In fact, and this is the most important statistic available, 70% of Millennials want to get married.

Though that might be lower historically than other generations it is still an important statistic. For a generation that is the largest, most diverse, and most affected by divorce rates, Millennials are still, largely, optimistic about some key life issues.

Maybe they don’t care much for compartmentalization of politics, or for justifying class warfare, or even seeking out “traditional” forms of anything. Millennials do still care for some basic life issues. Notice that poll from Pew, Millennials still desire, by and large, to get married and, even more, to have children (74%.) Perhaps this is a good starting point.

Also, the delay of marriage signals that Millennials are careful about their commitment to another person for marriage.

marriage educationIt is often seen, by older generations, that delaying marriage is a bad thing, however for many Millennials it is due, in part, to a desire to find a suitable mate. Coupling this will continuing education, indebtedness, unemployment or underemployment, and the desire to fulfill some life goals (hiking Europe, digging water wells in Africa, seeing the world) before marriage add to this delay. Cohabitation is also part of this, though I would still argue the negatives outweigh the benefits long term. Yet all these factors

Millennials desire a truly egalitarian relationship between spouses.

While older generations still idealize June and Ward Cleaver, even though they didn’t exist for the vast majority of Americans, Millennials desire equality between the spouses. This means that decision making is not autocratic but communal. Both spouses are valued in the marriage and have a voice. Now, how Millennials work out spiritual leadership or even final decisions is not data that is available. The initial indications are that while both spouses are fairly independent, they do have more desire to come together and collaborate in decision making for many family issues.

With a growing egalitarianism, regardless of your view, there is something which needs to be egalitarian marriagepointed out about education. Right now female Millennials are 33% more likely to graduate college than their male peers. We are seeing a social shift where women are more finishing school on time and entering the workforce at a higher rate than men. Soon enough “Fair Pay” issues won’t be discussed because the women with the degrees and credential will be running the place more than men. (Surely there are other factors here but allow me this point.) It also means that women are now “marrying down” and having trouble finding suitable men. This is a significant moment of opportunity for churches and ministries with the guts, and credibility, to do something about it.

The Pew poll which is adding much of these conclusions does provide a helpful comparisons to Gen Xers. Between these two groups there are some noticeable trends that should be carefully weighed. If we were to compare these trends to Boomers and Busters, then we would certainly see wider gaps.

Our hope in working with Millennials and Marriage still should be something that sparks us towards innovation and re-engagement rather than distance. For our next, and final discussion, we’ll take a look at some ways we can do both of these in light of the data, the changing landscape, and the hope that exists. 

03
Apr 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: a changing landscape

After starting the discussion about Millennials and Marriage with a view of the data, perhaps a good second step would be to consider some primary issues affecting how Millennials are viewing and experiencing marriage.

Driving the conversation about Millennials and marriage are two issues which must be handsrecognized at the beginning of any discussion, especially by older generations:

  • Almost near universality of sexual experience prior to marriage by Millennials in America
  • The explosion of cohabitation among Millennials

 

These two factors are influencing the understanding and experience of marriage that Millennials will have and are part of any realistic conversation. On the first point, it is reasonable to assert that 90% of Millennials will have sex prior to marriage, whether in a previous relationship or the existing relationship. Christian Millennials have no notable difference than their secular counterparts in this area.  So how does this compare with previous generation? One study has pointed out that premarital sex rates have always been high since the 1920s. In fact, as USAToday reported in 2006 (which is still accurate for historical numbers), the rate of premarital sex has been steadily rising since the post World War II times. Of course this surveys all races. The challenge for Christianity in the later half of the 20th century is that it primarily understands itself as white, middle class, educated Americans. When considering trends in that socio-economic class, the rates look entirely different than other classes and races. One could say the great white myth of 20th century America has tainted our understanding of the rest of America.

However, there is a difference rising in Millennials.

Millennials MarriageBetween the generational shifts in behavior the most notable change in categories is the number of sexual partners and how religiously faithful people have increasingly engaged in this behavior. In other words, the lines between those who are not Christians and those who are, and how they approach issues of sex and sexuality has disappeared. For Millennials, first time experiences of premarital sex are only delayed by religious adherence. There still is a movement towards sexual purity and abstinence among Millennials, but is given lip service and not validated by actual actions.

The heightened, and openness, about promiscuity among Millennials has led to the second factor that is changing the landscape of Millennials and marriage: cohabitation.

Since the 1950s, cohabitation has exploded by 900%. As of now, for Millennials, 75% will cohabit ate before they are married. (Of course that number might be soft and it could rise as high as 80%-85%)  There are plenty of reasons for increased cohabitation: lower financial achievement, increased student debts, social acceptability, and even a media saturated environment that promotes this lifestyle. It is likely a reasonable statement to point out that cohabitation is here to stay socially.

There are certainly drawbacks to cohabitation. I’ve listed these in the previous post and will simply refer you there. Many pastors and well meaning leaders will cite “studies” that say a cohabitating couple is 50% more likely to divorce than non-cohabitating couples. The challenge here is that too many of these studies reflect data from a time prior to social acceptance of cohabitation. Indeed, it is likely that over the next 5 years the commonality of cohabitation will effectively nullify its effects on divorce rates for Millennials.

What cohabitation does do that is a negative is it: delays marriage, increases the likelihood of childbirths out of wedlock, creates a negative emotional impact on the relationship, has negative developmental impacts on children, increased promiscuity outside the relationship, and other factors.

Along these lines, it is too early to tell at what rate Millennials will divorce and how often. Since the preceding generations, particularly their parents, divorced at a rate unseen in history, they have seen this situation. What does seem to be happening is that Millennials are not only delaying marriage, but also have a significantly lower view of marriage than previous generations. With first-time child births to unmarried mothers in their 20s exceeding 50%, there are many issues to deal with in this entire category.interest in marriage

It is a different conversation to have with Millennials about marriage than the generations before. Particularly in light of the rising post-Christian culture that has arrived, the Church stands at an odd crossroads where it needs to carefully choose its stance and approach.

There are opportunities though, and if we look carefully we can realize them and address them appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll take a some time to talk about what these opportunities are and some ways to initially address them.

26
Mar 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: Part 1, the data

Having spent the better part of the last two weeks in preparation, delivery, and conversation about hefty theological papers, I’d like to turn to consider another conversation that is going on in some circles I’ve been working through. Specifically, this will be a few conversations about the trends of Millennials and marriage. I’ve previously discussed some of this in a post of the similar title.

Today, I’d like to begin by posting some of the best data that I’ve found in my work on First Time Marriageunderstanding this generation and our patterns for marriage.

Just today, over at the Families Studies Blog, I read about a paper that had come out recently that looked at generational differences in marriage trends. The paper was titled Breaking Up is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980-2010 by Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles. The paper is quite good and, as the title suggests, underlines the difficulty of getting precise numbers about the nature of divorce rates and relationship changes sociologically.

This is their conclusion:

“Fewer young people are getting married: over 40 % of the population in 2008 had not married by their 30th birthday, marking a fourfold increase since 1980. With the rise of cohabitation, it is likely that many couples who would have been at the highest risk of divorce in the past—for example, those entering unions as teenagers as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, or with low levels of income and education—are forgoing marriage entirely (Cherlin 2004; Smock et al. 2005). As pressures to marry recede, people can be more selective about their partners; thus, it makes sense that marriages may become more stable. We do not, however, anticipate that a decline of divorce will lead to an increase in overall union stability. Because cohabitating unions are more unstable than marriages, we expect that the rapid rise of cohabitation among the young will neutralize any decline of divorce (Kennedy and Ruggles 2013; Raley and Bumpass 2003).”

The paper contains some of the best data I’ve seen on understanding the sociological impact of Millennials and marriage while also drawing informed conclusions on the topic. As someone who works in marriage ministry with, at this point primarily, Millennials, there are some big wins but just as many losses.

One of the more significant issues that I’ve encountered in the church, and broader society, is that the older generations are looking for isolated data points that can be boiled down to simple conclusions. However, Millennials aren’t simple and their patterns can’t easily be boiled down to simple soundbites.

So what is some of the best data I’ve found? One of the first places I begin is understanding how cohabitation has impacted Millennials.

CohabitationSince Millennials are, right now, aged 18-34, seeing how they are approaching relationships prior to marriage is a precursor to understanding their views, innate or explicit, about marriage. Millennials are cohabiting at a rate of about 75%. As a result, 60% of cohabiting couples end up getting married, but cohabitation delays marriage by 18-24 months.

For Millennials and marriage, they are approaching marriage differently not based on race or even religion, but on socio-economic and educational factors. Better educated, better off Millennials are delaying marriage by 6-10 years, and first time childbirths as well, while their less educated, lower income peers begin families and marriage in their early 20s. 

How do we come by this data?

The best resource that I’ve encountered is the Pew Research Study on cohabitation.

Also see this article from, I believe a secular viewpoint, that brings some good conclusions to the forefront.

The best data I’ve seen on cohabitation and its correlation to divorce is this study from the CDC.

One of the troubling trends is that Millennials (the group most likely to be cohabitating right now) are divorcing at a higher rate than other generations, well for those who choose to marry.

Even the New York Times thinks cohabitation is a bad idea.

Right now, and the data is hard to come by because you’re primarily seeing studies geared towards Gen-Xers and Boomers, cohabitation leads to higher rates of divorce.

In the United States, researchers estimate that 40%–50% of all first marriages, and 60% of second marriages, will end in divorce. This is primarily geared at folks in their 30s. Since marriage is being delayed until late 20s the picture is harder to get at for Millennials. Couples who get married in their early 20s are two to three times as likely to get divorced as couples who wait until their mid to late 20s. Education is also a significant factor.

The real challenge for cohabitation isn’t that it leads to divorce, but that is delays marriage and have become an alternative to marriage. Because cohabitation has become so common (up 900% in 50 years) the statistics correlating cohabitation to divorce are increasingly harder to come by. There is a trend, but you have to look at couples who do not ever cohabitate (or engage sexually) prior to marriage versus the rest of their peers. That number, of sexually pure and non-cohabitating couples is so small it is hard to track.

The biggest issue that affects marriage and divorce among adults aged 20-39: religious adherence.

It will be to some of these factors that we turn next in talking about Millennials and Marriage.

24
Mar 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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The Wolf of Wall Street and the Injustice of Hollywood

One of the big movie releases over the past couple of months has been Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street that stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The trailer for the movie has been playing on nearly every channel and before several movies I’ve seen during this time.

In case you don’t know the backstory, the movie is based on the life of stock fraudster Jordan Belfort who defrauded thousands of investors hundreds of millions of dollars. As the trailers for the movie have pointed out, and as any reasonable plot synopsis notes, the movie is not so much a prophetic tale of how Belfort’s deceit and illegal activities ruined the lives of thousands of people, but it is a glorification of his indulgence and crimes. It would appear that Mr Scorsese has abandoned any moral point and opted for a illicit romp through a craven world of self-destruction and debauchery. Some critics have noted this challenge while others have, rightly, called the film pornogaphic. It has even gotten the daughter of one of the convicted conspirators to write an open letter calling for the end to such films.

I’m not going to see the movie. One of my personal commitments is to not see any movie with nudity and I checked my Movies with Kids in Mind app and found this movie scored a 10 out of 10 on the sexuality scale…a rare feat.

The insult that Mr Scorsese pays to the victims of Mr Belfort is that in glorifying his excesses the victims of this corrupt individual are entirely lost. Belfort’s tale should have only been told to show how destructive these kinds of actions are upon the victims who lost so much. To this point, Mr Scorsese fails to properly understand the moral gravity of his film and, ultimately, betrays another injustice on the victims.

Since his release, Belfort has made it a point to make more money off his crimes and has stopped repaying the $200 million in court-ordered restitution. Sadly this point is lost even on the star of movie, who thinks that by showing the American public three hours of parties, drinking, drugs, and depraved sexual behavior (often with victims of sexual trafficking) they will learn that crime is bad.

For Christians, one of our deepest callings is to seek justice for the poor and outcast, to find ways to provide for those who have had evil visited upon their lives.

As we are reminded in Isaiah 1:17,

Learn to do what is good.
Seek justice.
Correct the oppressor.
Defend the rights of the fatherless.
Plead the widow’s cause.

Then also in, Amos 5:11-15

Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and exact a grain tax from him,
you will never live in the houses of cut stone
you have built;
you will never drink the wine
from the lush vineyards
you have planted.
12 For I know your crimes are many
and your sins innumerable.
They oppress the righteous, take a bribe,
and deprive the poor of justice at the gates.
13 Therefore, the wise person will keep silent
at such a time,
for the days are evil.

14 Seek good and not evil
so that you may live,
and the Lord, the God of Hosts,
will be with you,
as you have claimed.
15 Hate evil and love good;
establish justice in the gate.
Perhaps the Lord, the God of Hosts, will be gracious
to the remnant of Joseph.

Seeking justice for those who have been oppressed and destroyed by corrupted and sinful individuals is one of the basic ministries of followers of Jesus. James 1:27 reminds us plainly: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Our advocacy is to be for those who are easily oppressed and hurt, those who do not have the means for support or defense.

Now, we shouldn’t be at all surprised when media leaders use garish portrayals of debauchery and sin to glorify greed and corruption. Indeed, this is what we should expect as did the earliest believers who experienced this first hand. However, as believers our calling is to a high road and to care for those who have been neglected and hurt.

Paul reminds us of this in 1 Timothy 6:17-19,

17 Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

When we see the filth and corruption that spews like water from a fountain in our common social areas and into media saturated environments our goal should be to lament for those who have lost, advocate for their restitution, and provide for their needs. By glorifying the indulgence and depravity of individuals who have taken again and again, we lose sight of our higher calling to seek the renewal of our world for the Kingdom of God.

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Blockbuster is Dead, Long Live Blockbuster

In business news this week was the announcement from DISH Network that it is ending Blockbuster by closing all remaining aspects of the business. This wasn’t surprising.

When DISH bought Blockbuster for $234 million in 2011, a price which was befuddling at the time, it began a program to turn around the beleaguered movie rental giant. Now, within 24 months, they’re pulling the plug.

Think about this for a moment, at the height of its corporate model, Blockbuster owned the retail market for video game rentals. (For a great history of the company since its inception in 1985 head over this piece at the Street.) Blockbuster expanded across the US and in every market became the Wal-Mart to any locally owned, or regional, video rental store. Other competitors attempted moves against them and had marginal success. Blockbuster became a massive corporation that seemed unstoppable…until the market conditions shifted and they were unable to move.

Who would’ve thought that on August 29, 1997 that Blockbuster would be shut down 16 years later. That day, in 1997, Netflix launched its website. 

Business analysts and journalists are writing a lot about this and there are plenty of great articles, see Justin Carr’s Fastcompany piece, about this soon to be MBA case study o business history. The keyword for this whole episode has been disruption. Now the focus of this disruption hasn’t just been Netflix, but a set of market and cultural shifts that made Blockbuster’s model obsolete. Netflix was a major factor, but so was RedBox, video streaming, on demand content, and the idiocy of renting a movie and having to rush it back to the store before a late charge is assessed. Blockbuster didn’t adapt nor did it foresee this could happen.

One of the greatest fears for many tech and digital industry leaders is that there’s some kid in a garage in suburbia who’s crafting a new algorithm that will put all the leading players out of business. What simply couldn’t have happened back in the post World War II generation, massive disruption based almost entirely on a better mouse trap, is now easily possible.

The lessons of Blockbuster for those of us who lead churches and ministries shouldn’t be missed.

With the ongoing cultural shifts taking place what other metrics and models are out there which should be diligently studied, prayed through, and discerned? Even though we continue to see substantial movement towards ecclesial consolidation into large and mega-church ministries, especially by 20somethings, there should be something about our movements and ministries that is continuing to keep us deft and nimble in how we go about ministering to others.

Maybe one of the best lessons about the Blockbuster episode that we’ve seen is when executive leadership turns a deaf ear to the innovations and ideas of lower level directors and leaders. Though your business model is churning out revenue and new stores constantly, your demise is being written by the memo or meeting that you disregard. Though not all ideas are good ones, and there is a long line of executives who professionally died after taking a bad risk, there are some organizations that have thrived after making a tough decision.

In ministry not all ideas are good ones. We must be discerning and prudent about what models we adapt, however we also need to notice if our leadership is in cruise control or turf protection mode.

Having a regular and robust dialogue is one key to moving forward. While the Church is not going to die out suddenly, the prospect of our prophetic bankruptcy amid a changing culture is very real and very scary. Just because we continue to see growth in some sectors doesn’t deny that there will be diminishing returns in others. Part of the challenge of market and cultural shifts does result in Schrumpeter’s “Creative Destruction.” Yet just growing doesn’t always lead to health.

So how are you engaging in looking around the corner? Who are you in conversation with and what are you reading to stimulate your ability to see ahead of the curve? What “market forces” might lead to the shift away from your model towards something different? What is your goal for ministry and for those involved in your ministry?

Being able to discern and see how things are going also requires knowing where you’re heading. Those who think they can simply build a better bomb shelter for Christians don’t realize the true danger that lies ahead. Prayer and discernment are key functions for any leader.

08
Nov 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Microsoft Sermons

Over the past month or so, there has been a recurrent Microsoft ad that has been dominating commercial life on about all the channels. We’ve all seen it, here it is right below here, and it has found high visibility on almost all major viewing occasions.

The other day, I sent out a tweet that basically summarized my thoughts on this commercial:

This is a bad commercial if for no other reason that it is a stunning representation of the tremendous distance between Microsoft and Apple in terms of product placement, market capitalization, marketing strategy, and the market approach of Microsoft. Ironically in the ad, Apple comes out on top for the primary market segment that Microsoft is appealing to in the ad.

This is exactly the kind of ad that Apple would never make.

Of course this ad has been critiqued by far more engaged minds than mine. Suffice to say, the commercial fails to develop a case for the product against the thin criticisms (and outright misleading information) against its most potent competitor. Microsoft capitulates its own standing with a trite comparative ad that is easily dismissed because we all know the truth that is missing in their ad. Apple has a better product and the mocking claims are benign swipes by a displaced competitor.

The Microsoft ad parallels the attempts of many ministries in their quest to relate to culture by creating comparative illustrations or biting critiques in the form of media, clips, or other content that appropriate components of culture. In doing so they inadequately recreate culture, often capitulating entirely to the cultural form, that discredits their larger point. As this happens, particularly with younger generations, the audiences might be entertained by the correlation to a cultural form or style, but the opportunity to point out the exclusivity of the Gospel message within the biblical text can be missed.

As a result sermons, and worship services, are left confined to a particular cultural form that limits the ability of the communicator or the worship team to fully develop a biblical text. The cultural form dictates the limits of application for a biblical text and isolates the ability of exposit its full points.

This is not to say that using these kinds of mediums and media are never appropriate. There are most certainly times where they can be used and used to support a larger point. The challenge is when a cultural medium or aspect of media becomes the ultimate lens through which the biblical text is filtered. At that point the box is placed upon the biblical text and confined. This is a form, that while popular these days, is not sound homiletic practice.

Notice how Paul handles using a cultural form in Acts 17:

Acts 17:22   Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.  23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: 

  TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.  24 The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.

30   “Therefore, having overlookeda the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”

As Paul is speaking to Gentile pagans (the truly unchurched) he places his challenge in a cultural form that they would immediately recognize. He also appropriates two forms, one present before them, and one that was, perhaps, a popular literary quotation. Yet Paul places these both within the bounds of his sermon and not his sermon within the bounds of his examples, or illustrations.

In the end the sermon draws on these forms for connection and then leverages for a redemptive point.

For Paul, understanding his context was a critical point of his sermons in Acts. The sermon to the Jews in  Acts 13 shows how Paul leverages Jewish cultural forms to make points of connection as opposed to the Gentile forms here in Acts 17. Yet in both places Paul is clear to ensure that his redemptive point is not clouded by the cultural form that connects with his audience.

Instead of crafting a sermon at that capitulates the redemptive Gospel narrative to the cultural form, Paul confines his use of cultural forms to allow the crucial redemptive point to stand on its own.

For too many of us who have attempted to use cultural forms, we have allowed them to cloud that larger point. By appropriately seeing the New Testament example of using illustrative material to bolster a point or make a connection instead of being the narrative upon which the biblical text is confined, we see the redemptive point of the Gospel is able to be expanded and not confined.

Just like with the Microsoft ad, our task as expositors is to move beyond the trite commonality of poorly framed points and allow the grand Gospel message to stand on its own.

Instead of lowering the biblical text to the cultural level, our job as faithful expositors is to allow it to remain elevated above the cultural milieu. Allow the cultural forms to support the biblical text, not the other way around.

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