Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:


Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim. 


Generational Divides

Growing up in a multi-generational church, I encountered people who had, themselves, grown up attending church in a horse and buggy and other, like myself, who had only know going in the family car. It was a diverse church with a rich love for Christ. Differences in generations did cause some inherent friction.

Robert Webber’s book The Younger Evangelicals was one of the first books I read immediately following graduation from college. As I served as an intern at my home church before heading off to seminary, it was an important text to soak in it contents. We stood, in the summer of 2001, at an important crossroads culturally and spiritually. Unbeknownst to us all, we were about to enter into a social earthquake perpetuated by the acts of September 11, 2001.

Webber’s book speaks to a great many things and is a wonderful read. One of the consistently good things he does in the text is to develop charts about the three unique generations within our churches and how they approach Christianity uniquely. This chart is adapted from his text:

Each of the three generational categories refer to believers who reach adulthood during that particular space. While I’ve adapted some of the dates and descriptions based on my own research, much of this is still Webber’s original thought. It is a good chart detailing how unique generations view different aspects of Christianity. (They are fairly general observations and not definite categories, there are always exceptions and nuance.)

One of the challenges that arises in a multigenerational church is having all three of these perspectives present as we do life together, church together, and spend time together. Notice how the different generations approach even basic things such as worship type or our underlying theological approach.

As a result our churches and church leaders must find ways to bridge the generational divide and appeal to all facets of the church. One way that has developed over the past twenty or so years is having unique worship services that are usually age segmented with different styles. We then must find ways to bring people together outside of that or our churches remain polarized and fail to accomplish some of the basic functions of church life.

There is certainly more to be said about this kind of a chart, but perhaps it is a worthwhile starting point. When we look at how the progression has taken place it is compelling to consider how flexible our churches and ecclesiology can be to minister to so many unique generations.

What are you seeing in your churches when it comes to generational divides? Do generations divide or do they find space together? What are some wins you’ve seen happen in creating effective cross-generational ministry?

May 2013