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. 


Succession Planning Perspectives

One of the growing challenges confronting many growing and thriving churches is what to do when the leader leaves.

A simple, but definite, rule for ministry (and life) is that regardless of how wonderful our ministry and impact, we are ultimately going to have to leave one day.

leadersPart of being an effective and Jesus centered undershepherd (i.e. pastor) is recognizing that one goal in ministry should be to leave the church, or division, better than when you found it. Recently I read of a pastor who, after thirty long years of ministry, retired from his church and encouraged them to go and united with another church because they had grown down to such a small amount and no other leader had been risen up to take his place. The pastor, who is well thought of in some circles, mentioned this in an off-the-cuff illustration in a sermon. Yet it resonated with myself and a few others as to what happens when we don’t follow God’s command to raise up and equip new leaders and what failing to plan really looks like…a planned failure.

For corporoate human resources work it is challenging, or horrifying as one friend in HR put it, when your CEO (or senior leader) finally begins leaving. Just like in churches when the well established senior pastor announces his retirement, a sense of both panic (we call it urgency to smooth it over) and uncertainty can easily creep in to any organization. Imagine how much more magnified this is if it is a Fortune 500 company with revenues in the billions.

Last night I came across an article on Retuers about the impending succession plan that the NASDAQ is going through as their CEO, Bob Greifeld, plans a possible exit, even after signing a new five year extension on his contract. For various reasons, there is a possible shift coming to the exchange whose leader has been in place for ten years (which in the real world would be like running a company for 30 years.) Yet Greifeld has been at the helm of an international stock exchange that has been navigating massive shifts in the markets, its own strategic planning, and increasing diversification in the entire sector.

How does a company go about replacing such a vital person?

How does a church go about replacing a senior pastor who has been there for twenty plus years and seen it through many seasons, generational changes, and even facilities transition? Not to mention the spiritual and emotional attachment rightly given to senior pastor?

For the NASDAQ several leading staff departures have left the remaining candidate pool from within drained to a low number. An outside candidate might be worth exploring, but there are some risks. Perhaps the person wouldn’t understand the complex DNA of the exchange, they are too junior and executive understand the task priorities of a CEO, the sector is loaded with talent but not at the same level as the NASDAQ, and other concerns populate the confounding questions of succession.

Sounds a lot like questions churches have about a new senior pastor.

Over at the Harvard Business Review Blog they’ve provided some tips that might help frame how to go about this process for any organization:

1. Call the process succession development – though this might sound trivial, the idea is pretty solid, it helps educate expectations.By developing your next leader instead of planning for them there is a chance to embed crucial organizational DNA and also allow them to step up into the position. The person, by the time of succession, comes from within and is a known figure.

2. Keep it simple – HBR is right that this shouldn’t be a complex process. Ultimately, it is about one person giving another their seat. HR and org charts convolute the structures. Make this a baton pass between teammates, not a bait-and-switch.

3. Stay Realistic – nobody expects the next person in for a senior leader to walk on water the same way the other person has done for years. There will be transitions and adjustments. One of the benefits that churches have over other organizations is the ability to seek unity through prayer, fellowship, and the outpouring the Holy Spirit. Seek out these means and remember that every leader still puts their pants on the same way.

An article over at Forbes adds an additional point:

4. Realize what got us here won’t get us there – with a new senior leader comes an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective and rejuvenate any organization. Any decently degreed candidate can look at the strategic plans, programs, and operations of a new organization and imitate success for several years and have success. However, what most organizations need is someone who will take them to a new place. Because the new leader isn’t the old leader allows for the opportunity to change and cross over to a new way.

For any organization with an established leader, the next person up isn’t going to be the same. There will be some natural turnover in staff and, for our churches, possibly our members. This still remains an opportunity to move forward. 

As we have seen excellently modeled in the ministries of John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Jerry Vines at First Baptist Jacksonville, and Bob Russell at Southeast Christian Church, successful ministry succession is possible. Being able to humbly and earnestly seek God’s blessing in this process will always help find the best candidate to be the best pastor they can be.

For churches seeking assistance with this kind of succession planning (or development) I always encourage them to talk to an expert at an staffing organization which works with churches. Three of the best I know of (in no particular order) are: Minister Search, the Shepherd Staff, and the Vanderbloemen Group. Call them and talk as soon as possible. One general rule I always follow on church staffing, free sites get you bad results. This kind of search requires a specialist.