Equipping Christian Leaders Feature Article: Summer 2019
With millennials as the largest working demographic in the United States, it isn’t a surprise that marketing agencies spend much time and resources researching the behavior patterns they exhibit. As numerous as the peculiarities of these twenty- to thirty-somethings are, brand loyalty is a subject that is particularly difficult yet vitally important to understand. Brand loyalty determines whether one will remain dedicated to a certain brand, cause, or organization, or whether something better replaces it. In the field of ministry, understanding what it is that earns a millennial’s loyalty might currently be the most important task in terms of maintaining an audience. This article will explain why millennials are loyal to certain brands and not others, and how ministry leaders can utilize this knowledge in building a brand that can be trusted. The truth is, millennials are extremely loyal and yet extremely fickle. Let’s explore how this contradiction works.
What if we told you that millennials are both the most brand-loyal generation in American history and the least brand-loyal?  Confusing, yes, but it’s what Google will tell you. Multiple research studies suggest that millennials are fiercely loyal to their brands but also just as cautious. When they like your brand, they really like it, but public opinion tools such as Yelp and Google are always a click away. If there are better options, millennials will jump ship. It’s an issue marketing experts have been trying to understand for the past decade. That’s because millennials, Americans born roughly between 1980 and 2000, are now the largest working demographic in the United States. This also means they’re the largest potential talent pool for ministries.
Christian ministry leaders do well to pay attention to brand loyalty, if they hope to keep millennials onboard for the long-term. Some churches are showing a drop in attendance. Mainline denominations are losing members at astonishing rates. Moreover, Christian outreach programs, domestic and international, have been accused of being too “short term.” The typical perception is that younger adults aren’t interested in long-term service. Yet, it’s long-term service, especially overseas, that develops mature, Christ-centered disciples.
What’s driving this contradiction? Let’s explore what we’re learning about millennials. Then, we will suggest three core traits we see millennials embracing.
The same contradictions in marketing — most and least brand-loyal — are also evident in American churches. For example, the 2010 Pew Charitable Trust report, “Religion Among the Millennials” says:
Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation — so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 — are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20 percent in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13 percent in the late 1970s).
Yet research shows that “[millennials] may not see themselves as religious if that means affiliation with a particular tradition or attendance at a particular congregation. They do, however, believe in God or an afterlife. They believe in miracles. They pray regularly and have spiritual conversations at similar rates as other generations.”
While this departure from tradition and denominationalism isn’t without serious problems for Christianity, it helps us reframe the issue. Your ministry probably draws its talent from seminaries and Bible schools. Bright, young Christian seminarians probably aren’t struggling with fluffy orthodoxy. Yet even strong Christian millennials hesitate to identify with a “name-brand” denomination, church or ministry. Therefore, rather than labeling millennials as selfish and self-absorbed (though some are), this issue of loyalty might stem from shifting cultural priorities. The question isn’t, “Are millennials loyal?” but rather, “What are millennials loyal to?”
With businesses, millennials no longer show loyalty to the logo but to the values behind it. In short, millennials want jobs with meaning, and they want the company they work for to reflect those values in the way it treats its workers, and in the product or service it provides. More broadly, brands, institutions or ministries can no longer rest on reputation. Millennials simply don’t give that kind of trust.
In his discussion on millennials and faith, David King says:
Millennials grew up in an age of uncertainty: 9/11, increased globalization, and downward economic mobility. They began finding their way into the job market during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Many returned from college to move back home to live with parents or couch surf with friends while relying on others’ financial help.
Previously unshakable institutions have been shaken. Hence millennials have focused on the local. Local coffee shops, for example.
Millennials love coffee. It’s a statistical truth. Millennials make up 44% of all U.S. coffee drinkers and most of this comes in the form of local, specialty, in-shop drinks.
One coffee shop owner says, “We’re seeing this generation loves the opportunity to control what they’re drinking, how much they’re spending and personalized experiences. Drinks on our menu that are popular include matcha lattes, pour-overs with a local coffee roaster, bulletproof coffee and nitro coffee.” Move over mass production. It’s time to make room for individual, personalized experiences.
And not only do millennials prefer high-quality, unique coffees, they also want to know about the product’s intangible, ethical qualities.
One California coffee shop owner describes the trend this way: ““At our stores, millennials are interested in the quality and origin of the coffee beans. They want to know if it is fair trade, organic, etc., as well as the method of brewing.”
Here’s what we can take away from this trend: millennials have been raised in a world of options and often choose high-quality, personal experiences over a product’s reasonability or reputation. They’ll research the beliefs and history of an organization to see if it’s a good fit not only for their own tastes but also for the way they hope to impact the world.
An interesting byproduct of this distrust has been an increased independence and entrepreneurialism. Distrust coupled with increased technological power has led to an exploding “entrepreneurial class.” Millennials have been conditioned to carve their own paths and lead their own projects. We see that “although the gig economy spans all age groups, Millennials make up the largest portion.
More than one-third of Millennials are independent workers.
In 2015, Millennials became the largest demographic age group in the workforce.
32 percent of Millennials believe they will be working “mainly flexible hours” in the future.”
This entrepreneurialism does not mean millennials only want short-term solutions. True entrepreneurs must stick with their businesses for years before seeing results. However, their motivations for remaining with a brand, business or ministry are likely different than previous generations.
Entrust has taken a deliberate approach to attracting and working with millennials and even members of Gen Z in its trainings. Some are global workers planning to multiply the training in their regions. One young couple completing their studies in the U.S. joined Entrust staff and are preparing to launch training in an Asian region in the next couple of years. Students from several Christian colleges have attended Entrust courses and intend to multiply the training on their campuses.
In general, Entrust has found that millennials and Gen Z’s who are already leaders and have the desire to be better equipped are those initially interested in training. Many in younger generations may not have had positive experiences in small groups, often because of poor leadership and practices. Providing a solution to this typical problem may not only offer a better experience, it can also help develop leaders from those who are not yet serving in leadership roles, offering a good entry point.
Many millennials have a desire for community. In an age of social media, they increasingly feel more isolated by mediums that offer the allurement of friendship, but often come up unsatisfying. Entrust trainings involve a biblical community where they can relate with other people of various generations, discuss questions and challenges, and relate deeply over the concerns on their hearts, experiencing the transformation and growth they seem to long for.
Many also have a heart for social causes and will often sacrifice to make a difference in their world. Those who attend Entrust trainings find they receive equipping that trains them to be more effective in many different roles in the church, para-church organizations and not-for-profits. Using their newly acquired skills and growth in community, they are better equipped to meet the social causes to which God may be leading them.
As millennials see the value offered in Entrust trainings, they develop a “brand loyalty” to Entrust’s methodologies and multiplication strategies. Entrust trainings offer real help that solve many small-group issues and provide millennials an environment in which they can be real, genuine and sincere with each other in small groups. This fits the millennial tendency to choose authentic, high-quality personal experiences, where trust and loyalty can be built. Entrust also offers short-term ministry opportunities, where millennials can explore how God has gifted them for ministry while making a difference in another part of the world and gaining training experience they can multiply to others.
Now, here are the three core values we see millennials embracing: individual, entrepreneurial and value-driven. With these in mind, here are our recommendations for attracting, training and keeping millennial talent long-term in your ministry.
Communicate personally to the individual
Millennials might not trust your logo, but they’ll trust you. “Simply put, there’s a positive relationship between personalized communications and brand loyalty — the more you connect with a customer on an individualized basis, the more likely they are to continue shopping with you.” And personal doesn’t just mean using their first name in emails. It means learning about them and helping them discover how they can use their unique talents to contribute to your ministry’s mission (and making sure to highlight a compelling mission statement).
With a growing freelance culture, many of your incoming staff will have experience managing and developing projects. This doesn’t mean your organization has to be isolated and fragmented. If a recruit isn’t a good fit, then he or she isn’t a good fit. But if you want long-term commitment, be prepared to allow your millennial staff to guide and direct their own position descriptions.
Demonstrate the value of holistic participation
This may be surprising, but millennial lack of engagement sometimes stems from too little opportunity to participate. We see this in non-profit giving trends. Millennials may not give the most money, but they’re outpacing previous generations in volunteering and service. “Put simply, they want to give their full range of their assets — their treasure, of course, but also their time, their talents, and even their ties, encouraging others to give their own time, talent, treasure, and ties.” Every once in a while, ask your millennial talent if they feel they’re able to give of their full selves.
By engaging these traits in ministry, we may have a better chance at retaining the long-term talent of young adults.
In the ever-evolving, ultra fast-paced, and nuance-rich environment that is our modern world, millennials seek meaningful experiences that transcend the digital clutter. They’re extremely loyal but require good reason for it. They’re investigative and particular. And though they’re consistently observing the latest trends, they’re lifelong loyalists for the right cause. Ministry leaders should recognize that millennials value personal connection, independence and entrepreneurship, and meaningful service. Implementing these values into ministry work could attract and empower this special group of people into serving the most meaningful cause of all.
 Geoff Smith, “Study: Millennials Are the Most Brand-Loyal Generation,” Inc.Com, last modified September 30, 2015, accessed February 26, 2019, https://www.inc.com/geoff-smith/millennials-becoming-more-loyal-in-era-of-consumer-choice.html.
 “Did Millennials ‘Kill’ Brand Loyalty? Not Really,” The Content Standard by Skyword, last modified August 31, 2017, accessed February 26, 2019, https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/marketing/millennials-kill-brand-loyalty-not-really/.
 Skip Masback, Twin Calamities: Declining Churches, Struggling Young (n.d.): 5.
 David P King, Millennials, Faith and Philanthropy: Who Will Be Transformed? 1 (2016): 11.
 King, Millennials, Faith and Philanthropy: Who Will Be Transformed?
 Breakfast Journal, “Millennials’ Coffee Habits Percolating Big Sales,” Nation’s Restaurant News, last modified October 23, 2017, accessed February 26, 2019, https://www.nrn.com/breakfast-journal/millennials-coffee-habits-percolating-big-sales.
 Paul Chaney, “20 Surprising Stats About the Gig Economy,” Small Business Trends, July 25, 2016, accessed April 15, 2019, https://smallbiztrends.com/2016/07/20-surprising-stats-freelance-economy.html.
 Michael Osborne, “Brands Need To Step Up Their Game To Win Over Millennials,” Forbes, accessed February 26, 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/09/26/brands-need-to-step-up-their-game-to-win-over-millennials/.
 King, Millennials, Faith and Philanthropy: Who Will Be Transformed?