As Oklahoma Baptists, we have adopted the mission statement: We encourage one another to advance the Gospel. In this series of blog posts, I hope to help you appreciate the point of view of your pastor and give you some ideas for how to encourage him—over a piping hot cup of coffee!

Are you ready to have coffee with your millennial pastor to encourage him? That’s great, he’s going to enjoy talking with you, especially because these are hard times. We are all dealing with COVID-19 burnout, and your pastor is like anyone else—he needs encouragement!

Your millennial pastor will enjoy having a cup of coffee with you, but don’t be surprised if he takes his Fair-Trade java as a cold brew in a trendy thermal mug while drinking it through a metal straw. You have to respect his style and commitment to sustainability.

Born between the years 1980 and 1996, about 17 percent of Oklahoma Baptist pastors are Millennials. Another name demographers have given to Millennials is “Echo Boomers” because their size (86 million) is even larger than the Baby Boomer population. Their numbers are, in part, a result of a rapid increase in immigration in the United States beginning in the 1980s. This generation is more culturally and racially diverse than other generational cohorts in America.

Some background to help you understand your millennial pastor

Millennials have a galvanized sense of community that is in many ways similar to the values held by the WW II “Greatest Generation” when it comes to having a civic mindset. The aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 seared in this generation that the real heroes are the first responders like policemen, firemen and soldiers who have been celebrated in the public forum as long as they can remember. This generation truly wants to give back like the civil servants of our country. Even the musicians and celebrities they admire are giving back.

The youngest millennial pastor is 25 years old, and the oldest turns 41 this year. The Millennial generation is just now coming into their own in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Most millennial pastors are currently serving as associate pastors or as leaders of the younger generations of college students, youth and children. But there are quite a few millennial senior pastors, and expect that to increase exponentially each year as our large group of Baby Boomer pastors (47 percent) are entering retirement through the next 10 years. Churches will soon be filling their empty pulpits with millennial senior pastors.

There is a lot of talk these days about how to make the SBC more diverse. Well, the Millennial generation is the one that actually will make it happen. Since this generation itself is ethnically diverse, Millennials will be taking the reins of leadership about the same time as our communities reach majority-minority status. 

Here are some items that might make good coffee talk starters when you meet with your millennial pastor.

Spiritual Authenticity. Millennials admire people who are open about who they are and willing to share what they are going through, for good or bad. They have the reputation of being confident to a fault, and they border on “over-sharing” with others. Maybe some of that is true, but the real reason they are this way is they value transparency. Millennial pastors want close, trusting relationships to form in the church. Don’t give your pastor the Instagram version of your life. Ask your millennial pastor to share about his personal walk with Jesus and be willing to openly share with him about yours.

Education. Millennials value education. In a recent survey conducted by Oklahoma Baptists, we found that millennial pastors are the most educated generation of pastors currently serving in our state, 40 percent of them have master’s degrees (compared to 31 percent Boomer and 34 percent GenX). This may be due in part to the availability of online options for education that were not present to the previous generations.

You probably don’t want to bum your pastor out by talking about his student loan debt. But he will likely enjoy talking with you about his studies. Be ready to learn some interesting new things.

Technological Natives. Millennials are comfortable with technology. The defining technology of the Millennial is not the Internet per se; it is the wireless world of connectivity—the smart phone. Don’t be offended if he checks his phone in the middle of your conversation, he’s probably getting a text message from another church member. Millennials are always up for testing out new tech, especially tech that connects people. Talk to your millennial pastor about how he uses technology in ministry.

Sustainability. Millennials in general are very concerned about the environment and climate change. They believe in walking gently on the planet. Your pastor likely won’t want to join a debate with you about if these issues are real; he’d rather do something about them. Have a conversation with him about what is the Christian’s responsibility for being a steward of our natural resources.

Justice. The world has a lot of problems, and recent history has shown that we are a long way from solving the injustices in our communities. Millennials are moved to compassion about poverty, slavery and educational deprivation like Boomers and Xers also are—we all want to see a better world. But one difference about Millennials is they are a generation that has believed since they were kids that they are the ones who will fix these problems. You can talk about the issues of race, inequality, human trafficking, etc. with your millennial pastor, and he will have some compassionate ideas for addressing them. While most of the progress in these areas is depressing, he will be encouraged that you also care about these things.

Nostalgia. A lot of Millennials love things from the past. Your pastor grew up listening to the same music and watched the same shows (as reruns) as the Baby Boomers and GenX’ers watched, all while also being up to date on cultural things of today. If you say “Whatcha talkin’ bout Willis?” to him, he will probably know it’s a line used in the shows Different Strokes and Hannah Montana. So, talk to your millennial pastor about his vinyl record collection or complement him on his Aviator glasses. That will get the conversation started.