By Warren Bird
Leadership Network has built a team of high-capacity leaders who serve churches in powerful ways. These leaders are field-tested as innovation catalysts in their ministry areas, and they bring unique backgrounds and experiences to their pursuits with church leaders in North America.
In this edition of a regular blog to introduce those leaders, you’ll meet Eric Swanson—a ministry veteran who has been connecting with the next generation in one way or another for most of his career.
What background qualifications do you bring to your leadership of the millennials groups?
For 25 years, I worked in campus ministry with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ)—always trying to figure out how to reach the next generation of students. Today I split my time with Leadership Network and a tech company in Boulder, Colorado.
I estimate that 75 percent of the top-100 tech company employees are millennials and I’m fascinated by their drive, ambition and collective desire to do good in the world. I also lead a Bible study with millennials and have seen first-hand my need to re-tool how to connect this generation to Jesus.
Why are you excited about working with church leaders on this topic? What difference do you hope to make?
I honestly think many churches are on a burning platform regarding millennials, and they are simply roasting marshmallows. According to Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi from the Center for Analytics, Research and Data for the United Church of Christ and published in “Engaging Young Adults” Faith Communities Today, 18 percent of churches in America have no millennials in attendance (page 2) and only 10 percent of churches have a proportionate size of millennials to the population around them (page 13). The future will come whether we prepare for it or not. A church without millennials is with near-absolute certainty a church without a future. I want to be in the conversations that change that.
What’s the biggest challenge you want to help churches work through? And the biggest opportunity to help them seize?
There is a general sentiment among many pastors that once these kids grow up and start families, they’ll be back to church. Unfortunately, the data does not support that sentiment. The social and technological forces that are shaping millennials today are not counter-balanced by cool church coffee shops or a goateed worship pastor.
What most churches are doing simply is not working and doubling down and getting better and better with what is not working simply means we become successful at creating something nobody wants. The good news is that millennials want mates, kids, a spiritual life and the chance to make a difference in the world. I suspect the church might have something to say in those arenas.
How are you helping church leaders through your millennials groups?
Churches without millennials are churches without a future. We have a year to bring our best thinking, our best actions, and our continual iterations to figure out how to engage, retain and build millennials.
What can leaders expect to experience–what will the experience be like–from being with you?
I will bring in the best thought leaders and practitioners as the starting point in our journey. The “answers” are yet to be discovered. I try to create a learning environment where the best ideas can come through the least-qualified person because ideas are weighed against the mission, not against the position. I abhor boring meetings, so shoot me if you are ever bored on something I’m facilitating.
What do you do for fun?
I love to travel with my wife, hike around Boulder, and consume big ideas. Currently I’m giving a lot of thought to human motivation, behavior and human-centered design. I’m increasingly giving attention to the USA Rugby Foundation.
How are you involved with your local church, and how has Leadership Network intersected with it?
I taught adult Sunday School for over 20 years, served as an elder for many years and regularly meet with my pastor, whom I consider one of my most-trusted friends. Leadership Network has played a healthy role as we have opened our second campus and have sharpened our external focus.
The Church always exists to pass the message to the next generation however, new generations and new mindsets mean new challenges and new approaches. If your church is interested in learning to make the shifts necessary to reach these growing segments of our population go to www.leadnet.org/millennials for more information.