Churches, businesses and media outlets fixated on Millennials may want to widen their focus on a newly identified group: Perennials.
The term was coined last year by a California blogger Gina Pell, who was tired of being stereotyped by her generational grouping. Characteristics commonly used to label Millennials in reality are shared by individuals across generations.
When church and clergy consultant George Bullard heard of Pell’s term, it clicked with what he had been seeing among some struggling congregations for years: an unhealthy fixation on Millennials and an almost blind, and very frustrating, campaign to lure that generational cohort to church.
It’s why Bullard and other church consultants have long urged their clients to follow a famous adage: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
It’s also why Bullard posted a blog at BullardJournal.com titled “Forget Millennials. Embrace Perennials.”
The term underscores the dangers of stereotyping people by generation.
“If you try to say all Millennials are alike, boy, you are in trouble,” Bullard said.
It’s OK to describe different generations as possessing themes, he added. It’s fair to say the Buster Generation, which followed the Boomers, was more right brain — or creative — than left, whereas the Boomers and the Builders that preceded operated from the left, or analytical side of the brain. Thematically, Millennials are about being experiential and tend to be right-brained.
But churches, businesses and others need to remember these are only generalities.
“Their personalities are different, their educations are different, their income is different,” Bullard said. And the themes that describe Millennials also are true about some members of other generational cohorts.
‘Ever-blooming, relevant people’
And that’s the “aha” moment Pell describes in a 2016 blog titled “Meet the Perennials.”
“This content is appropriate for people of all ages,” she begins. “And that’s the point. The days of targeting media and products at people based on their age is over.”
Pell said the target instead should be Perennials, who she describes as “ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages.”
In other words, the stereotypical Millennial without being limited to that generation.
Pell said generational stereotypes create barriers between people.
“Tolerance feels unattainable when there are hard lines drawn between decades, and terms like Boomers, GenX, and GenY keep us separate and at odds.”
‘You stand a much better chance’
Those barriers may well be one of the key issues barring churches from achieving their goals, Bullard said.
“Few are doing a good job of reaching the Millennial birth generation.”
Congregations struggle because they are using dysfunctional stereotypes about them. It may be time for churches to widen their scope to include Perennials.
If they do, they will see that there are many Builders — those born before 1946 and who are in their 70s and 80s now — share a trait usually ascribed to Millennials: the preference for hands-on ministry. For example, they are common sights at Habitat for Humanity builds.
Churches could promote similar ministries as being open to all age groups, Bullard said.
“That is something a certain segment of Perennials would love, and that would cut across birth generations.”
The good news for congregations is that Perennials likely already are members of their churches, making outreach to them much more likely to succeed.
“You stand a much better chance of that than taking a broadside shot at targeting Millennials.”