Small steps bridge big generational divides.

American life has changed so vastly over the past 75 years that it’s no wonder each succeeding generation has ever more difficulty relating to the ones before and after it. With the generation gaps in full flower today, perhaps no segment has been more dissected and derided than the Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. We have more ways to collect data and examine them. We have more ways to hear and talk about them through social media and the nonstop news cycle. We have a steady stream of headlines about Millennials at checkout stands.

The prevailing sentiment about this age group, looming larger than Baby Boomers at 80 million strong, seems to be, “Will these snowflakes ever get off the dole, and if so, how can we capitalize on them?”

“They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the Baby Boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one,” writes Joel Stein in a 2013 Time cover story. And right here, the community found through a Christian retailer offers much hope for this needful generation.

EXTEND AN INVITATION

“The world young people have been handed is more complex, competitive, and diverse than the world we knew as young adults,” says Kara Powell, executive director of Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), founded by Fuller Theological Seminary. As a result, their careers, financial independence, marriage, and children come later. They need more time.

“The conventional array of paths available to them has been exponentially multiplied. As a result, there is so much more to navigate—whether they want to or not,” Powell notes. “In the midst of a tumultuous, ever-changing season, what twentysomethings need more from us than anything else is empathy.”

This generation longs for companionship. FYI recently hosted a panel of twentysomethings to find out what churches could do to reach out to them. Their response? “Ask, ‘What are you doing for lunch after church today?’”

Invitations go a long way to establish personal ties and build community, even for a store whose doors are open to one and all. Christian retailers have great potential for understanding and connecting with this age group. You can host a potluck lunch in your store one Sunday a month, asking adult friends to invite one younger friend to meet them there after church. Pray together, laugh, bring a guitar. Don’t worry about the mess—just enjoy literally rubbing elbows in the intimacy of your space.

If you live in a college town, you might also consider hosting a study break for students in the local dorm during finals. Ask them to stop by after hours for coffee and donuts.

SHOW SMALL KINDNESSES

Because small business ownership is consuming, you might not have a lot of energy for empathy at the end of the day. If you’re a morning person, open 30 minutes early one day a month and invite your church’s young adults or professionals at a nearby company to swing in for freshly brewed coffee and muffins on the way to work. Give them a free booklet or other resources about local Christian organizations. Offer seasonal discounts for your new friends.

One easy and impactful way to show empathy for these Millennials is to remember their names, as a gentleman from a much older generation advised. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Fortunately, good old-fashioned kindness never goes out of style.