Given the fluidity of global culture, millennials are critical to the future of international missions. Mission to the World (MTW) recently surveyed and held focus group meetings with millennials in five U.S. cities to learn how to better mobilize millennials for missions. The MTW research team sought to understand millennials’ desires and needs, as well as the obstacles to serving in missions.

American Christian millennials come with a missional spirit different from that of previous generations. They generally have a great concern for social issues, justice, and local missions rather than international projects. They hope to make a difference, be mentored, and be trusted with leadership responsibilities. They desire to serve but first need to hear and see international needs personally. From a missions perspective, they are mainly interested in short-term global mission trips and are hesitant to make long-term commitments.

During each focus group meeting, millennials unanimously agreed that, as believers, they are all called to missions. They indicated missions doesn’t have to be international, that short-term trips (both local and international) count as missions experience and that intentional outreach (especially in their workplaces) is a type of missions. Many are open to working internationally, but they want to take a job and go overseas; they’d rather not be fulltime missionaries.

Authenticity and transparency are key values for them, especially in the workplace. They need supervisors and teammates who listen, provide instruction, answer questions, and follow through on their promises. Those in the focus groups said that if they serve as missionaries, they need honest, reliable feedback and mentoring from team leaders.

Contrary to some reports, millennials are a well-connected, community-driven, relationship-oriented generation. They’re willing to do new things, try different places, and meet new people, but they want to be in fellowship with one another. One of their most universal fears is serving alone.

The meetings and survey helped identify seven hindrances preventing millennials (and those younger) from serving as international missionaries: waiting to decide, parents, impact on their career, raising support and/or student debt, fears, and poor marketing from missions/nonprofits. MTW is in the process of deciding how it needs to change and adapt to better equip millennials and the next generations to serve internationally.