“Casual dining is in danger – and Millennials are to blame,” started the AOL article. The outlandish header is what grabbed my attention: “Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s.”
Every day there’s more of the same. CNN predicts 25% of malls will close in 5 years. Doom and gloom titles abound: “Retailers closing at a staggering rate.” Credit Suisse predicts over 8,600 retail stores will close by the end of 2017. Professor John Clapp warns, “This is a death spiral.”
And credit for all this wanton destruction goes to? Drum roll, please…
The average Millennial.
We, the Millennial Generation, will single-handedly destroy the entire world economy by not buying the crap they’ve grown accustomed to peddling.
Yeah, sounded a bit melodramatic to me, too.
Here’s the irony. No customer is obligated to buy what you sell. Maybe you have a terrible sales pitch, maybe a terrible product, or maybe you’ve just become… irrelevant.
You are not entitled to a customer’s business. You have to earn it. If customers find nothing of appeal in your product or service, then it’s your fault you’re losing ground. If a competitor is offering what we really want, so long, fair well.
What Leaders Overlook
That’s not how business leaders see it, though. They built a business to offer something they value, so someone else should buy it – right? Sally Smith, CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, says that sit-down restaurants’ struggles can be blamed on Millennials: “Millennial customers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants and eating quickly.”
Gasp! The horror! A fiscally responsible generation is saving money by not eating out all the time. A cultured generation rediscovered the joys of cooking its own recipes. A generation is on the rise that values its time and wants to spend less in restaurants eating overpriced wings.
Business Insider Kate Taylor pinpoints the perennial narrative for what it is: “Blaming Millennials has become a trend to the point of cliche in retail.” But she fails to see the bigger picture. The blame is not only cliche, it’s also misplaced.
Welcome to Economics 101. Businesses exist to provide goods and services, and their goal is to meet demands with adequate supply. If there’s no longer demand for what you supply, you better learn to supply something that IS in demand or you’ll be closing your doors. If Buffalo Wild Wings is struggling to woo customers, they must adapt in order to offer whatever the changing markets demand.
Instead of looking for who to blame (and arriving at “Millennials, who don’t need our product but they should need it”), they should be looking at what people do need and raising the bar to provide it. Any retailer or restaurant can figure out what Millennials want and aim to provide it. If they don’t, they’ll continue closing stores as someone wiser steps in with new ideas, products, and services that appeal to the next generation. Because Millennials aren’t going away.
Adapt or Die
If a business is closing (no matter what type) because no one buys their stuff, they need to take a look inside for what to change – not outward for who to blame. Blame doesn’t work well with Millennials anyway. If you blame us, we’ll give you a cheeky grin and say, “Yup. I don’t pay for your overpriced, low quality, inconvenient goods. Sell me something I actually value.”
Retailers struggle because Millennials shop online. Restaurants struggle because Millennials eat at home. Taxis struggle because Millennials call Uber. Housing markets struggle because Millennials embrace renting with friends and moving back in with Ma and Pa. And none of this is Millennials’ fault. All of these are wise steps for Millennials, regardless of whether it’s detrimental to businesses that fail to supply the goods and services we find worthwhile. Time for the businesses to adapt or die.
Millennials want something different than what they offer, and it’s up to businesses to present something competitive and worthwhile if they want Millennial support. If not, they’ll go out of business, and that’s fine by us. We weren’t using them anyway.
The Entitled Generation
A little on the nature of entitlement. Entitlement is a matter of opinion and usually slices both ways. A Millennial employee feels entitled to more money for their hour of work while a Boomer boss feels entitled to more work out from their money. Both want something. In fact, both want what’s in their own best interest. And they both think they deserve it. Who’s entitled here?
In most cases, entitlement isn’t an objective reality. It’s incredibly subjective and often on both sides. When you hear “entitlement,” it’s almost always a pitiful insult bandied about by whoever happens to be in power, as they complain that they aren’t getting what they want if their opponent gets their want. In reality, both feel and act just as entitled. They believe just as firmly that they deserve what they want while their opponent is clearly out of line for wanting what they want.
Millennials do not act any more entitled than Boomers, let’s be honest. They both want something, but Boomers in charge have the luxury of taking it. Those in leadership often feel like they deserve what they desire – and can and do often take it at the expense of those they lead. Servant leadership is noble but rare in today’s marketplace. CEO’s making millions while employees can’t live off their wages is the norm, not the exception.
As I continued reading articles about the woes of our day and how Millennials are to blame for it all, I came to a surprising insight – in these articles, Boomers are often the ones constantly harping on their entitlement. They feel entitled to having Millennials prop up their failing institutions, purchase their products, invest in their businesses, subscribe to their services – and all without having to make any serious changes to the way they want to do things. Because Boomers are entitled to what they want, after all – without feeling any obligation to provide a worthwhile product or service, without caring what a Millennial purchaser would want or need.
It never crossed Baby Boomer CEO Sally Smith’s mind that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t entitled to our business. It never crossed her mind she might be irrelevant to a new generation. It never crossed her mind that, like everyone else, they may just have to earn our business by becoming worthwhile in a new way. They’re not entitled to sit back and do nothing and reap a harvest from previous works – they’ll need to work hard at earning a new generation’s respect, loyalty, and patronage – just like everybody else.
Why does this matter to a faith blog? Because churches are no different. Churches deal in spiritual goods and services and, like any business, tend to assume each new generation will just go along with whatever they’ve developed into. Churches are far from what they once were, yet churches feel entitled to Millennial support and seem confused that as a generation we aren’t terribly impressed with them. Every Millennial has their own reasons, but often the list includes:
- A generation that values diversity isn’t impressed with the lack of it in churches; churches need to welcome everyone
- A financially conservative generation isn’t impressed with the greed in churches; churches need to give sacrificially, just as they call their members to
- A generation that wants to make a difference isn’t impressed with the stranglehold few hold in church leadership; churches need to empower the priesthood of believers
- A generation that cares about wise investment isn’t impressed with how much money drains into self-serving and maintaining efforts in churches; churches need to minimize overhead costs and maximize spending on loving and evangelizing outsiders, neighbors, the unchurched
- A generation that values transparency isn’t impressed with the power struggles and politics of churches; churches need to rediscover humble servant leadership
- A generation that seeks spiritual depth and intimacy with God isn’t impressed with pithy sermons, formulaic prayers, or empty lyrics; churches need to offer substance
- A generation desiring authenticity ins’t impressed with worship performances and busy, distant pastors; churches need to return to the simple and personal
- A generation passionate about helping others isn’t impressed with churches that exist to serve themselves; churches need to be outward instead of inward focused
We hope churches will learn from the failures of retailers and restaurants. Adapt or die is the nicest way we could put it. Let’s be honest, churches. You’re losing relevance.
Yet you were designed to be relevant, and eternally so! You’ve lost your saltiness. You’re not making much of a difference these days, yet you could be – you totally could be.
You’ve lost your first love, and you won’t find it again by blaming Millennials. You aren’t entitled to our membership, involvement, finances, sacrifices or gifts. Because we can pour all of that into serving Christ without you.
If you are content to remain a business providing religious services to financial investors, then you’ll increasingly lose relevance. Because the rising generation isn’t interested in your services – we want something more. Christ Himself.
Or you can chose the hard path – rediscover the role you were made for by looking at Christ and then looking at yourself and tackling the dark places that don’t look a thing like Him.
Don’t blame Millennials for your closing churches. You only had one job to do. “Therefore, go and make disciples,” Jesus said. If you’re not in the business of making disciples, then you aren’t in His business at all. It might be a good time to assess why fewer and fewer want to follow in your footsteps, a good time to ask why they are looking to be discipled elsewhere.
Because you aren’t entitled to disciples either. Those, you make.