Contributions From Kate White
In a gathering of congregational leaders, the word “millennial” enters the conversation. A wave of uneasiness settles in — judgment, honest confusion or distress. What is the future of our congregation with these young people?
As a church-going millennial and congregational consultant, I observe these conversations through a few different lenses. Here’s what you should consider.
“What if millennials are the carriers and not the cause [of cultural change].” – Mike McHargue
Thought leader Mike McHargue, voice of The Liturgists podcast and The New Copernican Series, encourages a broader perspective of our changing lifestyles and overall culture. To quote a friend, “I wasn’t born this way, glued to my phone. I didn’t choose to have a six-second attention span.”
Action step: Try withholding judgment in favor of seeking understanding. You might learn something and uncover that millennials make more sense than you thought.
We are individuals with unique stories and normal human needs. Labeling us “millennials” doesn’t even scratch the surface of who we are. We have personalities, varied hardships and defining life experiences. What we do share is an isolating, technology-driven culture. Because of this, we especially need authentic conversation and relationships.
Action step: Try getting to know us on an individual level. This step is recommended in Center staffer Wendy McCormick’s Engaging Young Adults article. My best relationships started by getting together outside of the worship building. Meet us for coffee or invite us to a sports game, a game night, lunch or a local show.
We’ll likely collaborate with you to do something. As society gets faster, our time is important. Help us use time together to further our goals and contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Giving us a meaningful role will make us feel valued and grow our commitment to the congregation.
Action Step: Ask us what we’re interested in or passionate about. Support us in making those ideas happen. Derrick Feldmann’s Social Movements For Good will help you understand social movements of this generation and what makes them successful.
As you get to know young adults, you’ll be able to spend more time together doing the life-giving activities of your congregation.
Most people can carry a casual conversation with a young adult. If that seems like a challenge in your congregation, check out the first part of this blog Relationships: A Millennial Perspective.
How about discussing values and faith beliefs with that younger generation? It’s accurate to say “times have changed.” In many parts of the United States, it’s no longer assumed that people go to worship every week. This makes conversations about faith challenging –but not impossible.
As a congregational consultant and millennial, here’s what I think you should know about millennials and faith.
We value spirituality and group connection. Contrary to statistics declaring the decline of religion in America, millennials do care about spirituality. It just looks different. Consider the Harvard Divinity study How We Gather. Thriving millennial movements like Crossfit and The Dinner Party draw upon common elements: community, personal and social transformation, purpose finding, creativity and accountability.
Action step: Evaluate which of those elements your congregation does well. Practice talking about those benefits and invite potential newcomers.
Value us through hospitality. I appreciate worship services that allow casual clothes and free coffee. It’s not about the cool leader in jeans or the best local brew. It’s about inviting us to come as we are. If it’s between wearing jeans and not showing up, it’s better to have us show up in jeans.
Action step: Take time to evaluate the new visitor experience. This list of 50 Ways to Welcome New People will help. While staying true to your congregation’s culture, eliminate unnecessary discomfort for visitors.
We are likely to question faith and require a safe space to do that. Rather than accepting doctrine or marketing, young adults prioritize exploration and personal experiences to determine their beliefs. This allows for rich, yet messy, thinking. Author of The New Copernicans Dr. John Seel explains this well. I highly recommend checking out his book.
Action step: Practice active listening and humility to prioritize relationships. This is especially important when the other person doesn’t share your beliefs. Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk will help you brush up on conversation skills. Once you build a trusting space, it becomes easier to dialogue about faith.