People often ask me, “How can we attract more young adults and families? The key to answering that question lies in understanding the Millennial generation. They are children born to the post WWII boomers, between 1989 and 2000, also called the Gen Y generation.
Here are some critical differences: 40% are mixed race. They can’t relate to the racist attitudes of their elders. They see everyone as mixed. At least 20% have an immigrant parent.
Raised by affluent parents, they are the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents.
Sometimes they are also called the “Net” generation. They don’t recall a time when there was no internet, and are the most technologically savvy to date.
Many are staunchly Humanist or Atheist, and will look you in the eye defiantly and tell you that they don’t need church. They grew up without church as the center of their communal lives, a have been labeled the “nones.”
But this is what they do want: a sense of spirituality, and a place to exercise their ethics in action. They don’t want to sit on a pew- they want to get on the bus and into the world to make a difference. If they have children, they want them engaged in justice too.
Case in point. My millennial niece knows that I am a minister, so she always says, “I suppose you’re going to drag me to church.” I said, “Yes, I may do that, but what I thought you might enjoy more is to go to “church camp” with me. So I took her to a week long family camp in Ohio called “Summer Institute, ” similar to the Unirondack camp in New York. It was life altering. She felt accepted by her peers, she felt popular, she felt included, and freer than she ever did anywhere else in life. (Even with the supervision that is part of the camp, she didn’t even notice the rules- and not because there were none. Any parent could feel confident that they were monitored and safe.) She even participated in the youth worship service.
Later when her school required a service project, she wanted to volunteer at the local Unitarian Universalist church. I almost wept.
My recommendation is that churches do some fundraising to send the youth and families to camp. It will solidify their UU identity, and give then a needed break from the financial and other stresses on their lives. They may be so grateful that they return to church, renewed, refreshed, and ready to serve.
Rev. Christina Neilson
Congregational Life Consultant, CERG Stewardship Consultant