It is not uncommon to hear the question: “How do we get Millennials (aka Young Adults) into our church(es)?” This question, however, misses the goal if you are a faith community trying to connect with young adults and invite them to join you in following Jesus. The motivation behind this question is misguided. Masked as an attempt at evangelism, the real question being asked is “how do we get young adults to buy/invest/tithe into our communities and the work of our church institution.” My response to this is to re-think the question.
Why not try these on instead: What is it about my experience of faith in this community that I want to share with young adults? What are we doing here in this church, at this time and place, that young adults would want to be a part of, be companions in, be leaders of? How is my relationship with God leading me to invite others to know the joy of following Jesus? And how does inviting young adults to be a part of this faith community nourish, equip, encourage me to do that?
For over thirty years, The Episcopal Church was part of my self and soul. I was baptized as an infant with an Episcopal liturgy in a Methodist Church. I don't know how that happened either.
I’m one of those millennials. Sometimes it feels like we’re THE mystery the church must solve in order to not die. I think there are more important things to discuss, like how to follow Jesus. I used to love this slogan that dominated my childhood and young adult years: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." It was true because we said so, no question about it. The statement was dramatic - and innocent - enough to be fallibly infallible, and because we seemed to want to mean it. Years later, I realized I never questioned it because those who weren't universally welcome already knew not to come, and if I didn't see a problem, it didn't exist.
Hi, my name is Erin, and I’m a millennial leader in the Episcopal Church. I am the Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator in the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Episcopal Church in Northeast Wisconsin. I oversee all diocesan youth programs, like Summer Camp, Happening, New Beginnings, and lock-ins, as well as remain connected on both provincial and denominational levels. I also serve as the Youth Minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton, WI. In both roles, I work to recruit and train volunteers to help run diocesan and local programs connected to faith formation. This also includes Sunday School, Youth Group, service work, ecumenical events, worship services, and more. This is a small part of my story and how I continue answering the call to grow and lead in Youth Ministry.
The word “millennial”, once uttered, causes a reflex of eye rolls. I was not particularly eager to hold the title of being a millennial. The thought of millennials seems off-putting with the generations that came before mine.
I am a Navajo, Second Generation “Cradle” Episcopalian Millennial Woman. What does this mean? It means I am full of hope and wear moccasins and a ton of turquoise to national church functions. As Nadia Bolz-Webber said, “You’re winning in the jewelry category,” at the 2019 Episcopal Communicators Conference. My generation adapted through the rapid advances in technology thus we are more accepting of change and our surroundings.
This month we offer five resources on transitions and how to tackle them. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In No Time to Hibernate, Victor Conrado and Louisa McKellaston suggest that a transition is an opportunity to develop and grow the whole church - not a time to stay the course. Having strong lay leadership during such an interim is essential.
As a millennial clergy woman, I’ve been approached by folks when I’m visiting churches about “what millennials want in church.” My usual response is, “well, I can tell you what I look for in a church, but that’s not necessarily what my husband looks for, or my friends.” Despite what the media may lead us to believe, millennials are not a solid mass of young people (the oldest of us are in our late thirties) who all want the exact same thing. As every generation that has gone before us, we’re a diverse group of people who have different needs and desires in our lives, and that extends to church as much as to anything else. Thus, my advice to those asking the question about how to reach millennials and bring them into church is this: Be yourself (in my head, in true millennial fashion, it’s the Genie from Aladdin as voiced by Robin Williams saying this right now). It’s advice I give to the young people with whom I work all of the time, and it’s a guiding principle in my marriage and in my parenting. But these are good words to live by when it comes to being church as well.
The “we” I’m speaking of is all of us who make up The Episcopal Church, a church body split politically nearly the same way as all U.S. adults, and the healing I’m talking about is the healing of the division along political party lines.
I find it extraordinary that the denomination of more U.S. presidents than any other faith group, and indeed the place where the Trumps attend major holidays, still looks like the overall U.S. population in terms of political affiliation. The denomination of many early founders of our government, responsible for the good and the bad in our country’s early development, remains over-represented in Congress in terms of proportion of the elected body who are Episcopalian.
The Episcopal Church has an incredible opportunity to leverage our political composition, our level of education, our growing diversity, and our rich history to help our country heal the immense divide we are experiencing and reinvigorate compassionate, critical dialogue necessary for tackling the challenges facing our world.
I feel like I need to tell you upfront that I didn’t join Tinder to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all of my potential matches. I do hope you already knew that. But after three years, a laundry list of bad first dates and a handful of short-term relationships, I learned that I have become readily equipped with all of the skills I need to be an evangelist. I’m no longer involved in online dating rings - moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Northwest Arkansas meant a swift and jarring shrinking of the dating pool. Also, online dating in a college town when your match radius only reaches the campus population you are responsible for pastoring to is an absolute non-starter. I’m now in an #offline relationship. Still, I use the skill set entrusted to me to by God, developed with a little nurturing by Tinder and OKCupid, every single day. There are quite a few transferable skills between partially blind dating and talking to strangers about Jesus. And maybe, the online platforms that the church has given side eye to are actually doing the work of equipping the saints of God.
Earlier this year Netflix released a binge-worthy series called Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. In short, the show presents itself as a voyeuristic dive into different people’s homes and attempts to declutter their spaces. Since debuting, it has quickly risen to the top of social media and buzzworthy notoriety due to a variety of reasons ranging from memes about Marie Kondo’s personality and practices to unfavorable discourse involving microaggressions around racist and classist undertones. Kondo has left a significant mark on the ecosystem of online chatter which has left many people curious and eager to find out more.
Interestingly enough, I believe Kondo delicately captures a hunger for joy and happiness that many of us seek beyond our secular domains of our homes. That hunger reaches deeper into our spiritual houses. You see, throughout the series, the individuals who come from a robust background of races, ethnicities, social locations, marital statuses, and sexualities quickly learn that what Marie is sharing with them is not just a practice to “get rid of stuff” but rather a way to find out what really matters to them as they move forward in their respective journeys.
Over the past few years, I’ve leaned into what it means for me to live as authentically as possible in every area of my life. By no means is this a practice that comes easily or without fear. Authenticity – to open ourselves to the world as we are – can be scary. It requires vulnerability, humility, and courage. What will people think? Will they still like me? Will I be welcome?
The scariest place to do this can be the church. For all the talk of being a welcoming place where we worship a loving God, many folks do not experience church as either of those things. I have friends and acquaintances who want nothing to do with the church for this reason. They think Jesus is pretty cool, but often they don’t see people who call themselves Christian acting like Jesus. What they see is judgment, rejection, and hate. To compound the matter, when enacted by people claiming Christianity, these three things are justified by certain theologies and interpretations of scripture. Essentially, “God tells me it’s okay to hate you,” or, “My beliefs allow me to discriminate against you and here’s my supporting argument for why you should be okay with that.” Who wants to be authentic when the risk is finding out that self-revelation can mean rejection?
Old Testament Lesson | Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
In the plush yet homey lounge of our small stone-gothic church, I sat across from two men in their late 20’s whom I have had the joy to know for the last year or so. In just a few months, theirs will be our first same-sex wedding at this urban Ohio parish, an occasion welcomed and celebrated with great fanfare from the congregation, with scarcely an inkling of opposition. Glowing with delight, they shared the readings chosen for their nuptials – two from Holy Scripture, and a selection from the opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the landmark 2015 Olbergfell decision affirming same-sex marriage nationwide.
The generation that has come to be known as “Millennials” has been both forcefully criticized and lustfully sought after by countless voices within and outside the Church. We’ve grown used to the endless portrayals as phone-connected disbelieving libertine avocado toast-eaters, often followed by the hand-wringing plea for “more young people” in the pews. Those of us born between 1982 and 1996 (or thereabouts) continue to take the heat for so much that’s “gone wrong” in the world of religion, not least of which because of our characteristic disinterest in the Church the way it’s “always been.” And yet, we aren’t willing to toss the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater of countless manifestations of bad church throughout the ages.
As a young adult, I yearn for a Church where all young adults experience unforgettable moments in ministries that are their own in some way. I yearn for a Church that offers young adults the tools, the love, and the patience they need in their journey of understanding themselves, their faith, and the world around them.
The Church that I hope for is the type of Church that I have glimpsed through individuals who took chances on me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed with me, and helped form me to be the person I am today. My life as a disciple has been enriched by opportunities to both lead and learn to follow; whether I was co-chairing a diocesan commission, preaching at Nuevo Amanecer, speaking up at General Convention, serving as camp counselor or a youth leader, or helping to develop a companion diocesan relationship between Texas and Costa Rica. I am a different kind of friend, daughter, mentor, and woman of faith today because I have been invited to walk into some strange and beautiful places to find the Spirit at work there.
Sunday morning. Our teething five month old was up throughout the night, and my husband was on an overnight shift with the sheriff’s department. Throughout the cluster feeding, I spent more time than I care to admit pinteresting ideas for our middle child’s birthday party. It’s November. He won’t be three until April. Preschool birthday parties are cut throat. Princesses & Pirates at the local Children’s Garden complete with gluten free snack options - no peanuts, early in the morning so it’s not too hot seems to be the plan… unless someone else got to Pinterest before me. I need to make sure I book a spot first thing Monday or, better yet, I’ll send an email right now!
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with communication challenges. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practicesto receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (RSV)
Being an old millennial myself (age 34) and working in youth and other ministries puts me in a good position to see all sides of the Millennial spectrum. For years, I have noticed congregations and committees at a Diocesan level talk about the young generations, especially how “difficult” it seems to engage millennials. But when I am part of those meetings, I have not seen any millennials involved. I have realized that it is easier for other generations to talk about millennials than with millennials. We must remember that the term is not the individual it is just a term to identify a generation. If you want to engage millennials, you must include them in the conversation.
When my father was teaching me as a young boy how to play golf he passed along one important adage: “golf is simple but not easy.” Truly, it is a simple game. Get the ball into the hole using the fewest number of shots. But anybody who has picked up a golf club knows that the game’s simplicity lures you into a false sense of security. Golf is anything but easy. One small miscalculation or error has tremendous consequences on where the ball goes, what your score will be, and if you ever choose to play this beguiling game again. Simple, not easy.
I am an old millennial (born in 1985) and a priest, which somehow makes me an expert on the religiosity of a whole generation. Usually the questions about millennials directed at me are veiled angst (“is the church going to survive?”) or latent anger (“why is my granddaughter having a destination wedding?”). The answers about millennials and our relationship with the church are simple, but not easy to swallow.
When a holy nudge of an idea comes along and starts to take root in your faith community, how can it be tended to grow with the support of many? Or when your community feels a bit weary, uncertain of its future, or just plain bored with its status quo, how can you liven things up to engage people in seeking answers together?
One way is as old as the Christian church itself: gatherings in homes to explore faith and pray for guidance, today frequently called “Cottage Meetings.”
The idea is to invite people to sign-up to participate in an informal gathering for conversation in someone’s home. Figure 10 to 15 people per gathering to determine how many home hosts are needed.
In our Baptismal Covenant, we pledge that we will “strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” The world is crying for justice and peace, yet controversy lurks even in definitions of terms. Like a squirrel kicking up dried leaves, we scurry through the space provided for conversation, anxious to find our own safe place.
How can we make the conversation space safe enough for everyone? As we consider this, some self-reflection might be beneficial.
In her book, An Altar in the World, acclaimed spiritual writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes about twelve practices that engage us to experience God. The book helps us recognize some of the altars around us, which Taylor describes as ordinary-looking places where human beings meet the divine “More” they are seeking and sometimes call God. For your prayerful consideration about how to live in respectful peace with others, check out Chapter 6, The Practice of Encountering Others.
I serve as the rector of two churches, and even though both congregations are similar in many ways, today, they didn’t start out that way. One, St. George’s in Valley Lee, is so old that most of our earliest records are housed in our state Archives in Annapolis, MD. The other, Ascension in Lexington Park, was planted as a mission chapel in 1954 and became its own parish in 1968. Ascension has only had a few rectors – I’m number 4 – and I’m especially grateful that its first rector, the founder of the Mission-turned-Parish, spent a great deal of time near the end of his life writing his memories and reflections.