Millennial Obsession? For the Love of God, “Yes”
Kara Lofton for Sojourners
As if directed by the Holy Spirit (imagine that, just a few days after Pentecost Sunday and almost a week after my blog on Millennials) David Watson posted an article in Ministry Matters, “The Millennial Obsession.” In his article Watson chides people who are foaming at the mouth trying to get Millennials. He infers that people who want Millennials paint them all with a broad brush – assuming they are all alike – and for the sole purpose of filling the pews.
Oh ye of little faith, Dr. Watson! While there are undoubtedly people out there who merely want seat fillers in their church, the vast majority of people have a longing for everyone to know and experience the love of God. Somewhere along the line, we got out of the habit of reaching out and being invitational.
If you know nothing about Millennials, how can you reach them? Millennials definitely aren’t a monolithic group. Lord knows a 21-year old artist-skateboarder has little in common with a 35-year old accountant with two kids. But there are scholars who are (what?!) smarter than you and me who study trends in people. If it’s helpful, then by golly, we should read these studies and see how they apply to our local situations.
So back to last week’s white paper, “The Millennial Donor Playbook: How Young Supporters are Influencing Change Across Organizations and Generations.” Like any new group of people you are trying to reach, you need to be strategic with your time and energy. The best way to do this is to SET GOALS. And, in order to do that, here are the questions The “Millennial Donor Playbook” suggests you need to ask yourself (my thoughts are in parenthesis):
What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Sure, you want more Millennials giving to your cause. But you might want to start by cultivating them as advocates and champions so they will help spread the word to their peers. (This gets back to the key question your congregation needs to answer: Why do you exist? If you can’t answer that question, you aren't going draw Millennials…or a number of other generations for that matter.)
Who are you trying to reach? There are 80 million Millennials. Even within that cohort, you need to think about audience segmentation. (It’s important to play to your strengths. Figure out what you have to offer. Maybe you’ll do better developing a ministry for college students rather than young families. Maybe reaching out to young-evangelical-professionals over tattooed-high-church-traditionalists is more your thing. Take time to assess where you excel.)
What do you want them to do? Once you’ve captured a potential supporter’s attention, you must have a clear call to action. (Be sure your church isn’t passive – discover what engages Millennials from a faith perspective…service, calls for justice, speaking out on behalf of others. Once again, if you don’t know why you exist, your call to action becomes far less clear.)
Millennials are an interesting bunch. And of course, so is every other generation. But by pretending there are no differences between generations we stand to miss what gifts and graces they can bring to our places of faith. No one should be “obsessed” with any one age group. But if God wants us to meet people where they are, we better know what they like and how we can engage them.
P.S. Congratulations to Bill and Jean Mullette-Bauer on completing the Camino de Santiago. No doubt, foot massages are in order.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. To relate to Millennials, she is wondering how she’d look with a few tattoos and nose piercings. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.