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Reaching Out to Millennials

Reaching Out to Millennials

Knitting anyone? Image courtesy of Romanlily @flikr.com

This week, one of the saints from our church passed away. In her day, Sue was a creative force – coming up with new ideas and ways to make the church more “relevant” – before that was even a thing. She was a Sunday School teacher too. When I called my young adult son to tell him about Sue’s passing, he was genuinely sad. Luke reflectively said, “Wow. She was really important. She taught me a lot about how I understand God.” Peace to you Sue – and let’s hear it for Sunday School teachers.
Luke is a typical Millennial (someone born between 1980-1996). He’s wary of institutions in general but is very engaged in the world. He doesn't attend church. His career path is and will continue to be circuitous. Don’t get me wrong, my son is atypical in so many ways too (because he’s my son and he’s human and he’s not merely a statistic), but he is a bona fide Millennial. According to the Pew Research Center, here’s what’s important to Millennials:

Being a good parent  52%
Having a successful marriage  30%
Helping others in need  21%
Owning a home  20%
Living a religious life  15%
Having a high paying career  15%
Having lots of free time  9%
Becoming famous  1%
Are these things so different from what we all want or have wanted?
Erica Williams Simon, an award-winning content creator, educator, host and social critic, and – a Millennial was recently asked during a podcast how people might connect with Millennials. Her suggestions?
Prioritize Millennial values (see above)
Be transparent
Support work-life balance
Be honest
Again, is this so different from what we all want?
Simon continued, have honest conversations with Millennials (what a concept!). Bring them an issue or concern you have and ask:
“How would you, knowing what you know, solve this problem?”  
“What can you bring to the table that perhaps someone who is older might not have seen or not have access to?”
We all long to be heard.
If you really want to get a conversation started with and about Millennials and the church, I highly recommend watching this short PBS piece “Millennials Haven’t Forgotten Spirituality, They’re Just Looking for New Venues” by Harvard researcher Casper ter Kuile. Challenging stuff.
What’s a faith community to do that wants to bring in more Millennials? The best and most important thing you can do is engage them in conversation with an open heart and mind. You’ll probably have better luck if you host such a conversation in your home or in a local coffee shop rather than at the church…at least initially.
You can also offer things that are of importance to Millennials (and to us all): Marriage seminars, parenting classes, and opportunities to serve others.
Millennials really aren’t that different from past generations. Nor are they that different from us. They care about the same things. They long for community. The church for all its flaws can offer that to them. But we need to be open to hearing that the “way it’s always been done” may now be a thing of the past. Luke’s old Sunday School teacher recognized it long ago. Here’s to being “relevant” with Millennials in the best and most authentic way possible.
What barriers have you felt in connecting with Millennials? Is something working for you? Let’s keep the conversation going! Email me at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She wants to thank her third grade Sunday School teacher for helping her memorize scripture…and giving her ribbons to prove it. She was 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. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
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.