It’s no secret that millennials are somewhat of a mystery to older generations. Last count at 80 million, millennials (born roughly between 1980 and 2000) represent the largest age group in American history. They stand out for their digital use of smart phones and social media and are often categorized as the “Me” generation. They are used to instant gratification, whether that be news, online product ordering, or even just lunch. They use words like “selfie,” “shade,” and “woke” as adjectives.
So, how can a group of that caliber find its place in a Church 2,000 years in the making? How can they discover ways to match both their talents and their expectations, to assist the Church and everyone she serves?
Meaning, Purpose, Authenticity
The millennial generation is hungry for meaning, purpose, and authenticity — especially when it comes to their faith. They are used to seeking out opportunities to challenge their lives and, as such, look at the Sunday Mass experience through the same lens.
And honestly, they aren’t alone in this need. Catholics need inspiring homilies with practical applications, music that speaks to the heart, and a strong connection to the sacraments, especially that of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. They want to find a way to accept Jesus’ promise: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
According to a Pew Research poll, 41 percent of millennials believe that religion is “very important,” but only 26 percent attend Mass “at least once a week.” So there is a large disconnect. Where are they experiencing God? Do they know the joy of Christ that the Church offers? How can we as a parish community invite them into a deeper relationship with the Lord?
While the millennial generation may not always be largely represented in your parish, they are out there in the community, looking for a way to live their faith in an authentic way. A majority of them are actively searching for ways to become involved in making a positive difference within their circle of influence: family, friends, and the community at large. As a parish, the task of bringing them in and utilizing their talents is one such way they can make a difference.
Read on for a few ways in which your faith community can engage the millennial generation in your parish.
Is your parish located within a young community or near a university campus? If so, consider a nonspiritual event to bring these young adults to the “front porch” of the Church. Hold a parish-sponsored happy hour at a local establishment (be sure to mention that non-alcoholic drinks are also available!), coffee tasting, pottery painting, meet up at a local outdoor concert, etc. Something informal and casual — let them see firsthand how “normal” (for lack of a better word) the Church is. Talk, discuss, and share anything that comes up. This is a great opportunity to remind them not only that the Church is there for them, but also needs them.
So maybe one Sunday, you notice a few younger faces in the pews. A young college-aged man with a backpack sitting near the side aisle. A family of four with twins, bravely seated in the front pew. A thirty-something group of singles, chattering. They heard your invitation, moved beyond the “front porch,” and came right into the living room — now what?
As you know, first impressions are everything. So, take this opportunity to smile and thank them for coming. Let them know you’re happy they’re here, and if they have questions, they just need to wave you down. This is an opportunity for everyone (from the priest and pastoral associate to the religious education teacher, usher, and even just a regular Mass-goer) to set the tone: that your faith community is one of warmth and inclusivity. Let them know that they can come to the parish for not only the essential sacraments, but also for spiritual guidance, fun social events, community volunteering, or just a place to sit with the Lord during Eucharistic Adoration.
Now that young adults are starting to attend, how do we as a parish keep them coming back — and not only coming back but also actively bringing their family and friends? The solution may sound simple, but putting it into effect is sometimes anything but.
We need pastors to preach homilies that inspire change, challenge us all to grow, and encourage us in our walk with the Lord. We need to make sure that our parish leadership and staff are ready and willing to listen, respond, and help them grow in their relationship with God. Engage millennials by giving them a role to play and ownership of some of the ministry of the parish. Whether that be asking if they’d be greeters once a month, help coordinate some parish events, implement and run an Instagram page, or just give input on the homily every once in a while, opportunities are there. All of these can help them find a long-term place in your parish community.