Are Millennials Looking Outside the Church to Serve?

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Lately there’s been a lot of buzz on the topic of millennials and the church. How do we reach them? What are they passionate about? And perhaps this loaded question: Why aren’t millennials serving in our churches?

With the baby boomers getting older, churches are looking for the next generation of leaders and volunteers to step up. This is where millennials, or individuals born between 1980 - 2000, come in. Churches are ready for millennials to take on leadership roles as deacons, Sunday school teachers, and more. But is this happening? And if not, why?

As a millennial myself, I think the answer is complicated. A few years back I was looking to volunteer and to be honest, my first instinct was not to start with my church. Instead I talked to friends and googled organizations with needs that matched my interests. I ended up spending Monday nights at a local homeless shelter, baking cookies and playing bingo. Meanwhile, I was not serving my church in any capacity.

So how come I didn’t start at my church?

For one, I was new to the church and not well connected (no fault of the church). On top of that, the church did not frequently share ways to get involved (I could have emailed someone). Finally, I didn’t have any friends that were currently involved in church ministry. I think these simple reasons (more like excuses) led me to decide it was just as easy to serve in the community and not at church.

As it turns out, my actions were similar to those of my peers. According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 77% of millennials are more likely to volunteer if they could use their specific skill-set to benefit a cause. In addition, millennials are highly influenced by their peers, almost half said they are more likely to volunteer if asked by a friend.

So. . . where does this leave churches? Have you found it helpful to have millennials recruit their friends? Or can churches emphasis how various skills are needed in roles (i.e. accountants make great deacons, people who like to cook are great on the hospitality team, etc.)? Is the problem not with churches?

I’d love to hear the story of what is happening at your church!

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Community Builder

Thanks for posting this, Staci! You bring up a lot of really good questions for those of us who love the church, and want to see youth be an integral part of it. A few years ago, as I started work on a project for the denomination that wrestled with this very question (it was called LEAP), a colleague told me that we need to start with how we think and talk about youth in the church. "Youth are not the future of the church," he told me, "they are the church." It has struck me since then that this is where we need to start. When we have conversations in our congregations about increasing youth engagement, we tend to talk about them like they aren't already there. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

For the LEAP project, we did some research and found that young people returning from mission trips in high school and college would love to be plugged in at their church afterwards, but don't know how. Congregations want to increase their engagement, but they don't know how to do it, either. So we tested a model where young adults could serve as a paid intern in their churches for anywhere from 3-12 months. During this time, young people were equipped and encouraged to continue their learning, to grow under a mentor, and to challenge their congregation to grow in their engagement of mission, community development, and justice issues. 

We learned that both young adults and congregations appreciated this model. We are hoping to develop it into something that the denomination can offer small grants to congregations to try this model in their community. Stay tuned!

Admin

Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Shannon. I completely agree about giving youth ownership as early as possible. One of my best church experiences in high school was serving on the Pastor Search committee. I felt so honored to be included and was humbled to have my voice heard. I think the earlier we place youth in positions of church leadership, the more comfortable they will be when the opportunity comes up to step in to a role such as deacon.  

Admin

Forgot to ask, what kind of leadership tasks or mentoring would be part of the paid internship? Sounds like an interesting model and I'd love to hear a bit more about how it would work!  

Community Builder

Good questions, Staci. The position descriptions were shaped by the gifts of the young adults, and the needs of the congregation. For some, it meant continuing their education on issues surrounding immigration, cross-cultural and urban ministry by participating in trainings to become a workshop facilitator (i.e. Church Between Borders and the Dance of Racial Reconciliation). Most interns worked to raise awareness and educate about issues of justice in their church community by speaking to different church groups and planning intergenerational service projects. The mentors met with interns weekly, ideally. They were church elders, pastors, and ministry leaders--all people with experience ministering in the congregation who were able to support and encourage the interns as they served and learned.

Have you read the book,"I hate religion,but I love Jesus"?I think it addresses these issues quite well.

  JonkerJudithBredeweg

Admin

Hi Judy: Thanks for the suggestion! I will definitely check it out. 

Participant

I would hope that millenials, and all other age defined groups for that matter, predominantly serve outside of the institutional church.  This is not to say they shouldn't serve within the institutional church as well, but it needs to be understood that we serve (or should serve) in all that we do, and that message ought to be a core message of the (preaching and teaching and encouraging) institutional church to all its members.

I think the more the institutional church effectively teaches this Calvinist/Reformed/Kuyperian message, the more members will be convicted that all they do should be service to their Creator, and the more they are so convicted, the more they will connect to, and serve in, their institutional church, even if most of their service to their their Lord is done outside the institutional church.

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