“The reason I don’t go to church is that many churches have a negative outlook on anybody who does not fit the standard Christian mold,” my roommate, Gemma, told me recently. “If churches were more positive and accepting I’d be more likely to go.”
Gemma’s viewpoint is fairly typical of those of us in our 20s. As more and more of my generation Y peers describe themselves as having no religious affiliation, I am both disheartened and hopeful about the future of the United Methodist Church amidst this trend.
A recent study by the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life (pewforum.org) describes the growing tendency for young adults to claim no religious affiliation. Look around the church pews and you will see that for yourself.
Where are the young people? Why aren’t they coming to church?
The United Methodist Church is a missional, global, connected network of disciples. As United Methodists, we have something powerful to offer that millenials crave: the ability—the need—to change the world for the better.
As I’m writing this, the umc.org web page features the story “12 ways to fight hunger,” which appears right under “help with Hurricane Sandy relief.”
The United Methodist Church is engaged in the things young people care about.
Change the world, grow the church
The United Methodist Church is engaged in mission all around the world and in local communities. According to the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, “In 2011, some 4,500 churches mobilized more than 500,000 volunteers, serving 4,000,000 people in 16 countries” (“Have mainline denominations lost their voice?”21st Century Faith, Media & Culture, March 2012).
The United Methodist Church’s campaign to eradicate deaths by malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, Imagine No Malaria, has raised millions of dollars to fight this disease of poverty—with Minnesota leading the denomination at $2.5 million donated or pledged.
United Methodists give generously of their time and financial resources for the betterment of the world. This is something that this denomination has in common with millenials.
Last October, at the annual meeting of the United Methodist Association of Communicators, former White House press secretary Mike McCurry urged communicators to make these stories a priority.
“Unless you communicate it like you mean it, people are not going to get the message,” McCurry says.
What we are doing is good and powerful and it changes the world—and we need to not be afraid to tell the world about it!
Engage in mission; spiritual journey to follow
United Methodist organizations should find millenials where we are: online.
“Join this event to help underprivileged school children in the inner city! Come pack meals for starving infants in Haiti! Buy this album and the proceeds will be donated to those suffering from homelessness!”
This stuff works.
Engage us. Get us to be the hands and feet of Jesus first—and then invite us to worship. Get them out there in the community, or engaged in an awareness campaign on Twitter—and then get them on your e-mail list.
“Unless we can do something to reach that young person, we’ve got a big problem as this generation continues to enter adulthood,” McCurry said. “How does our conversation shift to include them? How do we reach them in the ways they get their information? It’s not through the church newsletter.”
As a 25-year-old, I agree.
Perception and retention
So we come to an event, or we attend a worship service. Now what?
Millenials have a mixed view of the church. It’s dependent upon our childhood experiences, or what we see from the media—whoever or whatever speaks the loudest.
Though most of the increased number of “nones”—people with no religious affiliation—grew up in a religious family (74 percent!), upon entering adulthood they have given it up. I think part of this is simply a convenience factor—for example, without having a marriage to be blessed and children to send to Sunday school, it just may never occur to some of us to go there—and since more and more of my peers are waiting to do these things, this may partly be an explanation.
But I also think that the perception of church is important. The United Methodist Church must live up to having “open hearts, open minds, and open doors” if we want the emerging generation of adults to consider being involved in church.
We prefer places that are welcoming to all, and that spans the gamut from those who wear blue jeans to worship to those who want to know that their LGBT friends will be accepted.
Millenials crave community and collaboration for the greater good. They are more likely to join up and keep up with the church if they believe the church is both doing good in the community and the world and is open to “people like them.”
United Methodists have a real opportunity to be the community that young adults crave. I believe that United Methodist churches can be the places young adults seek when they start to seek faith again—if we proclaim our opportunities to change the world and are truly welcoming to all whom God sends our way.
Amanda Yanchury is communications assistant for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.