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What Millennials Want

Posted by Carey McDonald // November 13th 2013 // Featured Young Adults, Future of Faith, young adults // no comments



As the #FoF Future of Faith series has explored the need to connect with younger generations, we start to ask “what are Millennials looking for?” Two in-depth reports, based on interviews with spiritually inclined Millennials in liberal religious communities, illustrate the importance of spiritual communities that clearly embody their deepest principles, are committed to values of justice and inclusion, and provide profound worshipful experiences:

  • The Report on Young Adult Ministry, commissioned by the UUA’s Massachusetts Bay District in 2010, is based on surveys and interviews with young adult UUs. It describes young adults with strong individual beliefs but an openness to new ideas, who highly value spiritual and worshipful engagement, and who are “hungry for lived spiritual communities.”[i] Young adults are looking for religious venues that offer them the chance of “being in a community of spiritual seekers, transforming the world and oneself, [and] music and rituals . . .”[ii]
  • Doing Church and Doing Justice, a report on the young adults who attend Middle Collegiate Church (a diverse, liberal Christian church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), highlights Millennials’ desire for a church that is at the forefront of social justice, is fully committed to racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality inclusion, and promotes an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. The report also emphasizes the importance of having a fluid approach to membership (with no pressure to participate in a certain way), maintaining a consistently worshipful space, and offering an inspiring and thought-provoking message that avoids political vitriol.[iii]

What would a religious community that achieves these aspirations look like? Could it be more responsive to the shifts seen in American families and individual lifestyles? The Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults (Changing SEA) project,[iv] a study of successful Christian ministry with young adults, offers congregational models for us to consider, including emergent, accessible, and contemporary/missional churches. We are already seeing examples within our faith of the types of churches profiled by the Changing SEA project.

Emergent churches comprise a loosely connected movement across Protestant denominations that emphasize inclusive theology, anti-institutional and anti-hierarchical organization, and a focus on participatory and ritual-based worship that channels the feeling of the early Christian church.[v]

Accessible congregations are more traditional in form but have succeeded in making themselves attractive and welcoming to young adults. Key to this transition has been gaining a critical mass of young adults involved in church life, which both helps new young adult worshippers feel welcome and encourages existing younger members to reach out to their friends.[vi]

Contemporary or missional congregations are exploring new models of church altogether. The category of “missional congregations” can include any religious community that is experimenting with new ways to spread its values and its message beyond the historical norm.[vii] For example, the Changing SEA project describes the sweeping programs of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York, which include youth leadership development, a food and clothing pantry, a health center, and family ministry; in addition, many of its programs are organized under a community development corporation framework.[viii]

The Changing SEA project also investigates religious spaces and intentional living communities that are not congregations at all but may have similar goals to a missional congregation. These groups include college campus centers, young adult events, and gatherings sponsored by multiple local churches or religious organizations.

[i] Dawson, E. D. (2010, May 18). Report on Young Adult Ministry (p. 1). Watertown, MA: Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts of Unitarian Universalist Congregations. Retrieved from http://www.cbd-mbd-uua.org/sites/default/files/documents/Report%20on%20Young%20Adult%20Ministry%20Eric%20D%20Dawson%202010-05-18.pdf

[ii] Dawson, 2010 (p. 2).

[iii] Jones, R. P., & Cox, D. (2011, May). Doing Church and Doing Justice: A Portrait of Millennials at Middle Church. Washington, DC: Public Religion Research Institute, Inc. Retrieved from http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Millennials-at-Middle-Chirch-Report.pdf

[iv] For more information on the Changing SEA project, visit the team’s website (www.changingsea.org).

[v] For more on this topic, see Gerardo Marti’s essay “The Emerging Church Movement and Young Adults” on the Changing SEA website (http://www.changingsea.org/marti2.php).

[vi] To hear about a church that steadily built a younger ministry in the back yard of the University of Notre Dame, read Justin Paul Farrell’s profile of Clay United Methodist Church in South Bend, Indiana, posted on the Changing SEA website (http://www.changingsea.org/farrell.php).

[vii] For more on “missional congregations,” see “My Best Shot at Defining ‘Missional’” by Dave Owen-O’Quill (May 25, 2012) on The Underground, the website of dare2seek.org (http://www.dare2seek.org/2012/05/25/my-best-shot-at-defining-missional/).

[viii] See Richard Cimino’s profile “Diversity and Spirituality Drive Young Adults at New Life Fellowship” on the Changing SEA’s website (http://www.changingsea.org/cimino.php).

About the Author

Carey is the Chief Operating Officer for the UUA.
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