As I walked into the basement, all I could see was a mass of young people – millennials (those born between the 1980s and the 2000s) to be specific. Many of them were family and the rest were their friends. As for the family members, I have had the incredible blessing of watching them grow and mature through the years. Since many of them I only am able to see once or twice a year, every time we gather, the change is always significantly evident.
All of them have been raised in the Church. It’s an eclectic group made up of Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Nondenominationals. Some are incredibly devoted to their religious traditions, some are still affiliated but mainly attend on high holy family occasions, a few would would be what we now categorize as “Nones”.
Beyond their religious affiliation and involvement, they are all connected to at least one “community” and most have multiple communities that they are a part of. As well, almost all of them have, or are involved in, some level of community engagement – both locally and abroad.
There is a lot of angst in the Church about our changing demographics. Recent studies that measure attendance and affiliation once again show a continued decrease in numbers, especially among millennials. I have commented on multiple occasions that there is absolutely no question that the “gathering of the faithful is changing”. And the fact of the matter is, we are witnessing the largest change in all of our lifetimes. However, when we take a really long look at how the faithful have gathered, two things are apparent: First, the community of faithful have gathered in a multitude of ways. Second, the Holy Spirit continues to lead the faithful forward into new life of healing, wholeness, and reconciliation.
The other thing I have shared on numerous occasions is that in my experience the youth in our midst are not a “godless brood” as someone once suggested to me. In fact, I am continually inspired by the depth of faithfulness manifested by young people in their very thoughtful questions along with their desire to use their gifts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, bring an end to all forms of injustice, and live a life of holiness. However, the reality is that many are choosing to gather and affiliate in new and different ways than the Church historically has over the last several generations.
Will the millennials that are not presently attending our faith communities join us at some point? Maybe. Regardless, we will have to be open to new ways of gathering and being, and most importantly we will have to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s a link you may find interesting about millennials: How We Gather.