Intergenerational Connection Strengthens Faith
What do Millennials really seek from religion?Dana Sand, USA TODAY, October 2, 2013
A recent report found that Millennials crave depth in spirituality and recommended five ways for faith communities to build connections with them. But do students agree?
Story Highlight: Study found that those who maintain their religion in college were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church
For Liberty University senior Sarah Zins, religion was a deciding factor in choosing a college. "I chose to attend a Christian university because I knew that I needed some form of structure in my life that would help me live right," said Zins, 21. According to Zins, each residence hall at Liberty has a leadership team composed of two RAs, two spiritual life coaches and eight to 11 prayer leaders. A recent Barna Group report found that Millennials crave depth in spirituality and recommended five ways for faith communities to build connections with them. The first and most critical of these was to make room for meaningful relationships. The study found that those who maintain their religion in college were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church, and 90% of those who left never had a church mentor. "Christianity is a community-based faith, so fellowship is definitely key in keeping it alive," said Carnegie Mellon senior Peter Salim. "The most important part is to understand that this is not a personal thing because it involves the people around you, regardless of whether it's intentional or not."
According to Linda Mercadante, a theology professor at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Millennials who were raised without religion are less likely to seek out this connection. "Even to say you're spiritual but not religious — that's in some ways a fallback position for people that want to remember their spiritual foundation that they had at one time and say they're still going along the right path," she said. Mercadante interviewed hundreds of people for her book, Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious, which will be released in February. Mercadante said that those who did not grow up on a religious path are less likely to view that label as important but that coming to religion with no prior experiences, good or bad, can be a benefit. This was the case for Miami University senior Luke Hall, 21. Once an outspoken critic of religion, Hall now identifies as Episcopalian.
"College is a period of self-discovery, exploration and reflection, which is why it's pretty common to see large ideological and philosophical shifts among students," Hall said. "I grew to find atheism philosophically incompatible with my continued existence. Another big factor was the recognition that religion was compatible and even a major driving force behind serious academic, intellectual and scientific work, coupled with the realization that religious fundamentalism and biblical literalism aren't more correct, more pure versions of faith."
Although Mercadante said most people who moved away from a childhood religion did so during college, for some, this questioning process strengthens their already existing beliefs.
"Through classes on Hinduism as well as joining the Hindu Students Association, I have learned more about the practices, beliefs and mythology surrounding the deities in Hinduism," said Emory University senior Mayur Patel, 21. "Apart from learning more factual matters, I have also explored my own sense of faith, trying to develop a deeper connection with my religion."
Emory's Interreligious Council, through which members spread religious unity and aim to learn about other traditions, has been one avenue that Patel said helped open him up to the complexity and beauty of religion.
These pursuits match other recommendations of the Barna Group, including teaching cultural discernment and prioritizing "reverse mentoring" to help Millennials discover their personal missions.