Let's Not Say "Show Me the Money"
There can be a significant cultural divide between baby boomers and millennials in our congregations, which is obvious to the millennials, but often invisible to the boomers. I was reminded of this after seeing various reactions on Facebook to a recent article on CNN's Belief blog, Why millennials are leaving the church, and the video Church Shop created by a group of spirited Presbyterian young adults.
There are two major themes in the message that millennials are trying to deliver. The first is that the message coming from the church should not be opposed to science nor to lived experience. Millennials understand that they can be spiritual and ethical and believe in evolution and support gay marriage. We Unitarian Universalists are way ahead of the curve on this and are pretty good at saying so on our websites. Millennials should be flocking to our churches, right? They often do check us out if they are willing to give church a second chance. The second theme in the millennials' message is the one I want every congregational leader to hear with an open heart: Millennials are looking toward faith communities as a way of helping them deepen their own faith and to make the world a better place. They also are wise to the fact that they will likely never be as affluent as those born before 1958, but instead of reacting with bitterness or cynicism, Millennials are responding with a creative energy that is outwardly mission-focused and pragmatic.
Here is where our UU congregations often fall short. Instead of seeing the gift that this generation can bring to our faith communities, financially comfortable members often characterize Millennials as a drag on the church because their financial contributions aren't at a comparable level. Older members might see Millennials' reluctance to join committees as disinterest, where in fact these young adults aren't interested in joining committees unless their time will result in some significant mission-focused action. The physical building is not as important as what happens inside, and what happens inside is not as important as how that affects the world outside. The core values between the generations are similar, but the emphasis has changed.
Generational theory shows parallels between the G.I. Generation and the Millennials. Both are civic-minded institution-builders. The G.I. Generation had the resources to focus on the financial, and many church endowments are the beneficiaries of their providence. This new generation will not have the same financial opportunities as their earlier counterparts, but they are creatively meeting today's challenges with the resources that they do have. I hope our congregations see their potential and help to nurture and support them as they respond to the future with the limited resources that have been left to them.