Rev. Jean Jeffress’ message for November 2022
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity.” – Rachel Held Evans
“We’re (millennials) looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.” -Rachel Held Evans
A week or so ago, our beloved vice-moderator, Charlie Golden, emailed me a link to an article. It was one of those articles about what millennials want from church. There are a zillion of these types of articles – okay, not a zillion – but it’s a hot topic. The data are piling up about our shrinking churches and the increasing number of non-religiously affiliated people, or to use the modern vernacular, the increasing number of “nones.” According to a study by the Pew Research Center, in 2021, “Christians [outnumbered] religious “nones” by a ratio of little more than 2 to 1. In 2007, when the Center began asking its current question about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by almost five-to-one (78% vs. 16%).” Wow! That is a huge jump.
This news, of course, is not new. It is well-known that church membership, in general, has been in decline for a number of years. And the reason why so many articles about the Church (a zillion-ish) focus on millennials, is that millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, appear to be the generation with the biggest drop in church attendance and religious affiliation. Maybe millennials are busier than their parents and grandparents – have more debt – less time to relax or commit to activities outside of work and family. Maybe millennials have lost trust in institutions, including the institutional church. Maybe, like so many people, millennials have been hurt by the church. Not being a millennial myself, I can only speculate.
One thing that I think we can all agree on is that the church in general, and of course, our church, would benefit greatly from even a small influx of millennials. Millennials are the bulk of our workforce; they are the folks with school-aged children and youth. They, and of course Gen Z too (people born between 1997 and 2012), are the generations to whom we hope to hand off the church – to carry on the good work and ministry – to continue the beloved community far into the future.
As we think about church growth, we wonder how we might attract millennials. Well, there are a zillion articles that will tell us how to do that. I read about five of them. What it boils down to is this; younger people, including those who identify as “nones” are looking for communities where they can be their authentic selves, where they will not be judged (this is especially true for LGBTQ folks), where issues that are relevant to their lives are talked about, where their ideas and concerns will be listened to – a place where they can belong. That is, ultimately, what we all want – belonging.
The good news is that at Foothills, we have all the ingredients to be that very community. We are already a progressive and inclusive, open and affirming congregation. Rather than espouse Christian dogma, or insist on one way to believe, we encourage people to find their faith and/or connection to spirituality in their own way. We aspire to be inclusive in terms of theological expression, faith tradition, socioeconomic status, culture, race, ethnicity and ability. And while our inclusivity work is not done, I believe it is the path we are walking.
As we reach the end of the year and anticipate who will join us as Senior Minister, let us imagine together: how can we live more fully into who we say we are? If we are welcoming, what does it look like to be more welcoming? If we are inclusive, what does it look like to be more inclusive? If we are a place of belonging, what does it look like for more people to belong – people we don’t know yet, people who might be a little different than most of the membership, people who might have new or different ideas that they are excited to share, people who are hungry for a sense of community? We have all the ingredients to nurture the church that we have, and to grow the church that we want to pass to the next generation. Working together in community with God’s help and lots of prayer, we’ve got this.