The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the millennial generation and their attitudes toward the church and stewardship. The conversation has two key parts really—the first has to do with millennials interest or more likely, dis-interest, in the church. The second has to do with the practices of millennials who are a part of the church but appear to not want to support it with their stewardship.
Research has shown that a large part of the decline in church size is due to the flight of younger people from the church for all kinds of reasons. Disillusionment, scandals, inability of the church to change with the times. It began years ago as current church seniors realize that the children they raised in the church, now in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, no longer attend, which means that their children in their 20s and 30s aren’t likely to attend either. Churches that want to reach out to millennials find a whole host of challenges from knowing how to reach people who have never been to church and don’t understand the culture or “speak the language” to communicating the messages of the church in media and modes that are relevant and attractive to young people. Churches that want to connect with younger generations have a lot to learn, a lot of listening to do, and a lot of re-imagining to try in order to re-create themselves for ministry that reaches the hearts and spirits of younger generations.
But what about the ones who are a part of our churches? What about their attitudes toward giving and stewardship? Some congregations notice that younger generations aren’t giving or participating the same way they did when they were younger. And yet in one article I read, I learned this: “Today, 76.2 million millennials live in the U.S. and 84 percent of them contribute to charities, more than other generations. Millennials give an average of $481 annually. Based on that, millennial fundraising totals more than $30 billion.” However, churches report low giving among millennials.
There are several factors to consider if this is your congregation’s experience: Millennials tend to be under-employed; they carry significant amounts of debt, particularly education debt; they are more likely to make ends meet with multiple jobs rather than one full-time job with benefits. Millennials also prefer modes of giving churches don’t always have available or encourage including online giving, mobile apps, and monthly instead of weekly donations. Millennials are also known for supporting “causes” instead of “institutions.” For millennial church members, this last one is often more about how congregations motivate giving than the idea of the church as an “institution.” When the stewardship campaign focuses on paying the bills or administrative details rather than effectively communicating the transformational mission and ministry being done, younger people will weigh the allocation of their resources toward things that clearly make a difference in ways that are meaningful to them and may appear to be less enthusiastic pledgers but step up when a targeted need comes along.
There is so much we need to learn about ministering to and with millennials, and more, a lot we have to learn from them. We have so much hope for the future, and we in the church need to begin by listening, by being curious, and by being willing to adapt.
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.
For more information on The Generosity Project, contact Rev. Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org