Journalists are beginning to recognize a few counterintuitive facts about millennials and faith.
Millennials – born between 1981 and 1999 – are in their 20s and 30s and are supposed to be abandoning faith in droves.
But an Angus Reid Institute study found, as the National Post put it, “Supporters of public faith in Canada are young, educated, Liberal and ‘quite dug in.’” Canadian millennials were significantly more likely to appreciate religious freedom.
A Boston Herald story announced, “Millennials making their way back to church,” and focused on Catholic parishes in Boston.
So, I asked millennials – from Kansas City, Denver, Boston and Madison, Wisc. – what they want and don’t want from a parish.
I called their suggestions “Catholic Parish Do’s and Don’ts from Millennials” and found myself in debates with professors of pastoral theology and on radio shows discussing their ideas. Here is what I came up with.
First: Don’t schedule daily parish Masses only for retirees.
This one really struck a chord. “My generation hates when churches cater to the elderly and retired only,” said one millennial. She cited Masses scheduled at 8 a.m. or later instead of before or after work hours.
Millennials told me that a parish with an 8 am or later daily Mass is saying, loud and clear: “Working people are not welcome.”
Meanwhile, a recent Pew Research Study said membership in churches is continuing its 20-year drop. Well, said my millennials, if you schedule church at times young people can’t make it, what do you expect?
Do schedule Mass such that working people can attend.
On the other hand, when a parish is willing to have an early or afternoon daily Mass or evening Sunday Mass, it sends its own message: “We want you with us.”
A bonus tip for parishes from my focus group: Please, please, put your Mass times on your parish website, and make them stick at the top of your Facebook page (click on the three dots you see on your Mass times post and choose “Pin to Top of Page”).
Second: Don’t make service opportunities the fiefdoms of previous generations.
Millennials also called out service opportunities at parishes. They tend to be run by older people who can’t imagine doing something different from what was done before.
That means that young people who don’t want to bake, sew, or meet on Wednesday afternoons have no way to participate – and the parish has no intention of changing this, because of who is in charge.
Do make the Church a place where millennials can serve their communities.
Meanwhile, one of the great benefits of church membership is that it serves as a kind of antidote to the self-centred and isolating social media culture. Religion not only bonds you to God, it bonds you to your community through service to others.
If churches want to keep millennials, they need to “give them the keys to the car” and allow them to create parish service opportunities that suit their abilities and availability.
Third: Don’t only offer confessions one hour a week.
Millennials tell me that confession feels like a sacrament built for them. It allows them to focus on their unique personal life story and how it intersects with God and the world.
But working people have a hard time getting to confession on a Saturday, the day when all their errands have to happen. Those with children find it even harder.
Do offer confession in the evening.
My parish does a great job at this, offering confession on Wednesday after work.
Benedictine College in Kansas, where I work, offers copious hours of after-school confession – and anecdotal evidence of confession’s popularity with young people. When I first began working here 10 years ago, only one priest offered confession and there was never a line. Now multiple priests are in confessionals each afternoon, with lines at each.
Fourth: Don’t only offer fellowship for older people.
Often, the fellowship opportunities at a parish cater to particular categories of people – older people.
The only women’s group might be a moms’ group, for instance, or a divorce-support group. The only men’s group might be a service group made up mostly of retired men.
Do allow young people to create their style of fellowship
The Boston Herald story spotlighted a Boston parish that offers a 7 p.m. Sunday Mass with a potluck dinner afterwards.
At my age (49), I would never go to such a Mass or such a potluck. But that’s exactly the point. Millennials would and do.
“There’s something about being at the table with a bunch of people and laughing and joking – that’s the connection that people like,” said a parish worker.
More of that, please!
Fifth: Don’t try to be hip.
Several years ago I noticed an interesting generational divide at my parish’s planning meeting on liturgical music. Young people wanted the traditional, “singable” hymns that are old chestnuts in our hymnals: To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King, Holy God We Praise Thy Name, Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above, etc.
The 50 and older crowd wanted the hymns that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s: On Eagle’s Wings, I am the Bread of Life, and Here I am Lord.
Perhaps if they offered Matt Maher instead, they would have had more takers. But the fact is that when older people try to be reach out to younger people, they tend to default to the kinds of things they liked when they were young.
Instead, do try to be authentic.
“We want authenticity,” one millennial told me. “When Catholic churches try to be youth-friendly – less smells and bells and more hip – it rings false.”
She told me young people like Eucharistic adoration (make it available outside work hours!) and other traditional devotions, along with Bishop Robert Barron-style apologetics.
This perhaps sums up all of the advice my focus group gave me. Don’t try to be who you aren’t – be who you are, but be that for all.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and author most recently of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II.
Abortion debate heats up as fall federal election looms
OTTAWA (CCN)—The abortion debate has ratcheted up in advance of the October federal election despite Conservative Leader Andrew...
Archbishop hopes Indigenous women report has positive results
OTTAWA (CCN)—Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas says he hopes the June 3 report of the Inquiry into Missing and...
Conscience bill has 'groundswell' of support: MP
OTTAWA (CCN)—Conservative MP David Anderson says his bill to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals has...
Canadian Catholics say Church has poorly handled abuse crisis: poll
OTTAWA (CCN)—A majority of Canadian Catholics believe the clerical sexual abuse crisis has been mishandled by the Church, but...
Human trafficking should be ballot issue, MP says
OTTAWA (CCN)—Former Conservative MP Joy Smith says she hopes human trafficking will be a ballot issue in October’s federal...
Catholic Civil Rights League joins bubble zone challenge
OTTAWA (CCN) —The Catholic Civil Rights League has joined a constitutional challenge by Father Tony Van Hee, SJ, of Ontario’s...
Online hate battle may unfairly target religious views: presenters
OTTAWA (CCN)—Presenters to the Justice Committee’s hearings on combating online hatred have warned against unfairly targeting...