What is the Millennial Generation and how is it fundamentally different from prior generations? What are the implications related to catechizing and evangelizing to this new generation?
Millennials are much closer and much more connected to their parents. Parents are the biggest influence in their lives.
I think good youth ministry today has to really focus on building relationships with parents, helping equip parents to be the primary evangelizers of their children.
We had to do age-segmented youth ministry in the past because it was actually the right pastoral response to Boomers and Gen-X’ers who really didn’t want to be around their parents. It was very different. So Millennials opened the door for strong parent ministry. Especially with the younger Millennials – and what’s coming up is our Homeland generation – you really can’t get access to the kids without their parents trusting you, so you have to build relationships with parents and you got to be connected to the family as a whole. In many ways, youth ministry is morphing into a family ministry, inter-generational ministry, and the entire parish has to be fully connected on discipleship.
Millennials tend to be indigenous to post-modern thinking and so they get their truth in a very different way. Many of us who are older, we got our truth through more of a head-faith. We wanted to know about God. We learned the knowledge of the Church.
Young people today are getting their truth much more from experience. So, instead of, “Tell me about God,” we have to give them an experience of God.
Researchers found 3 essentials: One, is that young people have a subjective experience of God that makes it real. Authenticity is really key with this generation, so just having knowledge isn’t enough. It’s got to be real and validated by a personal experience. That involves emotions, intuition, of course their head too – a little bit more of a holistic epistemology. We got to be architects of that encounter with Christ. Secondly, we have to build relationships with adults with young people. I think the Sticky Faith research found that young people, if they can have 5 meaningful significant relationships with adults and their congregations, that makes a difference in terms of them having a deep, committed faith. Christian Smith’s research has stated the same thing, that young people need to be bonded with the community with significant relationships with adults. The third is that we help develop consistent practices in their lives – prayer practices, faith practices, spiritual disciplines – that help get their faith integrated into daily life and it also helps them sustain periods away from the community when they go off to college.
Millennials are experiential, so they really need a faith of experience. They’re a generation that says, “Why?” all the time. They want to know why things work and that’s also an aspect of post-modern epistemology, that post-modern truth is a practical truth. In other words, it works with life, it’s authentic to life. So, we have to become accustomed to opening up the hood and showing young people the engine underneath the hood of what’s motivating God’s commandments, why this actually works in real life. So that’s another really key factor that we really need to be aware of.
They also grew up feeling special, so we got to make sure that our parishes are places where they feel special and also a place where they’re given special purpose. They want to make a difference, and we want to give them places where they can actually do that, not just learn knowledge that they’re having a hard time connecting to real life. They’re not inheriting their faith, like many of us who are older did – it was just kind of passed down from generation to generation.
They’re a generation who will choose faith.
They will choose church, everything’s based on choice today. We really have to build communities that are so essential to their lives that they won’t want to miss it, that they would choose to be a part of things or be a part of the community. That’s another big aspect. It’s a big group that I think the dominant spiritual hunger is for community. They have to feel connected to the people around them. They have to feel connected to the homily, that it works in real life, and they got to feel God through the worship. This is a generation that won’t commit unless they find meaning.