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.

HStressed Over Moneyere 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.

(note: this video contains mild profanity)

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Mark Bernstein

    Amen, Renee.

  • Andres Torres

    Excellent thoughts. I’m a broke millennial myself, have been to the local UU congregation three times now. The first day I came I said to myself that If I were to get even the hint that this is a business, or that my only value to them is what I can contribute financially, I would never come again. So far that hasn’t been my perception, though I’m still weary to be honest. It bothers me that they pass a collection plate (why not use a box by the entrance so people can donate anonymously?). It bothers me that they require a financial commitment to be recognized as a full member.

    I want to be a part of a communal effort at doing good in this world, but if that community thinks the only way I can accomplish this is through monetary donations, well, I have nothing to give them anyway. I’m more than willing to do any hard work you ask, but money is something I simply don’t have.

    • Lowie94

      Andres, you’ll probably hear people talk about contributing “time, talent, and treasure” because all three of those things are recognized as having value. Those of us who don’t have much money will often make up for that by contributing our time or talent, which is equally important and equally appreciated. It’s nice to hear that you’ve visited your local UU congregation three times already, and even nicer to know that you’ve found your way here to this UUA blog! Remember that you can still derive all the social and spiritual benefits of participating in church life even if you can’t afford whatever minimum pledge happens to accompany “membership”. Official “membership” gives you the right to vote on the annual budget — maybe that’s why it’s reserved for folks who have some financial “skin in the game”, so to speak. But please rest assured that your worth and your pledge are definitely NOT the same thing in the eyes of a UU congregation. We each contribute in our own unique way. 🙂

      • Andres Torres

        Thanks for the kind reply. I want to contribute my time and talent; as for treasure, I’ll give when I can. So far my experience has been positive and it’s very refreshing to be in a congregation where I am not made to feel guilty about innumerable things.

        • vitalleaders

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

  • Shirley Bond

    I agree completely. Thanks Renee. So refreshing….

  • Chris Packard

    I wonder where the generation between the Boomers and the Millennials fits in to this?

  • Jill Sunde

    a majority of household budgets are strapped. retirees living on a budget and/or living two places. people are unemployed, in school, under employed. having conversations around financial support for a church takes a low rung on the ladder. it does make a difference how “busy” a millennial is as well as our young adults and older adults are all collectively busier. retirees lead more active lives and adults with school age children are involved programs with their children. continuing to look for ways to contribute remains an individual decision.

  • chris6nisk5

    I agree with you Renee, but we still need a physical building to meet in. But how do we compete with the fundamentalist Christian mega-churches that seem to attract a large number of families & young people who are willing to tithe 10% of their before tax income. My brother has been doing this for over 30 years. He wasn’t able to buy his own house until he was almost 50 since he was spending the extra money for his church.
    From a regular UU attendee.