The truth is millennials desire and are actively seeking intergenerational and welcoming com-munities of faith. I know firsthand — through experiencing ministries across our connection — that United Methodist congregations have a lot to offer younger people.
Here are five reasons why we are distinctly called to minister with millennials:
1. We share our faith authentically.
The word authentic has been hijacked by our consumer culture to describe everything from guacamole to toilet bowel cleaners and everything in between. It is a term that has lost a lot of its impact as we have become immune to its true meaning.
Authenticity is something that forms within us when we are centered with God and with our neighbors. Authenticity requires vulnerability with God and with each other.
TIP: We millennials are a generation seeking authenticity. In other words, local churches should not pretend to be something that they aren’t. For example, if your church is small, then don’t pretend to be big. Authentically embracing who you are as a community of faith will draw others to you.
2. We are rooted in traditions.
Please disregard everything you have been told about your traditional church having nothing to offer young people. God has equipped you to minister to us through the traditions you share and the relationships you offer.
In a world that changes every five minutes, my generation understands that for something to last hundreds of years, it must be pretty special. Furthermore, traditional has gone from meaning “old” to meaning “mystical.”
As we millennials grew up, we met a young wizard named Harry Potter who escaped a locked closet under the stairs to come of age in a giant gothic castle where he was shaped by professors and mentors much older than he. For we millennials, this shaped our minds that gothic spaces are places of great intrigue and even opportunity.
The “Harry Potter Effect,” as I call it, gives hope to the mainline church as it illustrates why millennials are seeking traditional expressions of faith.
TIP: Embrace and showcase our United Methodist traditions through creative and meaningful worship. Invoke a sense of the sacred in worship through candles and Wesleyan hymns. Don’t try to overly modernize your worship space.
3. We give generously.
The clearest conclusion about the millennial generation is that we are generous in our giving to and support of impactful nonprofits. There is no other faith tradition that is better suited to engage millennials than The United Methodist Church and our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all God’s children.
We United Methodists practice what we preach and give generously to the United Methodist Committee on Relief when there is a disaster. When we see injustice in our own communities, we not only serve our neighbors, but also advocate for our values on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations through our general boards and agencies.
The most generous generation in history is the perfect match for the most generous church in the world.
TIP: This is one area of ministry where it is OK not to be humble. Be bold in your marketing about your commitment to missions and the impact your actions have made in the lives of others. Invite young people in your congregation to lead your church in its mission and service.
4. We live purposefully.
In the words of a former campus ministry student of mine, our United Methodist theology gives us the opportunity to develop a distinct purpose for our lives. Our group had spent the day exploring Yosemite National Park only to discover it was too crowded to actually see much of anything. We took a back road away from the crowd and discovered an incredible mountain vista where we prayed.
This student shared that her experience with our United Methodist ministry was like that of her day at Yosemite. Her point was that most people who travel just go to the most famous spot of a park or destination to take a selfie and therefore miss the richness of what is off the main path. She believed that most students at her school were joining campus ministries that narrowed their perspectives instead of helping them discover their distinct purposes.
TIP: Make mentorship a core function of your ministry, whether your church has one young adult to guide or hundreds. Mentorship leads to meaningful relationships and spiritual growth for the mentor and the mentee.
5. We are grace based.
Our theological emphasis on grace has always been especially inspiring and is more important than ever in this time of division. The grace God has for us and the grace we have for each other is something we are called to share widely.
There is no other religious tradition that celebrates God’s unconditional grace like The United Methodist Church. God’s commitment to perpetual love and forgiveness for us all is something truly distinct and comforting.
TIP: Practice a life of grace inside and outside the walls of your church. Seize this opportunity to model grace for our divided society and for my generation. Embracing grace will distinguish your church as a nurturing intergenerational community of faith.
Ponder Williams is a United Methodist church consultant based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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