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Asking the clergy: What do you tell millennials who are leaving organized religion?

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that millennials -- young Americans born in the late 1980s and '90s -- are less likely to have a religious affiliation than their elders. This week's clergy discuss their ideas for bringing unaffiliated young folk back into the fold.

Cantor Leslie Friedlander, Temple Isaiah of Great Neck:

Convincing millennials not to leave organized religion is a failed strategy. The emphasis needs to be placed on highlighting the value that they are leaving behind, not on stopping them from following through on what they perceive as having no relevance. Instead of arguing with young adults, we should be focused on demonstrating the benefits that will enhance their lives without dwelling on labels or stereotypes. In the Jewish tradition, there exist some powerful messages that can encourage millennials to explore the value of identifying with their culture. One example is the celebration of the Passover seder, a communal meal whose theme is freedom, a concept many young people consider to be of global importance. Reminding them that the richness of communal life is available to them within their own tradition may help them to view the value of their religion more positively. We can even trace the roots of communal value to the Bible. The Israelites are repeatedly addressed as a community by Moses, and during their 40 years in the desert, they almost always respond in one voice and act as one body. They are not traveling as a group of individuals; they travel as a connected group -- hence the term "tribe." In our current digital, hyper-connected world, hearkening back to these biblical stories can resonate with our younger generation. So rather than stopping our millennials from leaving the fold, we can remind them that our heritage provides meaningful connectivity that is both time-tested and relevant. Let's leave it to them to discover their version of the truth.


The Rev. Mark Tammen, general presbyter, Presbytery of Long Island, Commack:

I can tell you that baby boomers knew what time of day to go to services by looking at the marquee on the church lawn, but millennials don't look at the marquee -- they look online. So the first thing churches likely need to do is be more adept at social media. Millennials are the first generation for whom social media is a primary information source, be it Twitter or Facebook. They are more often texting than reading long articles about the church. We need to learn to communicate with them in no more than 140 characters. Secondly, they are more into doing than reading or talking. They are into living out faith, more work than words. Churches need to provide activities that are attractive to them, things like building housing for Habitat for Humanity or taking mission trips, and other things that you do on behalf of your faith. They even get into Tenebrae, a special service where there are more participants than doers. During the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, a lot of millennials helped load the food and supplies and were happy to carry the boxes. That was part of their faith -- that they were helping other people.


Capt. Joseph Lubin, The Salvation Army, Westbury:

We are not talking about religion, we are talking about God and how to make young people realize they are doing a lot of bad things. We try to bring them someplace where we can talk to them about God and tell them how God loves them, that God wants them to do good all the time. At the Salvation Army we try to organize meetings to talk to young people about God. Sometimes we bring them on a trip. Young people always want fun, but you have to tell them God loves fun also. On Friday night we have a meeting with young people. Sometimes we have 40 young people there. The reason for that is we realize that young people are going out on Friday night. Even those who come to church go to clubs on Friday night, and they drink. We do a program, and they testify and this program helps them not to go out on Friday. Instead they come here to the Salvation Army church and we talk to them about God, and that's why they love it. If you don't make some fun for them to keep them at church, they will go back again where they were. You have to organize things for them. For example, for Mother's Day, we organize a banquet for the mothers, and the young people cook for them. They also prepare a skit about mothers. Bringing young people to church is one thing, but keeping them in church is another thing. We don't want church to be boring.

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