Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are getting more attention, especially in clerical circles. These congregants who grew up with computers and personal devices can pose a challenge when it comes to ministering to them. This week's clergy discuss how they handle the needs of this part of their flock.
The Rev. Stephanie Pope, pastor, St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Hicksville:
Generationally we all have different experiences. Just over the course of 10 years, people have a totally different perspective of the world. Ten years ago, people had just begun to have cellphones. Now, hardly a child doesn't have a cellphone.
We have to make religion relevant to them. There are things that are true to any generation, but you also can't paint everyone with one brush. Something that's true for the world and for this group is being open and flexible, which is a tough lesson for the church, which moves slowly.
I find they have preconceived notions about what they think the church wants them to believe, and that turns them off. They come with a hesitancy.
This group seldom comes to me with questions about what may be on their minds. They may come with questions about premarital counseling or planning a funeral, and while talking I learn of things they're wrestling with. Conversation happens on the edges, one-on-one, around other things.
It is daunting as a pastor to keep up with all the new media. I'm not up on such things as Twitter or Instagram. As a clergy, I have to keep track of how each congregant is connected. Some only look at email. Others, you can only reach if you text them. Some never look at email.
One of the gifts we as a church have to offer is that we are a face-to-face, relational place. We look for God in each other. We hope that is what we're offering them, this group who can form their own community with themselves as the center of it.
Pastor Hal Low, Wesley United Methodist Church, Franklin Square:
I preface the answer by saying I minister differently to every individual. Age is definitely a part of that. I take those things into account on an individual basis. I'm more cognizant of the different ways in which Millennials communicate, ways that didn't exist before the Internet. Email, Facebook and Twitter are ways to reach out and communicate with them. It is their native culture, although new to us older folks.
Even when we talk to the Millennials, someone born in 1980 is 33 years old, and someone born in 2000 is 13 years old. Even within the group, there are wide age differences. Think of a person who is 75 years old: He or she has a lot more life experience than the 20- or 30-year-old.
I remember filling in for a chaplain at a hospital, and I was going to give the same sermon I'd given on Sunday. Driving there, I realized talking about being a Good Samaritan or taking part in mission work isn't relevant to someone who lives in a nursing home. With Millennials, I would speak to them differently about mission work because they have the strength and time to do it.
Also, the use of multimedia becomes more important when preaching to Millennials. Technology is important, but you also have to pay attention to the attention span, which through the past 50 years has become shorter and shorter for everyone.
That impacts how I preach. My sermons usually are 10-15 minutes. I try to keep the message focused and stick to one or two related concepts. I also explore topics in a casual, simple, clear way that is easily understood by all. It even impacts the way we teach Sunday school. Education is done a lot through entertainment, demonstrations and different things. You need to engage them, or you'll lose them.
Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten, Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons, East Hampton:
We don't minister differently, but are cognizant of the differences in age and experience. To us, everyone is equal. Take Hanukkah for example -- it doesn't matter how old you are, we all celebrate it the same way.
Of course, we adapt to modern technology, the computer, Twitter and the Internet to give the message to Millennials.
In Judaism, we're expected to reach out to Jews. We go out to them. We can't wait for people to come to us. We reach out to young and old alike. We know that younger people have a lot of questions and a lot on their minds.
Certain aspects of Judaism cannot be changed, but how we reach out to congregants has to adapt to modern technology. The bottom line is that we use the tools available to us to reach people.