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OMG! What is the church's message
You can also identify them by their youth. They are the millennial generation, the under 30's born between 1980 and 2000.
And they are the focus of the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner's opening essay in the National Council of Churches' 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches: "Can the Church Log In with the 'Connected Generation?' The Church and Young Adults."
The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook, one of the oldest and most respected sources of church membership and financial trends in the U.S. and Canada, may be ordered for $55 each at www.yearbookofchurches.org.
It comes as no surprise that Millennials "blog, email, text, download, upload, and consume electronic messages at a rate and volume far in excess of any other (age) cohort," according to Lindner. "As a generation they are self aware of the distinctiveness of their ever-present connectedness and seek far-flung relationships with persons, electronic 'friends,' quite unlike themselves.
The virtual connectedness has a wide range of effects on the religious and political views of the generation.
Lindner cites a Pew study of the millennials that will sound like an understatement to their parents and other church-goers: "This age cohort is considerably less likely to maintain religious affiliation than older Americans."
Regular church-goers have already noted the dearth of young adults in worship, and they are even harder to find in Sunday school, prayer meetings and bible study.
But Lindner points out that the Millennial generation is no less religious than the preceding generations, Gen X'ers and Baby Boomers.
"Suggestions that the Millennial generation are signaling the secularization of American culture are premature and ignore the rather nuanced religious identity of this age cohort," she writes reassuringly. "Belonging to a religious organization is a behavior. Belief is a conviction."
Most Millenials -- 53 percent according to General Social Surveys and 64 percent according to Pew -- believe in God, Lindner reports.
Pew also discovered that Millenials are as likely as their parents to believe in life after death, heaven, hell, and miracles. Parents have heard their young adult children put it like this: "I'm not religious. I'm spiritual."
But in many other respects, Millennial viewpoints are more traditional or more conservative than their Boomer parents.
If you ask Boomers to give an example of effective leadership, studies show, they will cite Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Nelson Mandela. More than a third of Millennials will nominate civilian war and Cold War leaders such as Lincoln, FDR, and JFK. Nearly half name President Obama as a model for 21st century leadership.
Millennial religious attitudes are mixed when compared to their parents.
"Affiliated Millennials are actually more inclined than their elders to believe their own religion is the single path to eternal life," Lindner writes. "Yet affiliated Millennials are more open to various interpretations of religious doctrine and less likely to perceive the Bible as literal truth."
Millennials may have withdrawn from traditional habits of worshipping at regular times and places but, Lindner believes, "pastoral care ... holds the promise of reaching Millennials in unexpected ways."
Having come to maturity following the terror attacks of 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008, "Millennials are the first generation to have to lower their expectations of transcending their parents' level of occupational attainment."
Lindner quotes Rich Osmer of Princeton Theological Seminary: "An important part of the dissatisfaction of today's young people with mainline churches stems from the absence of a spiritually challenging and world-shaping vision that meets their hunger for the chance to participate in ... 'a worthy adventure.'"
How the Millennials define and pursue those adventures,"
Lindner says, "will shape and reshape American culture and with it the
American religious landscape for the remainder of the 21st century."
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