Here are a few observations about giving among the millennials at your church. If you’re thinking “What millennials?”, well, that’s a great topic for a later post, but for now let’s talk about the younger adults already attending your church. These tips are hardly earth-shaking but they are a distillation of many suggestions and may give you some ideas to consider.
But before the suggestions about the millennials… don’t forget about the current culture in your congregation. A friend recounted the experience at her church, when a new youngish pastor arrived five years ago. For one thing, the pastor eliminated the collection plate, which intentionally or not sent the message that giving to the church was not important. Second, the pastor stopped the prevailing practice of gently contacting parishioners who had missed attendance for a number of weeks, which intentionally or not sent the message that attending church was not important. Thirdly, and most significantly, the pastor seemed uninterested in the lives and stories of the older members of the congregation, apparently focusing on bringing younger members into the church.
By the time that pastor recently moved on, church attendance was down, especially among the older members (there were some but not that many new young members), and the financial picture had grown consistently worse. And the reality is, it didn’t have to be that way. The church had actually been in a great position to grow, but mistakes, serious mistakes, were made. So, in your eagerness to appeal to millennials, don’t forget your existing flock, especially those who actually attend services, have expendable income and are used to supporting a church. Seems obvious but then…
OK, with that caveat, let’s look at some suggestions about millennials. Keep in mind these are generalizations.
- First and foremost, they’re not that interested in institutions… like church, for instance. But they’re very interested in causes, in actions with a discernable purpose. They will not be attracted to a plea to balance the church budget, but they will support actions that impact people’s lives. It’s not unlike stories I heard years ago, from rural pastors, who would claim that their members weren’t very responsive to an annual pledge drive, but give them a cause (a new roof, a new ministry, etc.) and everyone jumped on board.
- So, tell stories that appeal and attract, that engage the interest of young adults (watch our video on inviting lay speakers to share their stewardship stories). Be specific, give examples, bring in speakers, offer opportunities and activities for action and connection.
- Which means… develop relationships. Yes, millennials like social media (more about that in a minute) but they also crave real human connection. If you and your church are open and transparent AND provide channels for connection, young adults will respond. For instance, our church is active in supporting refugees and immigrants, to the point of providing housing and meals to a family for one week each month. Inviting church members to be part of that ministry not only is essential to providing the ministry, it also connects people’s minds and hearts to the mission of your church. Yes, websites and social media sites are important, but especially insofar as they lead to personal contact.
- And your mission takes money. Millennials know things cost, so don’t be afraid to talk about money. Be open and honest about your church finances, how it works, what it takes, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask. And make it easy to give. Younger adults value mobile giving (don’t eliminate that collection plate though!), so facilitate giving through your website and online giving. And like the rest of us, millennials are used to monthly bills (at least for their phones), so encourage recurring monthly giving.
In all of this, think of millennial stewardship, generosity, giving, as part of a longer practice. The young adults in your church probably don’t have as much money as older members, and they may not have a lifelong habit of supporting a church, but they are the future of your congregation. Without forgetting the rest of your members, reaching out to millennials has to be a key part of your stewardship program.