How do we respond to the ways that millennials are changing the church? We’re not just talking about reaching out to newcomers; we’re talking specifically about people in their 20s and 30s – children of the information age, who shun chequing accounts for e-transfers, access Wikipedia.com for instant clarification and touch base with friends via text and Instagram while avoiding telephone land-lines altogether.
As a group, millennials have the potential to shake up the church in ways we have not seen for decades. We know they have the capacity to give, but they want their giving to have impact. It is not sufficient to “just give,” as previous generations have. More than ever, parishes need to develop annual narrative budgets and to expose millennials to the ministry of the church; they need to invite millennials to take on leadership roles that are appropriate for them.
An article in Today’s Christian last year noted that “church leadership is still dominated by those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and the hierarchy is usually pretty entrenched.” This seems typical of most congregations, as older members have more time, skill and experience. The generational difference this time is that millennials aren’t prepared to wait. If denominational identification is less salient among young people and the opportunity to get involved isn’t there, they will just go elsewhere.
This new way of thinking and engaging young people will have a profound impact on the collection plate – provided one will still be passed around. Many parishes have already adopted Pre-Authorized Giving for their collections. Imagine a day when we are cashless and cheque-less. The parish of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew in Saint John, New Brunswick, seems to be ahead of the ball on this one. To my knowledge, they are the first Anglican church in Canada to install a debit and credit card machine in their narthex. As well, “giving kiosks” seem to be gaining traction with some evangelical churches in the United States. Given the use of technology across all sectors, it’s only a matter of time before they become commonplace in our parishes as well.
The Diocese of Toronto has invested considerable energy and resources in developing mobile apps for giving and an online platform that will issue a tax receipt moments after a gift has been made. Online giving has increased significantly in recent years, but we need to learn how to motivate giving on the Internet; we need to connect with young people where they tend to gather online. For the time being, direct mail continues to be a lucrative and successful medium to connect with the “duty generations.” Millennials, however, often lump all unsolicited mail into the category of junk.
All of this is to say that demographic change is impacting the way that people give. In the not too distant future, we can expect a church where the collection plate will not be passed, where everyone in the congregation will be giving through Pre-Authorized Giving, where churches will have giving kiosks in the narthex, where financial planning is taught side-by-side with stewardship education, and where all program registration will be done online. Millennials are ushering in a whole new way to give to ministry. We need not fear the change, but it is coming.