Religion has grown to hold a negative stigma in the past few years throughout our world. This is surprising because the purpose of religion is to make us better people who live a virtuous life. However, it seems with each new up-and-coming generation, more and more individuals distance themselves from religion.
Millennials, according to research from the Pew Research Center, have become the generation that has a strong religiously unaffiliated population. As it stands from this study 36 percent of Millennials state they are unaffiliated when it comes to religious denominations. More Millennials are unaffiliated than their parents and grandparents were at the same age.
But the results shouldn’t be regarded as discouraging as they sound. In fact, those Millennials who pray everyday and believe in God, do so with greater certainty than past generations at their age point. It also seems the obvious trend that religion becomes a more important issue with age – meaning that while religion may not be a high priority for Millennials now, it may be in 20 years, and more so 20 years after that.
But there tends to be more factors that play a role than just age when it comes to religion and Millennials, mainly social and political issues. For example, same-sex marriage has been an issue that just this year was universally accepted by the Supreme Court of the United States. However, Millennials, generally speaking, tend to be more accepting of homosexuality than previous generations. For religious institutions that are not accepting of homosexuality, Millennials tend to be off-put by the group.
So does this mean that Millennials are the group that will stamp out religion? I don’t think so. I do think Millennials are a powerful bunch, but not enough to kill thousands of years worth of tradition. But I do think that Millennials will be the ones to have conversations and really redefine religion.
Millennials, across the board, tend to be more “spiritual” than “religious.” Meaning that they tend to believe in a Higher Power and a moral code, but might not necessarily agree with a particular religious institution. Whether they seek it or not, I think Millennial desire to stick to more non-institutionalized faith, will force faith leaders to become more open-minded and seek out avenues of becoming more welcoming and accepting to more and more people.
We’ve all witnessed the change in atmosphere just through the appointment of Pope Francis, and how more conversations have been had on tolerating and welcoming people that were once shunned from the Catholic Church. Millennials don’t want to be told what to do so dictating from a Bible or a pulpit may be the archaic choice. I’ve found myself energy and charisma can go along way in a priest’s homily. And that community service can help you understand faith better than reading the Bible. Not to say lecture-style homilies and reading from the Bible are bad, they just might not be the path Millennials take to build their faith.
So what can Millennials do when it comes to developing a strong faith life? Are the justified to abandoning religion for a more spiritual-life?
1.) Millennials shouldn’t abandon religion altogether.
I’ve been reading a book, “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” where author James Martin, S.J., talks about how both religion and spirituality reinforce one another. In fact, living solely off one alone could be worse than having neither present. When living both a spiritual and religious life, there is a system of checks and balances. The religious aspect provides a frame for the spiritual side, while the spirituality gives some life and perspective to religion. I am Catholic. It doesn’t mean that I agree with every square inch of the Catholic faith, but it does give my spirituality some structure and credence. On the reverse end, my spirituality gives my religion meaning. Faith can be expressed not just in a Church every Sunday, but in every other day of the week in the smallest of acts and the kindest of words.
2.) Millennials need to find what works for them.
I am a Catholic, and despite the universality in the Catholic Church, each individual parish is like its own type of fruit, it may be universally a fruit, but an orange is very different from an apple. For me, I attended Canisius College for six years and throughout that time I found a new way of living my faith. Retreats and volunteer days were some of the ways I felt I was putting my faith into action. Millennials who tend to seek more involvement in their school, careers and philanthropy may seek the same in their faith. With that they also may seek a parish that gives them a style of Mass they like. Many young alumni from my college have stated that mass anywhere else is just not the same as it is at Canisius. This goes to show a mass in one parish will still be different from another, even though the mass itself is the same. As a young person, finding a good church comes with finding the right fit be it with a priest or rabbi, music ensemble, or fellow parishioners. Whatever the case, finding a parish that makes you feel at home, and makes you feel involved is probably the best choice for any millennial seeking to improve their faith life.
3.) Be the change you want to see in the world.
The quote from Ghandi is so true especially for this theme. Millennials tend to have high expectations, and when they are not met tend to leave. This trend is common in workplace environments, but I feel it is true for any environment a Millennial enters. If something doesn’t suit your needs be the person who can offer the change. I’ve seen countless parishes that have gotten new life because of the younger people that have stepped up to become involved. I’ve also seen how young people on college campuses run the show when it comes to campus ministry initiatives and masses, so why not carry that momentum over once graduation has come and gone and adulthood has started. It could be just the thing to guide a happy and healthy adulthood.