Pope Francis greets the crowd before celebrating Mass for World Youth Day pilgrims in Panama City in January 2019. Sociologists contend churches need to be actively working with millennials to give them the tools for good decision-making. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Churches have key role in educating millennials

By  Quinton Amundson, Youth Speak News
  • May 27, 2020

In a world offering Canadian youth an abundance of choice, it’s up to religious institutions to help the future leaders of society characterize what constitutes a great choice, says sociologist Joel Thiessen.

“Rarely are young people actually shown how exactly to make good choices and how to discern well among the cacophony of choices before you,” said Thiessen during a May 22 webinar entitled “Millennials, pandemic and the future of religion in Canada.”

Thiessen was the keynote speaker of the event hosted by the Canadian Christian Communicators Association. The professor of sociology specializing in religion at Ambrose University in Calgary is a published voice on what drives millennials, the generation generally described as being born between 1980-96. He co-authored the book The Millennial Mosaic: How Pluralism and Choice Are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada.

Thiessen suggested congregations are best positioned to endow young congregants with meaningful growth and leadership opportunities. 

“Our research has shown that flourishing congregations have clear structures, pathways and mechanisms to help their members (grow),” said Thiessen. “Can you put pen to paper and say, ‘here are all the ways we are trying to develop leaders and how we are incorporating millennials in that conversation?’ ”

David Seljak, a religious studies professor at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., agrees that churches can provide youth with crucial identity-forming guidance in a market society.

“There is a relentless barrage of professionals trying to grab your attention and manipulate your attention so that you are making choices that people want you to make, whether its consumer choices, political choices or social choices,” said Seljak. “There has to be some other foundation for people’s identity and their capacity to make choices other than market society, social media or peer groups.”

John MacMullen, associate director of youth ministry at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth, says the Church needs to invest time in young people to inspire them  to care about what the Church has to say. 

“That isn’t to say that we are just friendly to teens and tweens, but that we invest in knowing them, not just knowing about them,” MacMullen wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Meeting and knowing their families, being patient with their questions, recognizing how they are pulled in many directions today and familiarizing ourselves with the mounting concerns, anxieties and stresses that grow within so many of them.”

Thiessen also devoted time during his talk to share his research on how to communicate effectively with millennials. Storytelling, in particular, draws this age group into parish life, especially testimonial stories from other youth or sharing their own life story. 

Churches with robust Facebook, Instagram and YouTube presences are primed to better connect with youth, he added.

Effective online communication was also stressed during the pandemic discussion. Thiessen said the most effective parishes during COVID-19 have been those with a history of sharing content with parishioners through other mediums beyond the church.

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