Millennials Are Changing The Way We Gather

Millennials are flocking to a host of new organizations that deepen community in ways that are powerful, surprising and even religious.

The How We Gather Report

Convergence began about 12 years ago. So, that is right in the middle of what was commonly referred to as the “Emergent Church Movement” (Click here for a great article on defining “emergent” vs. “missional” church). We never quite fit into that category, but we were certainly influenced and impacted by the deconstructive wave of postmodernism and as Gen-Xers, Jay (Jay Smith) and I certainly came from a place of feeling the need to defend, hide or explain our faith to the larger culture and our friends who did not share a Christian background. We’ve also felt the fear and confusion within churches surrounding the statistics related to “None and Dones”.

Young people are both more globally connected and more locally isolated than ever before.

The How We Gather Report

The Landscape Has Changed Dramatically – In A Good Way!

But, from our own experiences with Millennials and Gen Z and from more in-depth studies like the How We Gather reports, we are seeing that the landscape has changed dramatically. Not only is there an openness to faith and even Christianity – there is an overwhelming hunger for all that being a part of the “Body of Christ” is meant to be. The challenge is for us as churches (small “c”) to see if we can remove once meaningful cultural artifacts that have become cultural barriers to make space for genuinely hungry spiritual seekers as well as those spiritually disaffected and dissatisfied.

The How We Gather Reports are the culmination of a series of interviews and research on the way Millennials are changing the way we gather; finding meaningful community and support through organizations like CrossFit and Soul Cycle. The initial report provides case studies of some of these organizations, what they do well and provides insight to areas they need to grow. It also suggests areas faith organizations can pay attention, learn from these new spaces and even contribute to this cultural shift.

Through their research, How We Gather names six consistent areas that are hopeful among these new gathering spaces. It is worth noting that these are areas The Church (big “C’) could, should and has been effective – the hope is that with some prayer and attentiveness we can be again. (There is also exciting possibility specific to faith communities outlined in the next report, “Something More.“)

6 Themes Prevalent In Organizations That Are Hopefull

  • Community
  • Personal Transformation
  • Social Transformation
  • Purpose Finding
  • Creativity
  • Accountability
  • (A desire for “something more” also pops up)

I’m wondering, how we can begin to see ourselves as part of a broader cultural shift towards deeper community? What is our place in that?

In the report they write; “Traditional faith communities are valuable partners in this work…but it may be more difficult for them to innovate within a system that is struggling. (As opposed to) The organizations we’ve identified are innovators at the margins who can reimagine community for the twenty-first century.”

Here’s the thing I am challenged by. We, at Convergence are pretty much as far on the margin as we can get. We have a lot of freedom. So, what would it look like for us to fully embrace our on the margin identity and really innovate as a religious organization? I’m grateful for the challenge I’ve heard recently from our congregation to “go there.” That has been very helpful to me. I wonder how many other pastors out there could benefit from hearing the congregation say “it’s time to be bold!”

What Do You Think?

Where have you found meaningful connection outside of church? And what can churches learn from that experience?

Welcome to the conversation! This is the first in a series of blog posts designed to facilitate conversation and reflection on how we gather. Over the next 16 weeks, we will post reflections and questions on the How We Gather Reports and the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. The Convergence Study Group for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Vital Worship Grant will be actively engaged in the comments section and invite you to join us!

5 thoughts on “Millennials Are Changing The Way We Gather

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’ve found meaningful connection and community in a variety of contexts. In church, this has particularly been with small groups. Outside of church, I’ve found this in a couple of workplaces, a military base I lived when growing up, in online health support communities, my MA cohort. With the workplaces, I think that a shared mission was a big part of the connection, but it was also all of the time together, as well as a boss who valued community. On the military base and in health support groups, some of it is how much we needed each other and ended up relying on each other, as well as being willing to be there for everyone else. With my MA cohort, we were connected by lots of time together as well as similar interests and goals (or we wouldn’t have been in the same MA program).

    I’m not a Millennial (though I’ve heard my specific age range called “Xennials” as we kind of straddle the two generations), but a lot of Millennials I know have very specific reasons why they don’t want to be involved with a church. I think those reasons are worth exploring too. For some, it’s not just that they’ve found community other places but that they’ve specifically looked for community outside the church.

    • vergenow1 says:

      Thanks for the comments, Stephanie. Something new(er) that’s emerging is how “Gen Z” may engage community and gathering which seems to be (perhaps) primarily online. I wonder how these ways of connecting have potential for meaningful gathering in a faith context. I’ve thought of you and some of your online connections related to health.

      • Stephanie says:

        I feel like online connections are often dismissed as superficial or less “real” than relationships with people who connect face to face, but I think that a lot of it has to do with how much of yourself you’re willing to give, how open you’re willing to be, etc. That said, I’ve loved when I’ve had the opportunity to meet in person friends I’ve previously only known online. If I could always seem them in person, I would, but for many reasons, sometimes online is the only medium available.

        I haven’t seen churches do anything more than post sermons online or stream services. That does serve some purpose, but it’s unlikely to build connection or community. (I don’t think most churches intend for that to be the primary interface– more like a supplement for those who have to miss a service.) It would be interesting to explore how a church could build community online. Again though, it takes people who are willing to fully engage in relationships with people online.

        Gen Z is using different mediums/apps than us older people, and with online interactions, it’s also interesting to see how apps/specific social media sites also shape the conversations, relationships, interactions.

      • vergenow1 says:

        This is so interesting, Stephanie. I’d love to bring you into this conversation more deeply because the questions you raise are really worth exploring. I recently connected with someone who is studying models of online connection in educational settings and thinking about how it can translate into religious settings. I’m really curious about all of it.

  2. Marie says:

    This is a big topic. I have lots of thoughts. We are spending time together as a family in a remote cabin with no electricity so I’ll write more later. For now, I will say I set up an extended family Facebook group to share family stories and that was meaningful for me. Prompted by one of the last of the older generation passing on, I realized we might all lose touch if someone did not do something. I felt compelled to reach out and gather interested family together in the group. We live so spread out that I haven’t even met everyone. The group spans a range from teenagers to 80 year olds. I think it met a need we all shared to stay in touch as family, and pass on some story gems to the next generation. It may also have helped the younger people to hear stories of family experiencing difficulties and yet still living well and even thriving despite disappointments in life. Telling stories online is different than sitting on the front porch but it’s as close as I can get and it seems to be working for my family.

    The topics raised in the book and blogs are very interesting and I am looking forward to exploring them further.

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