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Generation Y
Generation X

Keeping The Faith: Xers, Ys Seek A New Way To Worship

Religion has made significant strides recently toward reaching younger audiences.Faithbook launched as the first interfaith page on the popular site Facebook in an effort to foster greater understanding among people of different religions.

Religion has made significant strides recently toward reaching younger audiences.Faithbook launched as the first interfaith page on the popular site Facebook in an effort to foster greater understanding among people of different religions. While there are other faith groups on Facebook, Faithbook is the only page that welcomes people of all faiths to join.The Movement for Reform Judaism, responsible for Faithbook, hopes the page will “engage the younger generation,” inform them about people of other faiths, and engage them in constructive debates. Members can upload photos of themselves and others, view images of sacred texts, and view prayers for international and interfaith understanding. Faithbook already has 498 fans.Also, the Bible found a new home-on Amazon Kindle, a wireless digital reader. The Contemporary English Version of the Bible (CEV) is available on Amazon Kindle for $3.99 and can be instantly accessed through the Amazon device without the use of a computer. A high resolution screen displays the text and the CEV Bible is searchable. The simplicity of the Kindle device is a plus for those looking to get specific books of the Bible or the entire Bible itself. This makes the Bible into a highly portable library.The director of licensing and product services at the American Bible Society said the digital platform will allow readers to share scriptural texts with all of those interested in the Bible—especially new readers and younger readers. Other current innovations include putting the Bible on cell phones and the prospect of special ring tones on cell phones.Why all the recent technological and social networking advances? Because religious organizations and faith leaders nationwide are observing declines in membership, largely due to the lack of participation of younger generations.Consider this:

  • The Southern Baptist Convention will take place in Indianapolis this week. As the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the religious organization made headlines when the outgoing SBC president issued a warning to Baptists saying that unless the SBC wakes up, in the next two decades more than half its member churches could vanish. The SBC president told reporters in an interview that SBC is comprised of “small groups of older white people” who must embrace diversity if it hopes to survive and must be more welcoming to ethnic groups and younger generations.
  • The Episcopal Church has suffered a net loss of 115,000 members over the past three years. Nearly 60 percent of Episcopalians are reportedly over 50.
  • In 2007, the United Methodist Church reported its membership was at its lowest since 1930 with just over eight million members.
  • Lutheran Christians in North America decreased about 1.41 per cent, while the Lutheran World Federation witnessed a 1.73 per cent drop. The second largest LWF member church– the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – accounting for 4.85 million members–saw about a 1.6 percent drop in the same year.
  • Membership in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. declined sharply in 2003. Figures released by the church show the denomination had 2,405,311 active and confirmed members at the end of 2003—a drop of 46,658 from 2002.
  • Jewish synagogues have also observed declines. A World Jewish Digest article recently observed, “Leaders have had any number of reactions to the noticeable absence of young adult Jews in synagogues. … In the past, Jews showed their support for synagogue life by paying dues— whether they were enthusiastic participants or not. Today, that sense of obligation is gone: young adults do not feel compelled to join a synagogue if they have no intention of attending. However, when they to do decide to join, they participate as active, invested members.”

Regardless of religious affiliation, young adults attending churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations will strongly influence the direction of religious life in the United States over the next 25 years. It remains to be seen whether religious organizations can successfully engage Xers and Ys in their communities.

Generations X (1965-1981) and Y (1982-1995) have challenged religious organizations to become more intentional and strategic in the ways they serve their members because they are the first generations to want new ways to worship.

Religious organizations everywhere are struggling to understand this generational shift. As a result, they are observing a decline in membership among younger generations.

I recently wrote an article about this decline for Church Executive magazine, which will be published in next month's issue. Here are a few of the tips I outlined for religious leaders to consider in the article:

  • RelationshipsBuilding relationships with Xers and Ys is imperative. These generations rely only on the people who take the time to earn their trust and express care for them. Your church will successfully engage them when it becomes concerned about their needs and actively engages in developing programs and services especially for them.
  • Positive EnergyYounger generations often refer to church as boring, time-consuming, judgmental, and hypocritical. If Xers and Ys don’t feel positive, inspired, welcome, or engaged in their church experience, they are likely to run for the door. Churches have responded by introducing shorter services, musical instruments, and humor in the sermon. And if you don’t know what younger generations dislike about your church – ask them!
  • Family FocusXers are having children and Ys will be starting families soon. A commitment to an outstanding children’s program and a family-friendly environment is essential to attracting and keeping younger members.
  • PurposeYounger generations want to make a difference and to know their participation has purpose and value. Explain how their involvement is making a difference. Gen Y has an especially broad worldview and would prefer to join a church where there are ample mission and service opportunities.
  • RespectContrary to popular belief, Xers and Ys are not slackers. They are multi-tasking high-achievers, but they don’t like obligations that intrude on family life. Be respectful of their time, don’t guilt them into taking on volunteer roles, and understand their participation will be more episodic. They like to take the lead a single project and then that’s it for a while.
  • TechnologyUtilize technology to provide access to the church and its worship and faith-building opportunities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Consider podcasting sermons or worship music or the minister’s message for the day, post video testimonials featuring younger members, use Webinars for Bible study, or launch a blog or bulletin board where people can engage in discussions about the church.

While the Traditional and Baby Boomer generations have sustained religious organizations for quite some time, many organizations have made the mistake of ignoring the Xers and Ys or waiting for them to conform to the traditions and the values of previous generations. Xers and Ys are actively seeking a place to belong, and they will abandon the idea of going to church or synagogue altogether when religious organizations don't meet their interests and needs.

There’s a tremendous opportunity here for the religious organizations that can find meaningful ways to integrate their involvement into young people's lives, and literally focus on the next generation of faith leaders and members.It’s important to understand that younger generations haven’t lost their faith. Research repeatedly indicates this is not the case. Xers and Ys are faithful and spiritual generations–they are simply seeking new ways to worship than the generations that came before them.The question is: Will your organization be the answer to their prayers?

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.

 

Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.

 

Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.

 

Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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