4 strategies to develop generosity with Millennials
The church has what some have called an obsession with the millennial generation. If you read many blogs by Christian writers, you will see lots of talk about this generation. In 2015, there were an estimated 83 million millennials in the US, making up approximately 26% of the population. This group of people are also widely believed to be the least religious segment of the population. Perhaps that is why we are so focused on reaching them.
If we are going to connect with millennials, we can’t continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing, because obviously, that is not producing the result we are hoping for. This doesn’t mean changing who you are, but it might mean creating new ways of doing things that are core to your mission. Change can be disruptive to the people who are already a part of your community, so you want to make sure you’re not throwing the baby boomers out with the bathwater.
For instance, many millennials only use credit cards, and rarely carry cash or checks. Creating opportunities for them to give will likely include digital technology. But, for many of your older congregants, physically placing a tithe in the offering is not only a spiritual discipline, but a central part of a worship service. Bridging the generational gaps can often require finding ways to maintain both ways of engaging.
Building connection always starts with listening and understanding. It is a core theme of the Gospel. The fact that God re-connected with his people by actually living in their shoes should inform how we try to connect with others. Using that same approach, we should seek to understand the people we are trying to connect with. One of the many distinguishing factors that make millennials unique is that they are native digital users. Unlike Gen X’ers and others, millennials often can’t even remember a time without the internet, cell phones and email. For instance, 70% of millennials prefer to interact with their bank online. Unlike the older generations who have significantly higher security concerns with online banking than their millennial counterparts.
Banking isn’t the only thing that millennials do on their mobile devices at higher rates than others. According to the Barna Group, 70% of Christian millennials read scripture on screen and 54% of them spend time watching online videos informing their faith. By looking at how the different generations within your church practice their faith, churches are better equipped to develop effective strategies for engagement, no matter the technology.
One key metric that millennials are lagging in is tithing. The differences in how they give and what triggers them to give may be part of why their giving is lower. Churches usually focus on developing in-person giving, but 70% of millennials prefer to give online. In fact, according to the Barna Group, 2 out 10 Christian millennials use a text-to-give feature each month. Research show that millennials are generous, so perhaps they aren’t giving to the church because we are not engaging them the right way. Here are 4 strategies that will help you reach millennials:
Start With Serving
Many millennials are early in their career and have a more limited giving capacity. While this is somewhat driven by the phase of life that they find themselves in, connecting people in tangible ways to your mission can cultivate generosity when capacity increases later in life. Enabling people to participate in the work of your ministry allows them to experience first hand the impact of your church. When checking out a new church or nonprofit, 90% of millennials look at the mission activities before engaging. How your church is making an impact is deeply important to this generation.
Everyone wants to know that they are helping make a difference when they give. That’s nothing unique. According to the Millennial Impact Study, 84% of millennials said they are most likely to donate when they fully trust an organization, and 90% said they would stop giving if they do not trust an organization. Nothing builds trust like transparency. Churches that take the time to explain how funds are used and provide the impact of donations foster trust.
Research from the Millennial Impact Study shows that the number one reason people don’t give using their smartphones, is that they have not been asked. Most churches discourage the use of smartphones in service instead of asking them to pull them out. How millennials engage with each other is significantly different from other generations. In fact, unlike previous generations, calling someone that you are interested in is almost unheard of among millennials. If you want to talk to someone you’re interested in, you either text or use social media to connect. If you invite millennials to engage with you using mobile technology, you create a culture that affirms how they would naturally engage. This leads us to our last point.
Make it Natural
Depending on what generation you are from, your natural forms of giving may differ. For some, getting a box of envelopes that you put a check into each month is how they have given for years, and changing that may be disruptive. For millennials, passing the offering plate in a service may result in them giving the $5 that they have in their wallet, since they often don’t carry significant cash or checks. Alternatively, if you provide the ability to give via smartphone or kiosk, you are likely to get not only larger gifts, but potentially recurring gifts. In fact, research shows that millennials overwhelmingly want to give digitally, with over 70% of millennials giving to nonprofits digitally in 2011. This generation is used to having on-demand services and the ability to act when they feel moved to do so. If you only give them the ability to give on Sunday mornings, you might be missing out on the magic moments when they are moved to give. For that reason, it is important to have a variety of ways for people to engage and to do it when it naturally fits into the flow of their lives.
How has implementing new technology enabled you to connect more effectively with millennials?