Workshop Offers Ideas for Ministering to Younger Generations

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — The generation known for being focused on technology and less involved with personal interaction is also seeking opportunities to participate. This same age group, thought to be filled with people needing immediate gratification, is yearning for inclusion. The generation, the Millennials, born between 1985 and 2005, was one of four groups described last month to attendees of a workshop called “Feed my Sheep: Ministering Effectively to Younger Generations” that was offered by the Province as a way to strengthen techniques in reaching youth and young adults.

The March 19 program, held in Midtown Manhattan, was presented by Dominic Perri, a Chicago-based consultant who specializes in the organization, culture and strategies of religious communities. The objectives of the program were to:
• Increase understanding of youth and young adults and what they see from the Church
• Develop practical strategies to help ministries better invite and involve youth and young adults
• Offer an opportunity for discussion and to learn from other participants

Strengthening Province’s Mission
“Since the mission dimension of the Province’s 2008 to 2013 strategic plan calls upon the friars to focus on evangelization of young adults as one of our priorities, the Evangelizing Youth and Young Adults workshop was an attempt to offer friars ongoing education and practical strategies for engaging and working with this segment of our society,” said Lawrence Hayes, OFM, co-chair of the Province’s Evangelization Directorate, that sponsored the program. He added, “Dominic Perri did a great job in sharing with us his expertise on how to minister effectively to younger generations.”

Perri led the attendees — friars and staff members — through a description of four generations, each of which has unique styles of behaviors and interests that affect their participation in Mass and parish life.

The generations are:

  • Traditionalists, born 1901 to 1945
  • Boomers, born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X, born 1965 to 1984
  • Millennials, born 1985 to 2005

Learning About Generational Differences
Perri emphasized that each generation’s identity is “shaped by the significant events and people that influenced them during their formative years.” He described their approaches to technology, faith and parish, as well as differences in their learning styles.

“If we want to have a Church where people of all generations feel welcome, then it is essential that we understand the unique perspectives and gifts that each generation brings to the Church,” he said. “This is especially true of younger generations, who are spiritually hungry. But we need to be able to speak a language they can understand.”

He focused much of his talk on the characteristics of Generation X and Millennials, people who are currently 26 to 45 years of age, since this is the age group that the Church is trying to reach. He told participants that these young adults:

  • are as interested as ever in God and prayer but they distrust institutions
  • expect technology
  • engage/volunteer when they believe in the cause
  • grew up in a consumer culture where they expect choices and responsiveness

“Dominic was very effective in helping us understand the vastly differing generational styles among the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials,” Lawrence said. “Each generational group inhabits a different culture that includes its own set of expectations and assumptions in key areas including: leadership style, approaches to technology, learning style, approaches to faith and spirituality, volunteerism, and expectations/desires from faith community. No one could leave the workshop still believing that a one-approach-fits-all will work in a given ministerial setting.”

Perri provided time during the daylong workshop for participants to share ideas about their generation, an activity many said was valuable.

Sharing Feedback
“I really appreciated the conversation and the work with defining different generations and how they see themselves and what their needs and wants might be,” said Jayne Porcelli, pastoral associate and director of the Shrine of St. Jude at St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on New York’s Upper East Side.

“In understanding the generational differences, outlooks and talents of each group, creating and planning events will be easier,” Porcelli added. “Also, the need to open my own vision, my own learning to be more accepting of generational differences became clear to me. I came away with some good things to think about. Personally, finding others who had similar experiences to my own, finding words to put on the feelings I’d had — like being afraid that the next generation in the Church will not value the Vatican 2 experience — was quite eye-opening.”

Larry said he especially enjoyed meeting and interacting with the other participants. “Because we were small in number, there was the possibility of extensive conversation. As we shared, it was very illuminating to see the written theory take on life as the different generations expressed their viewpoints, perspectives and worldviews,” he said.

“With all the bad news that we experience, it was incredibly hopeful to realize that the largest denomination in the United States is Roman Catholic and the second largest is made up of those who choose to no longer be Roman Catholic,” said Christopher Keenan, OFM. He noted the presentations were very helpful to him in responding to the challenges of reaching out to the three cultural groups with whom he works: homeless young men in shelters, students at the College of Mt. St. Vincent in New York where he is chaplain, and the Fire Department of New Yorkfor which he is a chaplain.

Anne Silversey, director of youth ministry at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., said, “We spent time at our department meeting talking about how valuable the workshop was for us. It helped us to see very clearly the generations that we are serving. It gave us a better understanding of the parents of the youth we’re working with.”

ya“I would say the biggest eye-opener of the day for all of us was that it is clear that the Baby Boomers should not be scheduling and planning events or worship for young adults,” Silversey said. She attended the workshop with four others from her parish youth ministry staff as well as Lawrence Anderson, OFM. “They need to have their own voice on parish councils or pastoral staffs so they can implement programming that speaks to their generation. Both Jason and Christina, the representatives of the Millennial generation, were very clear in what they were looking for, and it was wonderful to set the time aside to listen to what they had to say. Now we need to begin the process at our own parish.”

Many participants commented on the value of sharing their experiences and approaches.

“It was much more than I thought it would be and I’m glad I went,” Porcelli said.

“The workshop offered an excellent framework for standing in the pulpit and looking out at the complexity and the richness of the generations before us,” Christopher said. “It made clear that the young generations are those that are most absent in our congregations.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.