We have all heard the disastrous reports regarding declines in church attendance. Yet, for a brilliant moment, all this will seem like just a bad dream as our ranks fill on Christmas. Like Joseph and young Mary, they will wander up to our doors, wondering if there is room at the inn. Those least expected, like shepherds and kings, will fill our ranks as well, and many will be young. Can we recognize Christ in their company and be Christ-bearers for them?
The iGeneration, Y-Generation, Millennials, Mosaics - whatever the label, they may be the game-changer generation for our parishes. According to Ryan Jenkins of Yahoo Small Business, Millennials represent the largest generation on the planet. Because the larger the generation, the greater the influence, they have potential to be a game-changer generation.
They will be have the most spending power, eclipsing Boomers by 2018. And that spending will be done via mobile devices. They are the most educated generation in the history of our species and they follow word-of-mouth and peer reviews (via social media). And as a majority of U.S. executives are soon to be eligible for retirement, Millennials will rise quickly in influence. Imagine what just these few facts can mean for the vitality of faith at your parish.
What makes them so different from past generations might come down to just how subjectively they view life and its ultimate meaning. They have witnessed the breakdown of culture and they have learned the need to stand on their own. In part, this may mean separating from the convictions of parents, and the institutions that seem to be breaking down.
This skepticism is unsettling to us as parish leaders, just as it causes parents to be self-conscious about speaking about religion at the holidays (imagine). Yet, even those who are most distrustful of organized religion still admire Jesus and Pope Francis.
Your parish can be bold for Christ this Christmas. You can start with a customized "Join-Us" Christmas video posted at the parish website or on Facebook for example. Sister Susan Wolfe, SND, produces these videos for parishes very reasonably every year, for Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter. They can be ordered at www.catholicwebsolutions.com.
Someone at your parish can also create your own version, for free, by using Animoto.com. Why not put out colorful welcome cards that promote the new diocesan website for emerging adults: HaveFaithBuffalo.com. Outreach.com produces colorful cards, and booklets for display at the holidays.
A customizable, color, trifold "Thank You for Coming" welcome brochure can be obtained from me at little or no cost to the parish.
In "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis wrote, "The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak." Can we share the Good News about family that is emanating from the Synod on Family? Can we celebrate a Year of Mercy with outsiders as well as we do with insiders? There is plenty of information at Vatican.va and the Vatican Youtube channel. In the Year of Mercy, perhaps the real question is: Am I an ambassador of God's reconciling love for them?
Emerging adults can best be reached through the issues that are close to home for them. The instability of society leaves younger adults thirsting for more sustaining convictions by which to live. They are like modern day Magi in the vigor of their pursuit for wisdom. Because emerging adults are fond of asking probing questions, and are sympathetic to human suffering, they have unparalleled capacity for inspiration and conversion.
Can we offer support and direction to those who have deep spiritual questions related to career and vocation; buying or renting housing, intimacy, family and sexuality; living for more than money; the secrets of joyful living, for example?
Can we get savvy with sharing the Good News via social media? There are two free workshops - Networking with Heaven 1.0 and 2.0 which are available to Catholics and parish leaders through this office. Visit HaveFaithBuffalo.com and EvangelizeBuffalo.org for more opportunities and resources.
Dennis Mahaney is director of the Office for Evangelization and Parish Life.