“Boomers at our church don’t understand how we give.” I hear this from young people around the country. In a striking example of how generations can see things in opposite ways, boomers often say, “Millennials don’t know how to give the way we do.” Let’s unpack these conflicting perceptions of millennial financial support for the congregations where they worship.
First, though, a reality check: How much did we boomers give to congregations when we were in our twenties? How many of us were even involved in a congregation? As a twenty-something pastor, I saw precious few of my generation in the congregations I served. Most of the few who were involved were unable to give much financially due to the low wages they were earning early in their careers.
Second: Don’t tell Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders that millennials don’t contribute financially. Their campaigns raised hundreds of millions of dollars from millennials. Don’t tell millennials who contribute to GoFundMe campaigns for issues and individuals. Those causes know how to ask — too many congregations don’t. Millennials contribute to well-identified needs when they are asked to do so.
Giving in new ways
Millennials support causes that they value — environmental groups, LGBTQ advocates, political campaigns, etc. And they tell me they want to contribute what they can to the congregations they visit or join. But those congregations haven’t adapted to 21st-century giving patterns. They don’t offer younger people the opportunity to contribute using their preferred methods of payment.
When I was talking about this subject with a Colorado congregation, the young associate pastor said, “I have to agree. Last week, I visited a congregation and they gave me no opportunity to give. Like many in my generation, I carry no cash. So, when the offering plate went by, I felt excluded — it was like they didn’t want me to give. In contrast, another congregation I visited had a QR code in the bulletin that I could scan with my phone, and a text number where I could send a donation. I felt included and welcomed by that congregation.” One polling organization found that only 42 percent of millennials use checks (though they do have checking accounts for ATM purposes).
The issue isn’t the willingness of millennials to contribute financially. The issue is understanding how they contribute and what they like to contribute to. Millennials are driving the transformation of our purchases into a cashless economic system. And, by the way, it isn’t just millennials. Business Insider reports. “Although millennials are embracing the use of digital payments more than any other age group — 49 percent of millennials prefer digital payments to cash — they aren’t the only ones; 44 percent of Gen X respondents and 32 percent of baby boomers prefer digital payments to cash.” Congregations need to create options for millennials to support their faith communities using digital payments, even during the time of offerings in worship.
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