Every denomination is struggling to retain young people and young families who do not always see church the way their parents and grandparents do. They are less likely to stay with a congregation or denomination just because it’s expected. What that means, says the Rev. John Wilkinson, pastor of Rochester’s Third Presbyterian Church, is that “people are making a much more significant choice today if they choose to be a church participant. About half the people who join us do not come from a Presbyterian background.”
People in their 20s and 30s, sometimes called the “Millennial Generation,” are going to transform church life, says the Rev. Eugene Roberts, recently retired pastor of the Brighton Reformed Church. “They are not so interested in theological distinctions between denominations,” he says. “In some ways, theirs is a more intense experience.” On the plus side, he says, the millennials “who get involved really want to be involved, while the baby boomers like me often go through the motions.”
But while many younger people have a less formal connection to church than their elders, “that is not an indication that people are less spiritual or not interested in a relationship with God,” says the Rev. Alan Newton, executive minister of the American Baptist Church in the Rochester Genesee Region. “They just don’t find it in church. Churches naturally resist change, but those that are adapting are all growing.”
But adapting means different things to different congregations. The Rev. David Inglis, pastor of the Henrietta United Church of Christ, says churches are seeing “people who find their way into a place that affirms their own journey.” In other words, younger people will go where they are accepted for who they are.