If you are on social media, and you are not learning, not laughing, not being inspired or not networking, then you are using it wrong.―Germany Kent (journalist, author, actress, businesswoman, model, producer, activist and philanthropist)
Younger generations like Millennials, are very connected to technology and social media; it is a primary source of information for this group. If Unity is going to serve and attract this demographic, we have to meet them where they are and deliver our Truth teachings to them in a way they can hear.
Millennials are typically considered to be the population born between 1980 and 2000, and make up roughly 25% of the population, and they are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of new technology than other generations. Millennials use the Internet and social media extensively, interacting regularly through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and other online tools, often from their smart phones.
Contrary to popular belief, we (Millennials) can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.―Rachel Held Evans (Christian columnist, blogger and author)
According to the Pew Research Center, more than a third of this demographic respond “none” on surveys when asked about their religious affiliation. But that does not necessarily mean they are atheists. There is an increase in religiously unaffiliated Millennials who still claim to believe in God, even praying regularly, and many of these call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” This generation is very consumer-oriented and accustomed to having choices. They tend to approach spirituality in the same way—by sampling and trying different options.
They also have access to a lot of information and can research and learn about multiple religions, picking and choosing what best suits them and their current situation. This can be both liberating and paralyzing at the same time. However, they want to be a part of something larger and desire a spiritual option that is holistic. They are attracted to organizations that are environmentally and socially conscious and offer them opportunities to enhance their lives mentally, physically and spiritually.
Much of this age group is in a transitional time in their lives; venturing out into a world of new places and new people and feeling disconnected from the support system they were accustomed to at home. It is natural for this generation to take time away from going to church during this transition, but having a community to come back to is still important. Research studies show that college students who are supported spiritually to practice their faith while in college have greater academic success. We also see young adults coming back to church when they get married or have children. They seek out a spiritual community, looking for a place where their kids can be nurtured and supported and they can receive support from other, spiritually-minded parents.
Whether away from home at college, just starting their lives in a new place, or juggling the demands of a career or a family, a traditional church format may not always meet the needs of this population. Past Youth of Unity (YOU) often find themselves located in places where there is no Unity or only a very small presence that cannot offer them any opportunity to connect with others their age or appropriate ways to get involved in the community. They may not have transportation to visit the closest Unity, or Sunday morning services may not be convenient. In these situations they are missing out on being part of a spiritual community and this lack of access may come at the exact time when they can benefit the most from what Unity has to offer.
This age group is generally open and interactive in their approach to spiritual exploration. They often search for spiritual experiences independently, often in the form of Eastern traditions such as yoga, meditation, and other practices they can engage in autonomously. They may not understand the importance of community in their spiritual practice. However, millennials tend to be naturally social, and will look for community in other ways. Online interaction and social media are a common way for them to feel connected, but this may not necessarily be at a spiritual level. So why not leverage this format and find ways to provide Unity-based content and social interaction through the use of a “virtual community” accessible online?
An online format for Next Generation Unity (NGU) can be the perfect solution for offering connection regardless of location, provide spiritual content and opportunities for spiritual exploration, while also providing a sense of “community.” An online format will also provide a central place where all Unity communities can reach out to this age group to offer mentorship and support, leadership opportunities, and hear about what these young adults are doing and how they are using their gifts to benefit others.
Finding a balance between technology and community can be challenging, but through the use of web-based tools such as Webinars and Live Video Conferencing, we can create programs that offer real-time, interactive activities in addition to providing information on a website or a social media group page. By using a format that is familiar, comfortable and accessible for this population, we can build an NGU program that will sustain existing connections while also creating new ones. The best thing about creating an online program for this generation is that they have a lot of knowledge about social media and online tools. We only need to encourage them to use their skills and knowledge in co-creating a virtual community for the benefit of all young adults and offer them our loving support and mentorship.
If we truly want our Unity youth to stay connected after YOU and encourage other young adults to explore Unity, we need to offer them opportunities to step into leadership roles, give them ways to become involved in their church and community, and offer them the resources so that they can find new and creative ways to share their experiences with each other and stay connected. A virtual program accessible online from wherever they are might be a great start!