My name is Charissa, and I’m a millennial.
As a millennial, my generation and I are constantly being accused of ruining everything. I’ve read article after article exclaiming with frustration that millennials aren’t doing things the way their parents did, and it’s collapsing the world as we know it!
Are millennials buying houses? No.
Are millennials going on cruises? No.
Using bar soap? Enjoying wine corks? Having dinner dates at casual chain restaurants?
As one such destroyer of all things deemed good and pure, I’ve had my fair share of grown-ups accusing my generation of ruining one thing after another
But the number one frustration on my list?
Are millennials going to Church? Well, no.
The Worship Conundrum
Much like Forbes speculating which industry we will destroy next, I’ve listened to countless conversations with adults throwing their arms up in confusion—as if the idea that young people aren’t coming to Church is one of those great unsolvable mysteries. As though 21 to 34 is the Bermuda triangle of Orthodoxy, the great lost years.
And over the years, I have watched more and more of my friends do just that.
Without the structure of GOYA or OCF to lead the way, they did exactly what I did at that age. They stopped showing up.
Eventually some of us find our way back, but I still look around the Church every Sunday and wonder where my friends and peers are. I wonder if these really are the years we stop taking ownership of our Faith. I wonder what will happen if we continue to not show up.
The Power of Example
I grew up in a small Parish. There were young adults who taught our Greek dance lessons and coached our basketball teams, but few who attended Liturgy regularly, fewer who participated in the Church beyond that. As a kid in a small community, I thought they were the coolest people I could imagine.
Now, I am certainly not the coolest person imaginable (by anyone’s standards) and looking back, neither were they. But when I was young, they were my role models. They were what it meant to be an Orthodox young adult.
The thing about millennials is that when it comes to things like wine, or soap, or cruises, we’re just looking for ways to be more efficient. We want to innovate. We want to forge our own paths.
We watched the generations before us, and we learned what works and what doesn’t.
Kids watch young adults as a way of understanding what being a bigger kid looks like. I struggled to find a place in the Church in my early 20s because I didn’t know what that was supposed to look like. And if we keep not showing up, neither will the next generation.
When we are staffers at camp or we teach Sunday School, it’s easy to remember to put on our best faces. We remember to listen when kids are talking, watch the words we use, speak with intent and kindness. Be patient and compassionate. Even when running on zero sleep, Orthodox Summer Camp is the best iteration of me that there is.
Everything around me is a reminder that the kids are watching.
We often forget that they are always watching us.
The example we set as young adults is one they will remember. They notice when we come to dance practice, but don’t teach Sunday School. They see when we make their basketball practice, but not Liturgy. Every time we do these things, they notice. They don’t understand our excuses. They just understand that we aren’t there.
We are subtly showing them what is important.
And they will remember that when it is their turn to take ownership of their Faith.
In 10, 15, 20 years, the young adults teaching the Sunday School classes, the people spending their summers at Orthodox Camp, those are the 10-year-olds who today are watching me walk into Liturgy twenty minutes late. Those are the kids that we are actively setting an example for every day.
In the same way that millennials are changing industries to suit their needs, the next generation is going to find better, newer, more relatable ways to serve their Church. But only if we give them a place to start.
Embracing a Faithful Future
I worry daily about why our young adults aren’t showing up to Church. I think constantly about ways to get my generation engaged, what to offer them, how to entice them to be involved. I still don’t know exactly what that looks like. I don’t know what combination of fellowship and ministry will suddenly click and young adults will flood back to where they belong.
But I do know that we can’t expect anything to change if we don’t start to take ownership of our Faith. We can’t expect the children in our communities to grow up to be active young adults if we aren’t active young adults.
We can’t underestimate the power of just showing up.
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