- Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
It’s well known that churches are struggling to reach younger members, supported by Pew’s recently released study (http://ow.ly/aTTIA) indicating that Millennials are increasingly identifying as “unaffiliated” with organized religions. But MTV continues to see a real spiritual hunger from our audience… a generation that’s grown up accessing the Bible, Koran and Dharmapada through Google has a different outlook on spirituality. Recent MTV research indicates Millennials are looking for religion to borrow from the technology-driven world they’ve grown up in – offering an environment that’s open-sourced, fluid, hackable and allows for self-expression. And with or without permission, they’re already starting to innovate spirituality in key ways…
Millennials in MTV’s study expressed that the Internet offers their generation high-speed access to perspectives from around the world, and this exposure means religions start to melt together. Erin, 23 explained, “I’ve learned that religions are all the same at their core, it’s just packaging and rules that are different.” One Latina woman who was raised Catholic noted, “My research into it seems to indicate that Jesus would make a good Buddhist and Shakyamuni a good Christian.”
This results in a more “customized” approach in defining one’s religion. When everyone from parents to the Fleet Foxes has told Millennials that it’s important to be unique, “like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,” many are customizing their religion or even mashing-up different religions, with 83% of MTV viewers agreeing, “It’s OK to be fluid about your religion – choosing which practices and beliefs work best for you.” We hear young people say things like “I’m Catholic, but I support gay marriage.” In terms of religion mash-ups, Jaclyn, 19, describes herself as a “Jewddhist,” finding “meaning and connection in Buddhism” to supplement her Judaism, and Laura, 24 “takes the best things from all religions.” Several who were raised Christian now incorporate traditionally Eastern elements such as meditation and a belief in karma - one Southern Baptist noted she is “drawn to Eastern beliefs and the incorporation of chakras.”
Some churches have begun to adapt to this generation’s embracing of flexidoxy. Ryan Melogy, one of the young founders of Faithstreet (http://ow.ly/aTTLR) - a site that connects people and churches- explains that his church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn offers classes in meditation, a practice traditionally associated with Eastern religions.
iStreaming to higher powers
A generation that wants to flatten the hierarchy across many civic and commercial institutions not surprisingly wants access to a higher power without intermediaries. Matthew, a college junior, explains: “It feels as though spirituality used to be this unobtainable thing that can only be unlocked by attending church and listening to someone preach- it should be more interactive.”
The right to administer marital rites is already shifting hands from the hierarchical few to the ordinary person, as many Millennials appoint an internet-certified friend-as-pastor (even Lady Gaga officiated a gay marriage.) According to the Washington Post (http://ow.ly/aTTTC), 31% of couples select a friend or family member to officiate their wedding. We’ve heard from pastors who are better connecting with this generation that they try to mitigate the feeling of hierarchy – one minister we spoke with said he empowers his young congregation to extend forgiveness for sins to each other, instead of relying solely on a church leader.
In sum, Millennials are looking for and already creating innovation in the realm of organized religion. We asked panelists to comment on this blurb from the New York Times (http://ow.ly/aTTWq) alluding to the need for a “Steve Jobs of religion:”
“We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment.”
The consensus was… “controversial, but spot on.” They liked the notion of “experimentation without harassment” and a more open, accessible and interactive approach to religion. Samantha, 21 said, “I definitely agree. I feel like religion is now just sitting in a pew…. Boring. I want to be in a place to really talk out your problems and have constructive ways of dealing with them.” Clearly a generation raised in family 2.0, where it was all up for discussion at the kitchen table, is looking to download the next version of religion.
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