When Jesus Speaks, Millennials Stay

Among Millennial generation Protestants, those who “say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant” remain active in church beyond high school significantly more than those who do not–68% versus 25% (Barna, 2013).

This might sound like the most unexciting, obvious statement ever.

But come back to it.

How often do Catholic leaders discuss what to “do” about younger generations leaving the church? How to do Young Adult Ministry more effectively. How to use social media to communicate with Millennials. The list goes on and on…

This study reminds us that effective ministry planning practices, use of social media, volunteer management, etc. are merely tools. Tools to empower our efforts to allow others to hear Jesus speak to them personally.

Ask this question of your ministry efforts, “how are we helping others hear Jesus speak to them, personally?” In some cases, we’re spending lots of energy doing lots of other good things, but while missing this critical piece. While leading adult faith formation groups, I’ve met more than a few who’ve been quite certain that God does not speak to us today. One explained confidently that this was something from the Bible, and instead, today we have the Church’s teaching authority. Yikes. How many who are less engaged in parish life hold this view (or worse!) when it comes to believing and experiencing Jesus speaking to them personally? There’s never any competition or division between Jesus speaking to each of us as individuals, through the Holy Spirit, in prayer, and faith in the Holy Spirit working through the teaching office of the Church.

Barna’s study also noted among the Protestant young adults surveyed, “the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.” A focus on helping individuals hear Jesus and enter into relationship with Him shouldn’t lead to compartmentalization. And, most Catholic parishes aren’t in danger of encouraging this. There are often many more points of engagement–for service, community, and integrated living–compared to efforts to mentor individuals and help individuals open up to hearing Jesus in prayer. Or even spending quality time in prayer (liturgically, extemporaneously, contemplatively, etc.)

Unfortunately, in many Catholic settings, we jump to the trappings of integration, while young adults (and others!) trod through life without hearing Jesus speak to them personally. There’s a sadness in knowing that there are some in our parishes and pews who are not experiencing the comfort, joy, and fullness of life made present to us prayerful listening. So remember, whatever you’re doing as a disciple to build the Kingdom of God, ask yourself: “how are we helping others hear Jesus speak to them, personally?”

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