Stewardship and the Millennials: What church leaders should know about the most generous generation
When it comes to finances, some in the church don't expect much from young adults. The widespread assumption is that Millennials in particular give far less than older generations, that a confluence of student loan debt and self-absorption reduce their generosity.
Yet published data on generosity amongst the Millennials would suggest that this assumption is false. Some studies, including a 2019 report from Fidelity, conclude that Millennials donate twice as much to charitable causes as Baby Boomers. More recent data indicate that Millennials have donated and volunteered more than any other generation throughout the pandemic. This explains, in part, why companies with large Millennial workforces are increasingly committed to corporate social responsibility efforts.
Still, this generosity comes with some skepticism. The expansion of websites like Charity Navigator reveals how young adults want transparency and accountability with their donations. They want their gifts to make a real difference. While some have argued that societal impacts have an administrative cost, the reality is that Millennials don't want their money going towards staff salaries, building costs, and marketing budgets.
Millennials are a remarkably generous generation. But as a generation, their motivations to give are different from previous cohorts. Raised in the Age of Authenticity, Millennials are motivated not by loyalty to an institution. Rather, Millennials are inspired to give to movements aligned to their values and purpose. Millennials are driven to donate to causes where they believe their gifts of time and talent will make a measurable difference. So while young adults may not take after their parents in making weekly donations to a church, they are open to supporting churches that can tell the story of a measurable impact.
Stewardship with the Millennials is fundamentally a collaborative endeavor. When a young adult donates to an organization, it's not because they want to perpetuate the existence of an institution. It's because they want to be involved in an organization's mission. When telling their stewardship story, church leaders should avoid framing the conversation as a transaction: "give this, in order that the church might do that." Rather, the story must be told as a partnership: "join us in giving, so that together we might..."
A request for donations, offerings, and tithes is not a solicitation. It is an invitation to the shared work of the church.
Similarly, stewardship with young adults requires impact, accountability, and transparency. The story a church tells must make clear, qualitatively and quantitatively, the impact that offerings have had on causes and community. While every church has its own purpose and its own set of prioritized causes, there are certain issues and causes that are of the utmost importance to younger adults.
These issues include climate change and economic equality. The causes include diversity and inclusion. That's not to say that a church's stewardship plan shouldn't seek to share perspectives on the core work of the church: worship, education, and faith practices. Rather, when creating a stewardship strategy, the approach should be this: Make it clear how much of every dollar given addresses these issues and contributes to these causes. Then, make it clear how much goes towards administration, facilities, and staff salaries. As the church becomes more transparent with these figures, young adults will come to see the return that comes through potential tithes and offerings.
Some will dismiss these ideas. They will say that the work of the church is to make disciples, not to work for social justice. Others will suggest that tithes and offerings must be separated from transactions and charitable donations, that giving to a church is a distinctive act. Many from my denomination may argue that such an approach indicates "works righteousness," a theological concept often tossed around to resist change and innovation in the church.
These concerns must be addressed simply and succinctly. Stewardship is about responding to God's call through the Gospel to love and serve the neighbor. The stories we tell about the church's impact on climate, equality, and inclusivity are stories that emanate from God's call. To make an accountable, transparent impact on these issues and causes is to pursue a vocation of tremendous faithfulness.
It is now September, a season when churches tell their stewardship stories in an attempt to solicit pledges for the coming year. Stewardship with the Millennials is ultimately not about once-a-year pledge drives.
Rather, it is about a year-long journey of responding to God's invitation. Churches that find new ways of doing stewardship will discover how to tell digital stories of faith-based impact on issues and causes. Through video, blogs, podcasts, and social media, these stories must be told, and they must be told with consistency. At the foundation of this work is a pivot away from fundraising and towards discipleship and accompaniment.
@ryanpanzer is a millennial author.