By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
I hear lots of conversations among U.S. church leaders who are trying to unlock the mystery of how to reach and mobilize millennials (the group of people born roughly 1981 to 1997). When it comes to empowering the financial giving and generosity of millennials, the conversation gets even more intense.
What are the keys to leading this passionate, cause-driven generation to open their wallets to greater kingdom potential?
I discussed this recently with Julie Bullock, a generosity coach with Generis. Julie blew up some misguided thinking about millennials and giving that could take us down a wrong path. She also suggests how pastors can reverse those trending thoughts in the church.
Myth #1: Millennials will give only to designated causes
In her work with church leaders around the country, Julie shares that it’s a mistake to think millennials will give only to social causes and not to church-based initiatives. They currently may behave this way, yes, but that is merely because they have not been led by church leaders to do otherwise.
“A lot of non-church organizations have done a fantastic job casting a vision that will engage millennials and their giving,” Julie says. “The local church has taken more of an assumptive approach, however, assuming that they will give just because the generations before them did.” This doesn’t play out well, she shares, as milennials have not been taught about the discipleship aspect of giving in the way their parents once were.
Julie says it’s important not to just “throw a few little social justice causes” into church campaigns or try to generate giving with occasional directed giving causes just to engage millennials. It’s our role as pastors and church leaders to educate, inspire, engage and disciple millennials to give as a “gospel response”—a response to what Jesus has done for us, irrespective of a cause or specific designation of that gift.
“It’s our role as the local church to disciple this generation in giving as part of them following Christ,” Julie says. “It’s not Charity Water’s role or World Vision’s role, or anybody else’s role. It’s ours.”
Myth #2: A great digital platform will engage millennials
There are some fantastic online giving providers, and that space continues to grow. But we need to remember, these are just tools. A digital giving strategy in itself is not the key to engaging millennials.
In fact, Julie tells me new research in church-based giving says most first-time gifts from young people are coming from cash, not from digital platforms. This sounds old-school, but using traditional envelopes works because cash is an entry point for this age group because they seek to be non-committal and unknown in the early stages of their giving to a church.
“You have to be pretty dialed in to the church to commit to basically a subscription-based deal online,” Julie says. “If that’s supposed to be my first step, I’m not sure I’m going to do that for a while.”
Julie adds that millennials may toss in cash when the offering plate or basket comes around. However, without making an envelope available for them to write their name on it, a church won’t be able to contact them with first-time giver communication and other touches. “So envelopes are not dead!” she says triumphantly. “Please keep your envelopes out and alive.”
“Engaging millennials in giving online actually might be the most disengaging thing we can do,” Julie says. “It’s not the end-all, be-all, of giving, and we often act like it is when we tout, ‘My church has 87% of its giving online, etc.’ For those who do give digitally, we have to be sure we are still engaging them meaningfully through video stories and teaching to reinforce and grow their giving.”
Myth #3: Millennials don’t give big
Maybe it’s because of an age assumption or because we feel that millennials are giving elsewhere, but Julie shares we tend to expect less from them financially — and we reap the results.
“It’s just like a child,” she says. “You don’t tell them they can’t do something; you tell them they can —and then they just might live up to that.”
“I think we’re perpetuating the problem by expecting so much less than what millennials are capable of.”
Some millennials have double-income households with no kids. Some are single entrepreneurs. We may think they’re all in debt, but many are not. Others are newly married, and they need our help to be unified in their giving from day one – before the financial problems ever start. How are we discipling them in this?
So Julie says to engage millennials just like we would older givers when we launch a campaign—take them out and explain the initiative and how they fit in, invite them to retreats, dinners, personal meetings, etc. Don’t leave those emerging givers on the sidelines because of low numeric expectations you might have for their giving.
“They might be your rising stars, your rising leaders,” Julie adds. “They need to be discipled so much more desperately than you even know. Believe big in your millennials, and see what the Lord might do.”
Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.