Thursday, November 17, 2016

Millennials leaving religion

I was just listening to the "Keep the Church Weird" lecture by Rachel Held Evans and it was like lightening struck.

Rachel Held Evans says what I've been saying for years: evangelizing to millennials does not work because we have learned to avoid anything that seems to be an advertisement. Advertising is cheap and shallow, the exact opposite of what spirituality and religion should be. And I've not been the only person who's been saying this, Kaya Oakes made similar points in her book "The Nones Are Alright." Those who say they are "spiritual but not religious" leave many parts of mainstream religion behind including the contemporary commercialism, and this departure is largest among millennials.

Think of how mainstream American culture treated millennials in the late 90's, when we were in middle school. The Spice Girls, N SYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Tiger Beat magazine, claire's, etc. Because the young adults at that time had both expendable income and a modicum of autonomy unseen in previous generations, we were targeted in advertising unlike ever before. This was also when "NeoWicca" became popular among young adults, and became increasingly commercial. Perhaps the Spice Girls are the best example of how extremely millennials were marketed to; the idea of a commercial girl group was formed in order to compete in pop music, and then women auditioned to fill those roles (source). Advertising became more obvious as well, with the celebrities most popular among young millennials blatantly flaunting their sponsors' logos. The film Josie & the Pussycats highlighted this in a tongue-in-cheek manner. All of this advertising worked well when we were 10-15. I argue that the trend of wearing things "ironically" in the late 00's was a way of maturing out of that. "I got this Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt out of a dumpster, I'm wearing it ironically." The idea of actually supporting popular brands was so odious that millennial hipsters made it blatantly obvious that wearing those brands was a joke. And if you were not in on the joke, that meant you were a sell-out.
So what does this mean for the religious bodies so desperate to bring the millennials back to their churches? The techniques that worked so well for big name brands in the late 90's worked then, but not now. The techniques that existed ("worked" is an inappropriate term for a social trend that denied efficiency) ten years ago won't work now. Frankly I don't know what will bring millennials back to the churches. But working harder at enticing us back than at sincere service to the poor is certainly not the way to do it.

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