Got Reli­gion?: How Church­es, Mosques, and Syn­a­gogues Can Bring Young Peo­ple Back

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

This short book com­bines pow­er­ful sto­ries, mean­ing­ful sta­tis­tics, and prac­ti­cal tips to help com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers bring young peo­ple back to reli­gious insti­tu­tions. By young peo­ple, Riley means women and men vari­ably called young pro­fes­sion­als, emerg­ing adults, or mil­len­ni­als. These men and women, often in their 20s and ear­ly 30s and usu­al­ly unmar­ried, are in tran­si­tion — in their careers, in their rela­tion­ships, in their faiths — yet are look­ing for com­mu­ni­ty, ser­vice, con­nec­tion, and pur­pose in the places where they live. In Got Reli­gion?, Riley explains in more detail who mil­len­ni­als are and why the insti­tu­tion­al mod­el of reli­gion does not seem to be attract­ing this pop­u­la­tion to reli­gious com­mit­ment. She presents exam­ples from dif­fer­ent faith com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try of reli­gious expe­ri­ences and pro­gram­ming that are suc­cess­ful in bring­ing these young peo­ple back.

The chap­ter on Jew­ish pro­grams for mil­len­ni­als is descrip­tive and insight­ful. Riley cov­ers Taglit-Birthright, the free ten-day trip to Israel for Jew­ish mil­len­ni­als, as well as the com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­gram­ming offered to alum­ni of that pro­gram; Moishe Hous­es, which offer mil­len­ni­als group hous­ing with gen­er­ous rent sub­si­dies in exchange for plan­ning and imple­ment­ing Jew­ish pro­gram­ming to oth­er mil­len­ni­als in the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty; and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s vari­ety of inno­v­a­tive reli­gious ser­vices and pro­grams for young peo­ple. Accord­ing to Riley, these Jew­ish expe­ri­ences work — that is, attract mil­len­ni­als — because they empow­er young peo­ple to explore Jew­ish reli­gion and cul­ture in a wel­com­ing, safe environment.

But the real strength of this book lies in the breadth and depth of its exam­ples. Riley’s skill­ful analy­sis makes it pos­si­ble for a read­er to see con­nec­tions between his or her par­tic­u­lar reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty and the uni­ver­sal chal­lenges and suc­cess­es expe­ri­enced in a range of com­mu­ni­ties rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent reli­gions. As one exam­ple: in Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na, a group of Chris­t­ian con­gre­ga­tions band­ed togeth­er to offer non-denom­i­na­tion­al Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ences to mil­len­ni­als. By pool­ing their resources, deem­pha­siz­ing the­o­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, and focus­ing on help­ing mil­len­ni­als find the right church for each indi­vid­ual (rather than every church com­pet­ing for every per­son), these con­gre­ga­tions cre­ate mean­ing­ful pro­gram­ming for young Chris­tians and also suc­cess­ful­ly attract mil­len­ni­als to com­mit­ted mem­ber­ship in a range of con­gre­ga­tions. Per­haps oth­er small com­mu­ni­ties — whether Jew­ish or from any reli­gion — can apply the lessons of this expe­ri­ence and see a sim­i­lar­ly suc­cess­ful result.

In sum, Riley cap­tures the lived expe­ri­ence and moti­va­tions of this gen­er­a­tion very well. Using her help­ful, real­is­tic sug­ges­tions and tools, insti­tu­tions will be more like­ly to cre­ate wel­com­ing, pur­pose­ful spaces for mil­len­ni­als to explore reli­gious belief and prac­tice. And maybe one day, these indi­vid­u­als will be com­mit­ted mem­bers — and lead­ers! — of reli­gious insti­tu­tions, mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in com­mu­ni­ties across our country.

Relat­ed Content:

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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