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

Templeton Press  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.

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