What, religiously speaking, do millennials want?
It’s a question a lot of churches are asking, and it’s one to which Josh Humberger has given a lot of thought.
His answer: A lot of them don’t know what they want. But they’re pretty sure it’s something different from what previous generations have wanted.
A non-denominational lay minister who lives in Kendallville, Humberger, 41, works as executive director for SEND North America, an evangelical Christian organization that aims to help members ages 18 to 29 discover their spiritual direction.
The organization, whose name stands for Servants Equipping New Disciples, is a division of Church Doctor Ministries, a Christian consulting firm in Corunna.
Young people go into this (SEND program) and spend 10 months and are totally transformed into disciples for Christ, Humberger says. It’s quite amazing. In 10 months, they’re exposed to all aspects of ministry.
SEND, Humberger explains, is an outgrowth of an idea from Great Britain. Many young people there, after they graduate from college, spend what’s called a gap year before they go out into the world of work. They travel, indulge in a hobby or sport, do volunteer work or otherwise experiment with developing their future.
A church group in England had the idea to use the gap to involve 20-somethings in intensive theological study and mission work, he says. The idea came to the United States about two years ago with the aid of the Rev. Kent R. Hunter, a Lutheran pastor who founded Church Doctor and had ties to the originating church, St. Thomas Church in Sheffield, England, Humberger says.
With today’s dismal job picture for new college graduates – and with 68 percent of grads 18 to 24 facing debt up to $50,000, according to a recent survey by researchers from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University – Humberger thinks the timing couldn’t be better.
Especially, he says, in light of other studies that show only three in 10 millennials who grow up with a Christian background stick with their faith through their teens and 20s.
That finding comes from The Barna Group, which recently published You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman. The book has become a hot-button manifesto in many Christian circles.
These 20-somethings, they drift a lot, Humberger says, adding that the book dovetails with SEND’s approach.
A lot of them who go to college drop out of college. My goal as a leader is to help them find purpose and direction in their life and use it to live the rest of their lives.
Instead of going to college and going to seminary and spending eight years in school and accumulating thousands of dollars in debt, we say do 10 months in SEND, and you’re going to find your calling in ministry.
SEND students, who raise a $5,000 tuition and stipend by fundraising in their churches or among relatives and friends, are required to have a secular job while they participate in the program, Humberger says.
They take classes heavy in the Bible and theology, but also on current topics including money management and sexuality. They worship, pray, share testimonies and live and eat meals together in gender-separate biblical communities, Humberger says.
They really are a family by the end of it, he says.
One weekend a month, participants visit a regional ministry such as a homeless shelter. At the end of the program, they go on an international mission trip. This year’s was to El Progresso, a village in Guatemala.
It was the closest thing to something in the Book of Acts that you could imagine. We were going from house to house sharing the Gospel, Humberger says, adding that the group was working with another Christian organization hoping to establish a church in the remote area.
So far, SEND has graduated about a half-dozen young people, Humberger says; it has been seeking participants for the upcoming session with meetings in churches in and around Fort Wayne.
SEND graduate Tim Kruse of Auburn says the program was valuable in leading him to a daily desire to be closer to the Lord (and) the need to be in constant communion with Jesus, he said.
Kruse, 27, is the son of state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-14, and worked in his father’s auction business after finishing his home-schooled high school education. He says he long felt a desire to minister but not as a traditional pastor.
I’m more intrigued by what I believe is a more biblical model for equipping believers to be ministers vs. having a minister, he says.
He’s now investigating three ministerial opportunities – working in a youth development program in Abu Dhabi, collaborating with an international Bible translation company and becoming a missionary in low-income neighborhoods for his home church, County Line Church of God in Auburn.
One SEND classmate is helping to start a church near his home in Michigan, and two have started a Christian summer camp, Kruse says.
Humberger says Kruse’s attitude isn’t unusual among millennials, who came of age with memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Columbine High School shootings
The millennials, they are not concerned with materialism or being rich like Generation X. This generation wants to do good and they want to make a difference, he says, adding he’s not as pessimistic about the church’s future as some.
We really believe that a (religious) revival is really coming with this generation, he says.