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It’s Not the Nose Ring That Attracts the Millennials

By Liv Larson Andrews

I repeat: it’s not the nose ring.

That was part of a comment I left on the thread of a Facebook discussion. The group is called “ELCA Clergy.” The question was posed, “Millennials who are pastors: are you attracting other millennials, and how?”

Now, a lot of hackles get raised in me with such questions. I resist generational identity categories, giving thanks for the mix of gray, brown, black, blonde and more gray hair in the pews of my congregation. I resist the attraction-based mode of outreach, which imagines that the right program or music or bulletin font will win your community a boon of members. Blech.

And I really don’t consider myself a millennial. Born just after the start of the 1980’s, I often feel like a late gen-Xer. Different than my slightly younger friends.

So I guess its puzzling why I replied to the thread at all. But like looking at a car accident along the highway with ambulances and flashing lights, it just draws my focus into the fray.

My full response was this:
The hardest work I do is striving to be my true self while inhabiting this role of pastor. Just that work alone seems to click in with many sorts of visitors, younger and older than me. It’s not the nose ring. I repeat…it’s not the nose ring.

Little aspects of style like visible tattoos, piercings, funky hair color or cool shoes do not communicate the Gospel. They are markers of self-expression and should be chosen freely, but not relied upon to make a real connection. Real relationships work on honesty, openness, trust and kindness. Old and young alike need these things to make a connection.

It has been said that 11 a.m on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. It is a sad truth, and a challenge to all of us who feel most comfortable gathering with others who are like us. Identity markers do work to draw people into false community. Let us defy the old statistic and begin gathering across lines of race, class, and age. Let us opt out of comfort-zones and choose to work on honesty, openness, trust and kindness. For Christians, let us make the spirit of the Risen Christ the sign of our unity, not nose jewelry.

How many of you leaders struggle with attraction-based definitions of ministry? Do you feel pressure to “win” people of certain age categories?

About Liv Larson Andrews

Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.

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