A blog post by Grace Duddy
Image Credit: Making a Difference?? by Madhan R on Flickr
A little over a year ago, my colleague, Chick Lane, and I became fascinated with the topic of “stewardship with adults under 40”. As an “adult under 40” myself, I had noticed that “stewardship” was not something that my friends were talking about. I had also noticed that young adults were generally not the target demographic of stewardship campaigns in congregations nor were they generally part of stewardship committees.
Chick and I conducted a stewardship research project in a variety of congregations and ascertained that many stewardship leaders were just as curious about this topic as we were. As we listened to folks discuss this topic, we noticed that there were a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about young adults and their giving patterns that were getting in the way of fruitful conversation.
As a way to shift this conversation, I decided to do some research of my own with young adults. I wanted to address the misconceptions and stereotypes that we had heard in our conversations with stewardship leaders. I wanted to listen deeply to my peers, allow their voices to be heard and jump-start the stewardship conversation. There are many non-profit studies discussing why and how young adults like to give, but there is next to nothing asking about their giving specifically to the church. So, I conducted 10 focus groups and 5 interviews with young adults (defined as someone in their 20s or 30s) across 8 twin cities congregations.
One of my largest findings was that young adults are yearning for authentic spaces to talk about money and giving without any specific agenda. While I expected the topic of stewardship and my questions about money and giving to be mildly uncomfortable, no one seemed ill at ease. In fact, they seemed grateful that someone had the audacity to ask the seemingly taboo questions and for the chance to share openly. On many occasions, participants came up to me after the conversation to thank me. They appreciated the space to have conversation, ask questions and hear the perspectives of their peers without the pressure of being asked to give.
A second finding was that stewardship is not a word that resonates with young adults. Over half of the participants responded that the word “stewardship” did not resonate with them or that it had a negative connotation. It was a word that they only heard in church, and it didn’t have much meaning outside of it. One 20-something remarked, “[The word ‘stewardship’] doesn’t mean anything to me and I bristle at it. It is a veneer on this thing of ‘we want your money’.” When asked what it meant, they generally said that it was about “taking care of people and places” or environmental issues. However, I noticed throughout the conversations, they seemed to resonate with the practice of stewardship but not the word.
Third, the mission of the organization and knowing that their gifts will make a difference are incredibly important factors when young adults are deciding where to give. If the mission of the congregation matches their values, young adults are more likely to get involved and to give. They want to see where the money is going and know it is making a difference. One 20-something stated, “The church is doing a lot in the community but also globally as well. You can see where your money is going with church partnerships.” Another remarked, “I still feel like my money is making a difference, my $1 matters.”
Throughout my conversations, I found that adults under 40 care deeply about their congregations. They enjoy giving their time and money to them. They want to know how much to give, where it is going, and why it matters. I encourage you to continue the conversation and to continue to create authentic spaces for young adults, and everyone in our congregations, to talk about money and giving.
For more information about stewardship and young adults, check out the presentations from this past summer’s stewardship course: “Stewardship with Adults under 40: Possibilities Abound”.
Click here to see Grace’s research questions.
Grace Duddy is a Midwest native and self-proclaimed Millennial with a passion for frugality, stewardship and young adults. She moved north to attend St. Olaf College and then Luther Seminary. She is currently working as the Assistant Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary. She is the author of the new stewardship resource Stewards of God’s Love and the blog Frugal-Community that offers tips for living a fun and frugal life on a graduate student’s budget. When she is not thinking about stewardship, you can find her reading in a comfy chair, hiking in the woods or in the kitchen cooking with her fiancé.