As More Millennials Move to the Suburbs, How Can Parishes Prepare?

Recent Census data shows that Millennials and younger members of Gen X are no longer flocking to large cities but, like several generations before them, are making their way to the suburbs. With a new influx of people age 23-38, how can parishes in the suburbs prepare to form and evangelize their new Millennial neighbors?

Tim Glemkowski, president of L’Alto Catholic Institute, recently wrote an article about how parishes can make sure they are ready to reach out and engage the new Millennials in their midst, and he stopped by Morning Air® to discuss some of his key points.

“This is an interesting opportunity in so many ways for suburban parishes,” he said. “Because Millennials are really the first generation that grew up in an explicitly post-Christian culture. And so, as a post-Christian generation, this is a chance for us to really operate in a New Evangelization context, and try to reach out to this generation.”

As a member of the Millennial generation, Glemkowski pointed out that many parishes are already serving Millennials like himself. But he explained that it is more likely that the Millennials who are moving from the city to the suburbs are religiously disengaged.

“We have to do a good job of receiving those who come to us and do come to our parishes,” he affirmed. “But in a lot of instances we’re going to have to be really motivated and mobilized as parishes to help disciples grow and go to get Millennials back, especially the 50% of those who grew up Catholic who have now left the faith.”

So how do we do that? Glemkowski advised against trying to find trendy or flashy campaigns to win Millennials back, but suggested that parishes rather focus on what they can uniquely offer to Millennials and all generations.

“You’ll see articles pinging around in the Catholic blogosphere or online saying, ‘Millennials want this!’ and ‘Millennials want that!'” Glemkowski said. “And I don’t think we really have to chase after them with trends. There are timeless principles that we can learn to incarnate for this generation. But we have to bring it all. We have to bring the true, the good, and the beautiful. It can’t just be one aspect.”

“Duty and reverence in the liturgy, the fullness of truth, the goodness of service, and of loving, and going to the margins,” are aspects of the Catholic Church that appeal to all generations, Glemkowski said. “And then, most importantly, keeping Christ central.”

“That idea of starting with why I think is the crux of it,” he said. “For a generation that isn’t necessarily just going to stay in the pews and stay in the faith out of a sense of generational guilt or something like that, we have to do a really good job of convincing people of the difference that Jesus Christ and His Church actually makes.”

But what about those who aren’t planning to darken the door of a church anytime soon? Reverence in the liturgy and showing the difference Christ and His Church make only helps if people are aware that the Church is actually a part of their community. For this, Glemkowski pointed to the examples of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. John Paul II, who evangelized through personal relationships and friendships.

“The ordinary form of evangelization is friendship,” Glemkowski said. “I think one of the keys to really reaching those Millennials who are coming back to some of these suburban communities, and they’re not necessarily showing up to church on Sunday, is not necessarily just putting up a banner that says, ‘All are welcome.’ I don’t think that really works.”

“I think one of the keys is to train our disciples who are already in the pews to grow in their love of the Lord and then to go and reach out to people and build those relationships. I think more Millennials are going to be on board and back into our parish life through a bourbon on a back porch than they are through a banner or something like that.”

Listen to the full conversation with Tim Glemkowski below:

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.