by Meghan McEntee Jubak
Hundreds of thousands of millennials throughout the United States grew up in religious homes. Now, churches are feeling their absence as more adults born between 1981 and 1995 are no longer practicing their faith. Some churches have attempted to extend an olive branch to their estranged children who once slumped in the pews, or spend the entire service poking their younger brother. Photos of rainbow-colored signs hanging above church doors with the words “all are welcome,” have gone viral on the internet. Even before COVID-19 made its impact on churchgoers, religious services were going virtual.
A possible division of the Methodist Church over disagreements on LGBTQ rights was postponed due to COVID-19. In early March of this year, conservative leaders in the Methodist Church revealed plans to introduce a new group within the church following arguments over same-sex marriage. This new group, to be called The Global Methodist Church, would have a doctrine that does not recognize same-sex marriage. Sabrina Accera, a senior journalism major, is focusing her senior project on the Methodist Church’s attempts to win back the favor of millennials, and how a worldwide pandemic has hindered those efforts.
What inspired you to choose this subject for your senior project?
My inspiration for my senior project actually came from my mom and her job. She’s the executive administrative assistant at Christ Church on the Upper East Side on Park Avenue in New York City. My mom would come home every day raving about how much better this church was than any other church she worked for. I wanted to do my story on something that was going to make a change, and to me, I really felt like this church was doing that.
Are you an avid churchgoer?
I used to be, but I stopped attending because I didn’t feel a connection to church as I did when I was younger. It actually contributed to why I wanted to make this my topic, why millennials were no longer attending church. I felt compelled to justify why I myself had stopped going.
Why do you think you felt like you had to justify not attending church as often?
I had this outlook that there would be tons of evidence as to why millennials would or wouldn’t be attending church. But, because of the pandemic, the numbers [of millennials attending church] have been increasing even more. So that kind of changed the direction of my story a little bit. I added a little bit of an angle to it. How have the churches handled reaching out to these people during a time when it’s hard to get close to anyone?
And how has COVID-19 affected the way you’ve reported for your story this past year?
Well, I’m sure it’s no surprise, but COVID-19 has made it so that all my interviews have been over the phone or over a Zoom call. I had met some of my subjects in person, but that was before the pandemic hit and put us in lockdown. It also affected the way I’ve reported it because it kind of changed the angle I took with it. It’s greatly affected the churches and what they’re doing to involve the younger crowd. By combining the pandemic and past efforts of churches, I’m able to explore the growth of the church.
What’s been the biggest difficulty you’ve encountered while working on this project?
The most difficult part for me was staying interested, to be honest. I feel like I’ve been working on it for years and years and it just keeps dragging on. Senior year can get overwhelming, and with this project sometimes I get just a bit more overwhelmed. As the due date gets closer, the workload gets heavier. I’m very excited to hand it in. I’ve definitely enjoyed the experience though.
You’re a part of the younger generation churches are trying to reach. Do you have any of your own ideas on how they can do it?
I definitely think by becoming more online that churches are headed in the right direction. If I can attend church from my couch, I don’t see why I wouldn’t. It’s sure gotten me to attend more. With that, I think they also need to push that online presence and keep being more progressive on social media platforms. It doesn’t end at offering online services and your updated website. Be a bit more relatable and modern.
Have you learned anything throughout this process?
Oh, yeah. I learned that churches are working together even if they are of different denominations. There’s this organization that was put together for the religious organizations around New York City. It’s to help better the community and work together to prosper. I think that’s a really nice idea. People of different ideologies working together to make the community a better place for everyone.
Has working on this project made an impact on your faith and your decision to not attend church as much?
It actually has. I feel like if I wanted to attend church, I don’t have to go there and be uncomfortable, stuffy, or wedged into a pew. I can attend right from my house and keep my faith. I don’t have to break who I am spiritually, if that makes sense.
Graduation is less than two months away, do you have any plans?
My plan is probably a lot different from other people working on their senior project at Purchase. I’ve decided to go to law school and become a criminal justice lawyer for the state of New York.
Law school?! How’d that happen?!
Well, I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world and to help those who might not be able to help themselves while also building a better community around me. I realized I could take my journalism degree and go to law school. I actually always wanted to be a lawyer. It just never seemed attainable financially, or even reasonable. So I’ve decided to follow my passion, and that’s where we are now.