Social work instructor’s research suggests millennials are creating new spiritual paths

In spring 2020, as churches began to reopen after months of pandemic closure, Eastern Mennonite University social work instructor Debbi DiGennaro, heard a statement that made her curious.

“A Mennonite pastor said to me, ‘If people don’t go back to church after COVID, it’s probably because their priorities weren’t right in the first place.’ It can’t be that simple, I thought. What else is going on?

DiGennaro, who has researched social behavior in the context of faith communities, designed a project to explore pandemic-era changes in religious practices.

Debbi DiGennaro

She interviewed 20 millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) from a Mennonite background in the Harrisonburg, Va., area, about what spiritual practices they had started or stopped during the pandemic. The results highlight that millennials find spiritually meaningful practices outside of the church setting.

A synopsis of her findings was published in Anabaptist World.

Read the article here.

DiGennaro says she’s noticed considerable interest in her research. “Since the article was published, I’ve had a number of in-person conversations and am actively seeking a broader audience with the Virginia Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Church USA. I’m also considering making it a longer-term project by tracking with the participants over the course of several years to watch how their practices and perspectives evolve post-Covid.”

DiGennaro is a consultant and trainer for successful cross-cultural adaptation.  She published a book called Acclimated to Africa: Cultural Competence for Westerners (2017), drawing on 11 years of living in east Africa, and has published a number of other articles. She is an alumna of EMU and holds an master’s degree in social work from Ohio State University.

Join the Discussion on “Social work instructor’s research suggests millennials are creating new spiritual paths

  1. I’m so glad you’re doing this research. We are in a time of significant cultural change, and I understand the desire to keep the institutional church alive and well. I just completed a term as a church elder. But I think you are raising the timely question, “For what purpose?” I believe it’s time for a regeneration of church and a focus on spirituality. Frankly, I think church attendance is over-rated and too frequently used by the institutional church and church goers as the only measure of spirituality, and in some cases I fear, of salvation. As a follower of Jesus the Christ, I find very few accounts of his church attendance. Most often it was the church leaders he challenged. His challenge for those who want to follow Him was to show mercy and love to all people. Let it be so. I look forward to reading more of your research findings. It’s very encouraging to see our younger people leading the way to a broader spirituality and purpose. Hopefully, together we can find a structure that supports that.

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