Identity. Belonging. Purpose.

A common search for God across different generations.

Over the past year the the Pivot Northwest team has been exploring what creating innovative ministries with and for young adults can look like. We are overwhelmed (in a good way) by the richness of perspectives and unique viewpoints congregations participating in the Lilly Endowment Grant are bringing to the question, the input we have received from conversation partners, and the survey data we have gathered. This is a snapshot of what we have been hearing, discerning, and reflecting on.

We invite you to be overwhelmed with us, to be affirmed, annoyed, surprised, touched, and moved the way we have been.

(To maintain confidentiality for people who shared their perspectives with us we aggregated the data before reporting it out. The images in this site are meant to be illustrative and evocative, and show the diversity of inputs we received.)
As you go through these quotes ask yourself –

What am I drawn to? What am I pushing against? What do I want to tackle?

What hasn't changed in 25 years...

I started attending my church on and off about 25 years ago and joined the church in 1998. I was drawn to it because it was easy to walk to, had good thought-provoking sermons, lovely music, friendly people and had service projects aimed at helping neighbors in need. I was drawn by the Narrative and projects aimed at helping neighbors in the atmosphere of acceptance for people of different denominational backgrounds and perspectives. This has been a church where it has always been possible to ask questions, explore ideas and yet focus on our common call to serve God.


Will I feel safe?
Will I feel understood?
Will I feel accepted?
Will I be able to be myself — differences, questions, reservations and all.

Safety & Understanding Come First

Back home in the Midwest I would literally go look up pictures of the church events on Facebook to figure out the dress code - what length of skirt is allowed, below knee or above - to make sure I fit in when I went to their service. And it's not like this here, I mean people will just go in beach cover-ups in some places because they are going swimming after...but knowing that you will 'fit in' before you go is still important.
My daughter wants to go on a Easter egg hunt. I looked up the local church events and they don't say anything about who is welcome. I don't want to show up and feel like I crashed their party. I'm from a multi-faith culture. Back home we celebrate Christmas, bake cakes, and have a sermon to learn more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here I am genuinely concerned that I will go and feel like an outsider.
...and I've heard from some of my friends who will say, 'Where do I belong?  I go to Church-A. It's great but I'm the only single person. Or I go to Church-B. It's great. I never see the same people ever again. Where are my people?'
I always felt out of place when I attended service because I was one of the few folks of color in the congregation. From what I know, a lot of people have left because they didn't feel comfortable with a woman of color leading them. That only pulled me closer because I was able to see myself in the pastor. There was a person that looked like me — that was living her faith out — that gave me an example to follow.

What keeps me away

When I was a kid, my parents prevented me from doing a lot of normal things that kept be from fitting-in and being accepted by my peers.


I have previous experience where I felt like someone's "project".


I witnessed an incident where a girl said she couldn't be friends with someone because they weren't Christian.


I hear messaging that some people are safe or 'ok' and others are not.


As a marginalized group – I have been rejected by church groups, or when I have felt accepted I have seen people who disagree leave.


I have been personally insulted by people in the name of the Christian faith.

Healing & Hope

I would like to be able to provide a process for young adults who have experienced some degree of spiritual toxicity to receive health and wholeness. Often young adults have strong feelings about the church due to family and childhood experiences. Wouldn't it be lovely to pair this group with local therapists and a non-threatening congregation for the purpose of healing and hope?

- Pastor

Social Justice

Themes of Social Justice and an openness to having tough, honest, self-critical dialogue cuts across every stage of engagement.
It draws people in, or pushes them away. And once there – it can serve as an expression of their faith.

Navigating social transformation

I would agree that (it was) the black lives matter dialogues (significant event) was important for me to find a church that wasn't just thinking about God, but thinking about how God can be applied in the world today.
I think we could work toward ...some language that doesn't make people feel like they're on the outside because they're single or they're on the outside because they're queer or are they on the outside because they don't have family.
For the church to remain engaged and relevant, they need to understand the hopes and needs of the upcoming generations. I am a millennial. I am watching the struggle for change – for the rights of people of color, of members of the LGBT community, and for women. I also see the important role that science plays in the world today. I like to say that God gave us a brain, and he wants us to plug it in and use it. I don’t think it is unusual for the younger generations to be vitally invested in the issues we face today.
As a child I always questioned the authenticity of the church when it very much contradicted with the life of Jesus our Christ who taught us to be with the poor and called some of us to become poor in order for them to follow the path.

Most recently (we have) been willing to move into a...discernment season around the issue of same sex relationships.   Keep in mind that this is not a left wing congregation, but one that is much more of the evangelical mold ...  So these conversations have been hard for some of our people.

- Grant Application

My Church strives to be relevant in the modern world, seeking to understand current events rather than hide from them. A few months after I began attending my church, I joined a small group to study the Black Lives Matter curriculum. This was key in keeping me engaged at my church...that social justice is an important demonstration of that faith.

- Young Adult, Part of a Congregation

We are doing more with less; we are pushing back against attempts to marginalize our church by a secular world.

- Dialogues

Currently, we have our young adults serve a meal once a month with youth experiencing homelessness in downtown Seattle. Youth who experience homelessness are primarily youth of color and about a third are lgbtq identified. Youth homelessness is very much related to racism and homophobia that is often exacerbated by the church and its members. I stand to be a part of the church body that is brave, inclusive and aligned with the gospels for the Church to be truly a liberating force in the world.

- Young Adult, Part of a Congregation

(it) is important to me because we are working to improve the lives of women and children.  We can get medications to HIV+ pregnant women that will enable their babies to be born without HIV. We are doing this by working with the church – using the science of medicine and the reach of the church.  We have a unique faith-medicine partnership that has both academic rigor and Christian love.

- Older Member of Congregation

“How might a Church partner with other organizations that are serving communities instead of creating their own programs. My church does this, and it's a way of amplifying impact but also investing in this other organization. And they won't get a lot of credit for that – and to me that is all the more powerful."

Intersection of social transformation & faith

....divorced the church from issues of racism, class-ism and poverty that plagued this country. Religion became a way to escape this reality and people in some ways experienced amnesia in the pews and was instead focused on just having a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ as their path to salvation. Communities continue to be segregated by race, class and politics while people somehow still attended church without any accountability to these realities...

I believe my faith in Christ calls loudly for a forward movement, a movement that is more radically loving...Radically loving in the church means really digging through the historical trauma that the name of “Christianity” committed towards all peoples whether they are the oppressed, the oppressors, and the in-betweens. Transforming tradition and foundations is work that I believe I won’t live to see the end of, but seeing its progression is something worth committing one’s life to.

Young Adult, Part of a Congregation
Open, honest, self-critical

...the whole church philosophy approaches a lot of issues by appreciating the scales of gray instead of just black and white to show how complex issues are...To leave things more open, allowing you to wrestle with them personally, or  working through what faithfulness means in different areas allows for more engagement

- Young Adult, Part of a Congregation


How will I navigate the tension between connection and freedom?
Can I move at my own pace?
Are there pathways to connecting that speak to my identity and my interests?

The tension between permeability, freedom, and connection

...the time commitments and the fear of commitment are the barriers coming with that.  It's never ending. So we shortened our service things to once a month ...but this fear of commitment and being involved in something, it's real beyond the 23 to 29 year old's. It's just that it's a cultural thing. "I don't want to be tied down to anything for a long time."


...the demographic of our church in terms of being driven, successful, busy people who have very significant lives outside of church makes it all the easier to be one of those many people who come and leave.


I started attending the church, as described above, when I was a freshmen in college at SPU. During those four years, I never truly met anyone at the church. In my perspective, there was not a large young adult or college program to draw me in, and selfishly, I didn’t want to invest myself into the church body. I felt I already had enough support and involvement at my university.

(Young Adult, Part of a Congregation)

I think its some case we have made church so open that people struggle with what membership is, and what is the meaning of being a member.

(Gen X, Dialogue)

(it) generates a certain amount of excitement (to see new faces) and we just want these people to stay. I think it's helpful to be able to see that some people just need to be here and it's OK if we don't get them to dig in. So what does it mean to be a community that loves people when they're here but not expect the world from everybody?


For the first few years I went to the church, I just wanted to be invisible. I didn't want to connect with anyone and I didn't want to be judged for it...But when I was ready to connect, ready to plug-in, I wanted clear pathways to do that.

A social challenge

Forming and maintaining connection can turn into a catch-22: there isn't a big enough cohort of young adults to connect to in small church communities; in large church congregations the community feels too fragmented, unknown, or has in-groups that are hard to plug into. It can be a tough balance to strike.

I miss knowing everyone's names, needs, and story...As a small church, everyone did what was needed, whether or not they felt qualified, often leading to being stretching in new and even miraculous ways. Now it's too easy to get stuck in the same small group of people and not have to expand into areas of discomfort, losing opportunities to grow, except for the brave and daring. I sometimes feel like a stranger in a church I've attended for 35 years.

(Older Church Member, dialogue)

(Our Church) seems unable to make up its mind about what size church it actually is.   Elders still talk about being “organic” in the formation of small groups or in the welcome of newcomers.   This has simply meant (we) can be a hard community to crack the door into.

(Older Church Staff)

“Faith cliques” – I felt like I was part of the out-group, especially the youth groups do not make you feel welcomed unless you are already a part of least in my experience.

(young adult, paraphrased)

...the diversity of programming and events there are. So you can do  kind of activity based groups...Bible study based groups...Once you're in one of those groups, I think it's fairly easy to find community if, you're open to it and you're willing to put in the work...

- Older Member of Congregation

“How do we offer a number of quality programs that meet the needs of the maximum number of congregants without leaving anyone out or having a chaotic schedule?”

Relationships before programming

How do you know if you are understanding and connecting with young adults. I was talking with someone who said: 'you know, I met my wife in my church, I married her there, and we had our kids baptized there...and that just doesn't happen a lot anymore.' It made me think of the last time I was invited to a wedding of a young adult. My friends are not at that age, so I don't get a lot of invitations. But I was invited to one last week, and it was someone who was part of a group I had joined. I was invited because I built a connection with this person, I spent time building shared understanding and memories. Here’s a tangible question to ask: When was the last time you shared a life-milestone with a young adult outside of your family?

-Older Millennial

When I go back-home to my church, all they ask me is which church I go to now. I feel like I better have a name and a denomination at the tip of my tongue. It's the same with my friends...who moved here, doing their nursing degrees, got married and now live here - and they have the same experience. Why not ask them about how they are doing? Their well-being?

-Young Adult

...Jesus has been central in the formation of (our) dynamic, Spirit-filled community in which relationships matter more than institutions or programs.

- Grant Application

I think this is true in every church. I mean, people love's because of maybe the size of our church that people get to know people pretty well or they know their story...there's just an abundance of love and acceptance. I can't imagine anybody coming in here – who is in a position where maybe they're concerned that somebody's judging them – I just don't see that happening


With such a loving and inclusive congregation, all individuals and families are embraced as part of the community. There is never a question as to whether or not people will feel loved, but the issue lies in finding places where people can comfortably step into a new community.

- Young Adult, Church Staff

Community in Diversity

The capacity to navigate, embrace, and find community within diversity is a cross-cutting theme.
It allows people to find connections, deepen their sense of fellowship and community, and is a medium to express their love for God.

Navigating diversity takes work

One thing that we've failed time and time again is integrating the present congregation. We know each other, but when it comes to Sunday afternoon (we don't sit together). And the leadership should make it their intention to sit at an opposite race table. You can't expect it to happen by osmosis. Somebody has to make the first step, somebody has to extend the hand. 
We wanted the makeup of our leadership to reflect the makeup of our congregations, but that was a surprisingly difficult goal to achieve. At one point, the pastor chose to include no new members in leadership that were not of color. This was a difficult decision, but one that resulted in some amazing new leadership. It also showed another of our congregation’s strengths, that we stick together even when we don't all agree. In order to grow and thrive, we have learned to set aside individual preferences and work for the best for the church.
I’m tired of speaking for all (my) people of color.
...youth group was comprised primarily of teens of color immersed in hip hop culture. This left our white daughter, with very different interests, feeling left out in the cold. Unfortunately, we lost her spiritually in her teens, and we are still praying and waiting...
Our diversity has presented its own special challenges. For all 35 years I've been present, as a diverse community, we have struggled with ways to have a worship service that meets the needs of people of differing languages, understanding and desires. We have discovered there is no perfect solution to this challenge, so strive to strike a balance in bringing in elements of different languages, cultures and preferences.
The diversity in the backgrounds of the members can lead to poor communication.
I've had my fair share of navigating racist remarks made to me about "those" people who are coming to church on Sundays.
...when we realized that real conversations about race, privilege, white supremacy needed to be  had in order to understand one another and work well together toward our goal of being reconcilers and becoming a reconciled group of people – before any programming would emerge around social justice,  we invested time and money to have facilitated conversations.

I just had got in this box of this is how God works and these are the kind of people God works with... most anybody I worked with (in this church) did not fit in the box I had ...God is really happy to like blow the ceiling off and knock the walls down.


Intersection of diversity and faith

...reminds me of what “holy catholic (little “c”) church” means...when I look around and across that circle I see people of all shades of human skin color and ethnic backgrounds; people of vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds. I see people recently released from jail and prisons; heavily tattooed brothers and sisters, some because of artistic self-expression, some because of gang affiliations. I see young, old and all ages in between. I see people from Pentecostal traditions, ones from mainline evangelical backgrounds and then ones from no church or faith backgrounds. I see people with no home and ones with a home, 3 cars and a mommy and daddy. I see brothers and sisters suffering from mental illness; and I see mental health providers. I see sisters and brothers in various stages of addiction and recovery. I see my FAMILY – the little expression of Body of Christ that forms part of the universal Body of Christ, the Church (big “C”).

Older Church Staff
Intergenerational connections + mutual empathy

it was a delight to become friends with people who were 30-40 years my senior. Suddenly, I didn’t know “old people” anymore. I knew H., who flew airplanes in and out of Alaska during the second world war. I knew S., who grew up in a one room school house and was one of the best project managers I had ever met...These people that I could not see before in my previous congregation, because I was blinded by their age, now became my friends. Now, when people visit my church and mention that it is full of old people, it takes me a second to remember what they mean. First, it means that there are not enough people in their (younger) age demographic to make them feel safe. And secondly, it means that as a culture, we have marginalized our elders to such a degree that we are deeply uncomfortable when we are surrounded by them.


for many of our population from the Greatest Generation as well as early Baby Boomers, this was not the model for church that they experienced. For these folks, church meant worship on Sunday morning. Likewise, it included service in church office for the good of the institution. However, it often did not include engagement with culture, discussion of spirituality, and the ability to connect with those increasingly isolated from the institution. In order to achieve growth and maintain faithfulness, an education component for this demographic has been essential.

-Grant Application

(Young Adults living away from home)...what we can offer is a taste of home. We can offer a connection to family life, and relationships across the generations. This can offer young adults, particularly those who are struggling spiritually, with a sense of grounding that can provide peace through the rest of their adult life.

- Grant Application

I think that there is room for intergenerational ministry. When you read things written by 20 somethings, they look at their peers and are like, 'I can't ask my peers questions about these things because they don't know anything about these things. What I wish is that I had wisdom.' And you know, the internet is right there on their phone. So that's where they go to ask a lot of questions. But some questions the internet can't answer. That's where I have hope for the local church.


Throughout the 2010s, my fellow baby boomers and I find ourselves outnumbered by millennial couples and their growing families. These days, my mind and heart move at the speed of a campfire, whether helping an elderly friend navigate a set of stairs, or bending down to get eye-to-eye with a child whose rambunctious narrative story deserves an audience.

- Older Member of Congregation
A vision of reconciliation and inclusion

Many elderly folks who couldn't make the change, have left to join other worshiping communities. The elderly who have stayed are ones who are willing to come alongside, encourage, celebrate and share life together.  I want more for the elderly in our congregation.  Zechariah 8:4-5 speaks to me about this tension:  "This is what the Lord Almighty says: Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age.  The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there."   This is a vision of well-being.  It is a vision of reconciliation and peace in our community.  It is a vision of inter-generational inclusion in the community.


FAITH & Belonging

Am I free to seek, wrestle, question, explore?
Is my faith centered in God, expansive in expression?
Am I empowered to co-create?
Is our dialogue centered in God, in love?

What is our mindset?

The young leaders I journeyed with don’t see the borders, the divisions, the walls, the pews or the collection plates. In fact, they are drawn to the edges between race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, worship style, denomination, cherished biblical passages, paid work and volunteerism. They dream of establishing nonprofit agencies and entrepreneurial ministries that gather communities and reunite neighborhoods around shared meals, celebrations and lament. They are hybrids.

- By Dori Baker, research fellow to The Forum for Theological Exploration
Heading out...
I hear it from my son. He says, 'I may have been to church...I start my day...I read the Bible and I do this at home'. But why can't you spend one hour to go to church? You need to fellowship. When your kids says that to you, do you still have an argument? Because he's a millennial.
(Older member of a Congregation)
Helping us re-imagine...
I can say honestly that part of my discernment process included a strong sense of commitment to try and engage young people in meaningful ways with the church.  They are part of the body - an intentional part  - not a necessary evil.  We need their passion, their energy, their truth-telling.
Centered in Faith, Expansive in Expression

Both older and younger members of the congregation are wrestling with what faith and institutional practices should look like: whether, where, and how they should extend beyond the Church, beyond Sunday service?

...this faith community taught me that our heavenly Father wants to be in relationship, a living relationship, with each of us; a relationship where our faith gets worked out through attentive listening prayer, risk and engagement with those our society considers the least, the not important, the throwaways.

(Older Church Member, dialogue) serious about the role of the holy spirit in the life of the church, as well as in the life of each member. A saying I remember from my youth is “If the Holy Spirit were suddenly removed from your church, how much of the church would actually change?” At (our church), the removal of the Holy Spirit would be noticed; I think almost everything would change.

(Older Church Member) the motto 'In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity'

(Older Church Staff)

...the next step feels like 'How do I put that into practice?' Not just change the way that I think, but change the way that I do. And I do think that the church in general has left work out of a big portion of our conversation. How are we more all inclusive to the rest of the days? Whether that's work or school or kids or whatever that looks like. do we drop some more dots between things.

(Older Millennial, Congregation Member)

I personally am invested in making sure that the church doesn’t just happen on Sundays, but that we look at ways to mitigate and challenge injustices within our communities.

(Young Adult, Congregation Member)

We hope to be able to provide a better infrastructure for those 23-29 year old's who are not looking to be part of a worshiping congregation. Often young adults want to retain their connection with the church without attending Sunday worship hours. Alternatively, they would like to be involved on Sunday, but not every Sunday.

(Application to Grant)

I think of faithful to the body. So you're committed to transformation. You're committed to Sunday mornings and you're committed to a smaller group, a mid week, small group, whatever that looks for you for that.

(Church Elder, Dialogue)

The congregation is willing to think deeply and to be challenged, and expects the teaching to be deep and challenging. Simplistic teachings would be met with skepticism. The preaching by staff and guests reflects this. (Our Church) is also generous with its pulpit: staff, guest preachers, and even congregants preach fairly regularly, and are welcomed and encouraged. Preaching is not a one-person show.

- Older Member of the Church

(Lack of Media/Screens)...this has surprisingly been a positive characteristic for the millennials who choose to worship with us. Often, they have become jaded or frustrated with the entertainment model of worship. A simple but strong and healthy liturgy seems to appeal to them.

(Grant Application)

a senior staffer, asked…”have you thought about applying for the internship? instant reaction was “HECK NO!” ...I was a participant...only when it was convenient for me, I didn’t serve on a leadership team, didn’t volunteer with service projects, didn’t go out of my way to meet new people. I felt that there were much more qualified applicants. Second, I was nervous to be one of “those” Christians…the ones who do the Christian-y stuff, haha! But a seed had been planted nonetheless.That seed grew over the next few months and I found myself signing up for retreats and extra-curricular events.

- Young Adult, Part of a Congregation

As we integrate Design Thinking into how we create innovative ministries with and for young adults, we will invite you to: immerse yourself and walk a mile in the shoes of the young adults we want to connect to; to identify, ideate, and prototype specific solutions; and identify partners to help implement and make these solutions real.

This is the start of our shared immersion.

Of everything you read-

What shifted or expanded your perspective?
What is the one thing you cannot wait to tackle?