Engaging Millennials : the strategies and experiences of Christian social action groups in the UK

Winter, Emily Rowan and Szerszynski, Bronislaw and Woodhead, Linda (2017) Engaging Millennials : the strategies and experiences of Christian social action groups in the UK. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This thesis explores whether and how Christian social action groups are responding to generational change, specifically the changes that have been associated with the generation that has been termed the ‘Millennials’. Accordingly, this PhD considers the interactions between contemporary Christianity, socio-political engagement and participation, and generational change. Whilst there has been a considerable amount of scholarship that considers the relations between any two of these three areas, the interactions between all three have received little attention. It will explore these interactions through the analysis of six very different case study organisations, all of which seek to offer something specifically to Millennials, whether that is through an established programme for young adults, or through being a youth-led initiative. As well as highlighting a wider context of change – whether that is changes to Christianity, generational attitudes and behaviours, or cultures of political participation – exploring Christian social action groups that attempt specifically to engage young adults also offers an opportunity to consider the direction that Christian social action may be heading in, work with young adults being understood to shape future trajectories (see Ward 1996). The research questions that this thesis will explore are the following: To what extent, and in what ways, are Christian social action groups responding to generational shifts in attitude and behaviour? How effective and sustainable are these responses? How are these responses – and their effectiveness and sustainability – filtered and shaped by the varying religious positions of the different case study organisations? The emphasis in this set of questions on effectiveness and sustainability necessitates a focus not just on organisational practices, such as youth engagement strategies, but also on the experiences of the young adults who get involved with these organisations, including how they negotiate and interpret their participation, and the various assessments they make of the organisations. As a result, this thesis draws on thirty in-depth interviews with both organisation employees and participating young adults. This thesis will chart the varied responses - ranging from almost non-existent to fairly comprehensive – by Christian social action groups to generational shifts in attitude and behaviour. The six case study organisations can be split into three broad ‘types’. Firstly, I explore two organisations that demonstrate little response to generational change, exhibiting an ‘old’ model that stresses the creation of leaders who will go on to have influence through institutional channels, and need to be equipped with the ‘correct’ principles in order to do this. Secondly, I analyse two established NGOs that show many different responses to generational change, and a range of conscious attempts to appeal to Millennials. Thirdly, and by way of contrast, I explore two social action groups formed by Millennials themselves. This thesis thus offers a typology of Christian social action groups in the UK that can be summarised as: adult-forming; youth-empowering; and selforganising. These groups have varying levels of effectiveness, shaped considerably by their particular religious positioning. In addition, whilst some of these groups seem to have been very effective in attracting young people, there are more questions raised about their effectiveness and sustainability as social action initiatives, as they may appeal to values that, though successful in the short-term, may have problematic long-term legacies. I will conclude by reflecting on the theoretical implications of my research and making some recommendations for Christian social action groups, based on my findings.

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Thesis (PhD)
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08 Sep 2017 15:24
Last Modified:
18 Apr 2024 23:42