April 17 Diocesan Conference Aims at Reaching Millennials
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Features Editor
March 22, 2018
HUNTLEY—Organizers are encouraging “anyone interested in helping parish ministries engage better with young people” to attend the Millennial Church Conference, April 17, here.
Despite statistics that highlight the absence of Millennials in Catholic churches, “We are all going to need to work together to create a culture in our parish communities that is better equipped to understand, connect with and evangelize young adults,” says Jennifer Collins, director of the Life and Family Evangelization Office for the Rockford Diocese. 
“This Millennial Church Conference is a response of a few Catholic young adult ministers wanting to equip more Catholic leaders in dioceses, parishes, and organizations to engage the Millennial generation,” she adds.
“Pete and Emily Burds, both originally from the Diocese of Rockford, now work for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the areas of College Campus Ministry and Marriage and Family Life,” Collins said of the scheduled speakers.
“Pete Burak is the director of i.d.9:16, a dynamic ministry ... that seeks to help those in the 20s and 30s encounter Jesus Christ, hear His call, and decide to follow Him,” she adds.
“Sarah Kaczmarek is the associate director of Alpha Catholic Context, an evangelization program that helps people encounter Christ and explore the faith,” she says.
“They see first-hand, in their daily lives as well as in their work, the need for more effective outreach to young adults in our Church throughout the country,” Collins adds. 
“They teamed up to offer the first Millennial Church Conference this past fall,” she adds, “and are excited to help parish and diocesan leaders here in the Diocese of Rockford to effectively create communities that understand, empower, and connect with young adults.”
Emily Burd says, “Participants can expect to be encouraged by growing in an understanding of this generation and how the Lord might be calling us to serve their needs. We will break open not only the practical how-to’s, but more importantly the ‘why.’ ”
“They’ll get practical tools, strategies, etc., but most of all a bigger heart for engaging an often disengaged group of young people,” adds Peter Burds. “It’s no secret that churches are generally struggling to keep Millennials engaged in the faith. ...  At the Millennial Church Conference we’ll tackle the roots of what drives Millennials, how to connect with them, and ultimately inviting them to know the love of Christ.”
There are differences between Millennials and other generations that can make reaching them difficult.
“Fundamentally, each generation is raised in a slightly or dramatically different culture from the previous generations,” says Burak. “This includes everything from the incredible proliferation of technology (and) social media to dealing with with priest scandals in the early 2000s. 
“All of these experiences and circumstances need to be factored in when helping them meet Jesus and fall in love with Him in the heart of the Church,” he adds.
“If we imagine the church as a body, a real physical body, and each generation represents a part of the body, then we are disabled without millennials,” says Kaczmarek. “We can, of course, move forward without them, but we will never really run and live in the full strength and grace offered to the Church as being a whole body seeking Christ and the lost together.” 
In addition to “falling away” from the Catholic faith, a significant percentage of Millennials consider themselves “nones” when it comes to faith.  They are people of all ages who don’t believe in or belong to any faith.
“In some ways, it’s easier to engage someone who is a ‘none’ or (is) completely unchurched,” Kaczmarek says. “They may not have an institutional history that they view negatively or through a wound that was never addressed in the church. If we reach out, love, welcome, and relationally connect with ‘nones’ and then help them relationally connect to the Church, there can be great fruit in their lives and the life of the Church. 
“ ‘Fallen away’ or inactive Catholics are more distinct in that they carry individual and sometimes very specific reasons they left in the first place. ... But when we posture our hearts to reach the lost, whatever they look like and wherever they come from, the Holy Spirit leads the way and does the work of tilling the soil of their hearts to receive the seed of truth in hearing the basic Gospel message,” Kaczmarek says.
“At the Millennial Church Conference,” Collins says, “I think we will all be challenged to ‘think outside the box’ and to move beyond our comfort zone a little bit.  .... We hope anyone who attends will be equipped with a new understanding of the Millennial generation, new strategies and tools, and a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
The April 17 conference will be held at St. Mary Parish, 10307 Dundee Road in Huntley. It will begin with an 8 a.m. Mass, followed by an informal gathering at 9 a.m. and presentations at 9:30 a.m. The conference will end at 4 p.m. with an optional social afterwards.
Cost is $20 per person for the first five people in a group and $10 per person after that. It includes lunch. 
Info: millennialconference.com. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Huntley link for information and registration forms.