Religious leaders working to bring millennials back to the flock

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- As Christians enter the holiest weekend of the year for their faith, there's a new challenge in spreading their beliefs. The younger generation known as Millennials, born after 1981, increasingly see themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Recent Pew research numbers revealed 29 percent of Millennials do not identify with a religion. Compared to their parents and grandparents, that number continues to grow.

Church leaders we spoke with said they're aware of the divide. They also explained the young adults interact online and turn to social media more and more. The need for immediacy and for inter-connectivity can prove as a resource and a hurdle, said Father Italo Dell'Oro with the Somascan Fathers. Dell'Oro said spreading the good news must go beyond the pulpit.

"Occasionally, I search Facebook. I see a lot of dumb things but very beautiful ones as well," said Father Dell'Oro. "I consider it to be a wonderful tool to communicate the good news on various levels ... personal, from a community, even from the diocese. Certainly, it can be a great distraction, a great distraction. It's a tool."

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston created an Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry. The director, Gabriela Karaszewksi, said there is about 900,000 young Catholics in the Houston area. Karaszewski explained the church considers reaching them on their level a top priority. She said they're constantly looking for new ways, even creating a Conference for Young Adults this year to take place on April 11th.

"We really need to get into an app," said Karaszewksi. "We obviously have Facebook, several websites, we keep an email list of over 3,000 young adults. We send them newsletters weekly but we need to have an app and more things out there that they can reach."

At Houston's First Baptist Church, leaders there saw the new to reach the faithful on their smart phones often in the palm of their hands. The Church created an app which not only uses push notifications to remind members of services. They can read the Bible, even send prayer requests to the Church from anywhere with Wifi. Tony Bianco helped launch the project. Bianco said this is the new reality in religion. He explained it's part of the mission in spreading the good news.

"I think everything can lead someone away from their faith in one way or another. Technology is a great tool so is a hammer. If you use either one in the wrong way, they can be destruction," said Bianco. "I think it does. It does bring people here. It lets people know they are going to a place that understands the culture they're coming from and living in."
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