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Millennial generation embraces faith over practice

October 14, 2010

With college campuses being such a common area of Bible distribution for The Gideons International, some wonder what makes them such a common target.

The Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organization dedicated to distributing copies of the Bible. In the recent weeks, members of The Gideons International have been seen handing out Bibles to students on UW-River Falls’ campus.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, one in four members of the millennial generation (persons born after 1980),  is unaffiliated with any particular faith. Research shows that Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans.

The Pew Research Center also found that 64 percent of young adults say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence compared to the 73 percent of those ages 30 and over.

With these statistics, it would seem that college campuses shouldn’t be a very sought after audience for religious advocates, but according to a Gallup poll, 40 percent of millennials said religion is very important to them. This is similar to what the baby boomers and generation x’s said at a similar point in their life.

According to the Gideons International website, “We focus on distributing complete Bibles or New Testaments. These copies of God’s Word are printed in more than 90 languages and are either given directly to certain individuals or placed in selected public locations where large numbers of people, who may be searching for answers, will have the ability to encounter the Word of God.”

“As a Christian, I understand trying to get the word out there, but the people handing out the Bibles don’t say anything as they give them to you,” said senior Sonja Lee. “It kind of turns me off from wanting the information.”

Research indicates that church attendance is lowest for those in their early 20s, and a recent nationwide study by the Higher Education Research Institute shows that even though traditional religious practice has decreased for many college students, spirituality has not.

The Journey House Campus Ministry, is an ecumenical campus ministry at UWRF supported by the United Methodist Church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church. According to Journey House’s Campus Minister Yvonne Wilken, those who attend the campus ministry can be of any religion or of none at all.

With Journey House being right across from the UWRF campus, Wilken has witnessed the distribution of Bibles by members of The Gideons International.

“I don’t think that it is a very effective way for them to connect with students or to share the gospel message,” Wilken said. “I think the biggest thing that is getting in the way of sharing their message is that they have no relationship with the students. Why would someone care what someone has to say when they don’t know them? They need to make a connection to campus and be a part of the community to get people to care. Another reason it’s hard to get the students on campus to take a Bible is because if they’re Christian they most likely have one already, and if they’re not Christian, they don’t want one.”

Wilken added that he thinks a relationship is built with those who attend Journey House.

“We believe that we can learn something from everyone, but we don’t believe it’s our job to convert anyone,” Wilken said. “Journey House is here to support the campus in any way that we can. We do have worship studies on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. that anyone can participate in. It is very conversational and gives everyone an opportunity to ask questions and participate in the discussion at whatever level they’re comfortable with.”

When the Gideons members were distributing Bibles to students here on campus, it was common to see one of two things: students taking the Bible and continuing on their ways, or students politely declining.

“I don’t mind them being there as long as they don’t push the Bible on me when I tell them no,” said senior Randal Westergard. “I think it’s kind of pointless because our generation seems so un-religious.”

According to The Gideons International website, Bibles and New Testaments are distributed by members of The Gideons International; students in the fifth grade and above; prisoners; and police, fire, medical and military personnel; and anyone else Gideons witness to individually. Bibles and New Testaments are also placed in hotels, motels, hospitals, medical offices, convalescent homes, domestic violence shelters, prisons and jails.

There are over 290,000 Gideons members in more than 10,000 local groups worldwide, according to The Gideons International website. Since 1908, approximately 1.8 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been distributed worldwide. More than 700 million Bibles and New Testaments were distributed in the last 10 years, and 79.8 million copies were given out last year. On average, more than two copies of God’s word are distributed every second and over one million are distributed every 4.5 days.

“I feel that the way they’re going about getting their message out to students gives Christianity a bad image. For the money they pay for the Bibles, they could do something far better,” Wilkens said. “Perhaps their intentions are good but their way of distributing is ineffective.”
For more information about The Gideons International, you may contact their International Headquarters at 651-564-5000 or visit their website at www.gideons.org.