News Release

How European Millennials Engage with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  

Church attendance at Christian services is declining in Europe, especially among younger generations. To combat this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps young adults connect with each other and with their faith.

Europe was home to two-thirds of the world’s Christians in 1910, but one hundred years later in 2010 that declined to only 25 percent, according to a Pew Research Study on Global Christianity. In general, younger European generations aren’t attending church as often as their parents. The European Social Survey found that in over half of the countries surveyed, a majority of young adults claim no religion.

In the United States, Pew Research’s religious landscape survey found that religious commitment among millennials is the highest in Latter-day Saint young adults. This leads to the question, what is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doing differently?

One of the most successful ways The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engages young adults is with conferences throughout Europe. The conferences deepen their gospel learning and provide social opportunities to meet other church members.

Between June and September 2019 over a dozen young adult conferences were held in different regions of Europe. Some of the most attended conferences were in Great Britain, France, and Sweden.

The first and longest-running young adult conference in Europe is Festinord, which rotates throughout the Nordic countries and translates to “party in the north”. The first Festinord was held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1966 and originally was open to young people ages 14 and up. Now, conference participants must be between the ages of 18 and 30. This year about 650 young adults gathered in Malmö, Sweden.

Håkan Palm, who attended the first Festinord in 1966, says the conference has become “an international trademark, and youth from all over the globe are coming,” because, “Festinord has a quality that talks to young members. Festinord has strong potential - it is less ‘do this’ and more of ‘welcome- have a good time’.”

Since 1966, young adult conferences have spread across the world. In 2017, young people gathered in Lebanon for the first Middle East conference. The main reason these conferences are successful is that they bring young adults together in both social and spiritual ways.

A Social Gathering

Conferences give millennials an opportunity to socialize with people their age with similar values. Finding connections is critically important for millennials, dubbed “the loneliest generation,” based on a study by YouGov that found one in five millennials say they have no friends.

Social media and the internet are to blame, according to Festinord attendee Joakim D. R. Andersen from Copenhagen, Denmark. “We live in a time where it is less easy to meet new people in real life. A lot of our social interaction has been taken over by the internet and phone-based means. I think these conferences offer a setting to meet new people in a way that has been on the decline in the world for a while.”

Jennifer Liv Christophersen from Copenhagen, Denmark, has attended eight Festinord conferences. She explains that being a young adult in a church that emphasizes family life is not always easy. “For people who live in small branches or who don’t have many young single adults around, it is tough being in a family congregation when the rest of the people at church are at a different place in life.” Conferences, she says, give young adults the opportunity to meet and to support each other.

Prabhakaran (Prabhu) Santhanam, who joined the church in 2017 and has since moved to Zurich, explained that the conference in Switzerland made him feel a sense of belonging. “As a convert, I don't have my family as members, nor most of my friends. In this conference, I felt that I made not just friends but brothers and sisters. During the week, I lived with a family who shares my faith and value system. I received a feeling of belonging and validation.”

As part of socializing, many young adults find a “special someone” at conferences. Emeritus general authority Elder Bruce C. Hafen spoke at a conference in Switzerland in July 2019 and explains, “We keep finding over and over again when we meet church leaders in Europe and ask them ‘where did you meet your spouse,’ they say they met at Festinord or another conference.”

At conferences young adults have fun—and they do it all sober. Participants live a code of conduct including using clean language, not taking drugs or alcohol, and maintaining personal chastity.

A Spiritual Boost

Besides mingling, another purpose of these conferences is to strengthen millennials’ faith. Church leaders and speakers offer workshops and devotionals with spiritual guidance.

“I find spiritual firesides, workshops and classes a great way to deepen my understanding of the gospel and to strengthen my testimony,” explains Wili Wrangell from Helsinki, Finland.

Christophersen compares young adult conferences to spiritual vaccines against doubts, fears, and loneliness. “I see it as a booster vaccine. You come in the summer and you get a booster vaccine and your spirit can make it until the next event. And then you go home, and your spirit weakens and then you need to come back for another booster vaccine.”  

Question and answer workshops also help young adults resolve concerns. “When I discuss these questions with other young single adults, it makes me feel that I am a step closer to the answer,” says Santhanan.

Planning the conferences takes about a year, explains Bjarne Windhausen and Daniela Geiser, the young adults who planned this year’s conference in Switzerland. And most of the decisions are finalized by the young adults themselves. “The two senior couples helped, and we made all the big decisions together. But in the end, we had the last word because we are the young adults and we know the audience the best,” says Geiser.

For them, the planning is worth it when they see young adults connect with each other and the gospel. Andersen sums up his experience in one sentence: “Good friends, great spirit, good times (not much sleep though).”

Next year’s conferences are already in the works and expected to have just as good or better turnout. Wrangell says, “I’m already looking forward to other conferences!”

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