It’s the age-old question that every church grapples with.
It’s often preceded with a decline in young people’s attendance at church, concerns from parents that their adult children have stopped coming to church, and a general ‘vibe’ that our church isn’t hip or polished enough to attract young people – all exacerbated by the fear that our church may die out as a result.
Yes… it’s that question: how do we attract the upcoming generation to church?
In the face of such a challenging, multi-faceted question, it’s natural to form a response based on our own experiences and what has worked for us in the past.
Today, I’d like to suggest an alternative approach. No, it’s not a step-by-step guide or strategy for you to template into your context. There is no one-size fits all approach.
Instead, let’s explore some common young adult ministry perceptions or ‘myths’ that inhibit our ministry planning, resourcing and recruitment – and ultimately, the possibilities God has for His Church.
At each juncture of this article, you’ll be invited to pause and pray to see where God might be leading you in your response to this question. It is our prayer that the Spirit prompts discernment and revelation within you.
Myth #1: Young adults won’t be interested in the mission of our church.
This is untrue.
This generation seeks purpose and calling in their lives and they long to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
They are a group of changemakers, advocates and influencers in the making – not simply for their own spiritual fulfilment and personal growth, but they truly want to ladder into something ‘more than me’ for the good of others.
It could be initiatives like advocacy across a whole range of justice issues, or local community mentoring, or leading and discipling the youths and kids in your church.
Pause and pray: What could it look like to harness the desire and energy of our young adults into where God is calling our church, and invite them to journey with us in the process?
Myth #2: Young adults struggle with authority.
I took some liberties with this one. Young adults do struggle serving under certain styles of leadership (brash, dictatorial, authoritative) but they thrive and excel with leaders who inspire, coach and collaborate.
They yearn to learn from the wisdom and experience of those that have gone before them (side note for pastors that have done the hard yards: your role as mentor to younger staff at your church or ministry teams is an important one). As you empower them to step up into their calls, they will become some of your best advocates and have the potential to bring their peers along with them.
That’s not to say that the nay-sayers, who are inflexible in their thinking and practice, will disappear. These types of people are dogmatic in their opinions on theology and how the church should operate and can sometimes become divisive and destroyers of the culture you set. In these cases, call out culture clashes and have the courageous conversations early, even if it means potentially losing them.
Pause and pray: Which young adult(s) at our church can I come alongside and encourage today? Who can I pray for or give a leadership opportunity to?
Myth #3: All young adults are the same and want to hang out together.
This is a funny one. In some ways, we instinctively know that young adults are not all the same, yet we still relegate the 18 to 30-year-olds in our church to life groups, ministry teams and initiatives labelled young adult. As you can imagine, an 18-year-old is in a very different life stage to a 30-year-old. Yet at the same time, they long to connect beyond their peer group to keep learning and growing as disciples.
It’s a tricky balance. But one worth tackling.
How can you facilitate the space for meaningful, close connections within life stages? As well as open up opportunities for the 18-year-old to connect with the 30-year-old or even 60-year-old for different experiences and exposure?
For example, we look at grouping young adults who are new to Crossway into life stages as opposed to ages, as well as inviting them to monthly after-church dinners and mentoring groups for different life stages to connect.
Pause and pray: Do we know who our ‘young adults’ are? Their life stages? Their contexts? Their desires regarding church community?
Myth #4: Young adults need their own program to keep them at church.
Time to get a little controversial. Historically, church structures and congregation expectations have been based around the Young Adult program.
While a programmatic approach makes sense in the context of school-aged youth, young adults are just that, adults. Adults who absolutely need to be supported as they transition out of youth and into church and adulthood – not back into another program.
We should be asking how we can help with the transition from youth group as opposed to what new programs we can implement to keep young adults at church. How can we engage the young adult who has a few more years under their belt, to mentor and connect those fresh out of youth group into the life of the broader church?
Taking it further, how can we aspire towards a culture of young adult disciples who love, care for and support each other? A movement of young adults actively engaged is way more powerful than a slick Young Adult program.
For example, here at Crossway Burwood East, we have equipped a small group of young adults from different life stages to coach, connect and create learning/equipping spaces for young adults. The group is chaired by myself and my role is to mobilise this group to initiate new ideas for young adults to connect and learn and champion other young adults across our church community.
Pause and pray: Who are the young adults that can spearhead this movement for our church? What ideas do they have? How can I equip them to care for and disciple each other?
Myth #5: Young adults want contemporary, invitational teaching that looks and feels good.
This is the gamechanger and biggest myth to bust! Somewhere along the way, the belief was born that young people want church to look and feel good, culturally accessible, exciting, contemporary and modern. This was what is supposed to drive ‘bums on seats’.
Ironically, as the number of mega churches increases and church generally gets more ‘slick’, we are seeing a move back towards simplicity. There’s a renewed focus on the ways, depth and challenges of Jesus, as young adults who have remained at church yearn for much more than what ‘culture’ and social media can offer. It’s a generation looking to undo the distractions and cultural patterns of this age, and learn from Jesus how to live well and lead not just in their churches but in their communities. This is inspiring to say the least.
Pause and pray: Thinking of all the good things we could do as a church, which areas does God want us to challenge and champion when it comes to our young adults?
Our exploration today may raise issues and challenges – and potentially, put a whole ministry into question for you. So, where to from here?
Here is the challenge I’d like to set before you and your team:
- Gather some young adults, pray and sit with the tensions together.
- Give them a voice and the space to speak into what they see in your church and in their contexts.
- Offer them mentoring to unpack ideas, not just with yourself but others around you.
- Then, encourage and support them to make things happen.
Tabitha chairs Crossway’s Young Adult team of 10 young adults in different life stages. She is also Crossway’s Emerging Leaders Consultant, and is passionate about mobilising the next generation of Jesus followers to lead for Kingdom impact.