Why we are losing ground with young adults

Recently the Barna Group got lots of attention for its study of young people and their attitudes toward Christianity. It’s worth reading, but it might depress you. Toss out everything you think you know about patterns (“they’ll come back someday”) and culture (“they don’t come to church because they’re not spiritual”).

This week’s issue of Leading Ideas has an anecdotal piece that illustrates the current situation. It fits perfectly with my own experience, by the way. Here are a few choice bits about why younger adults don’t come to church. I’ve bolded the key points.

One reason is the perception that worship is passionless. This is not because young adults do not care for traditional worship or liturgy. There is actually resurgence in older forms of liturgy among young adults, but the churches they flock to for this type of experience do it very well and are clear about why they do it. Young adults just will not tolerate watered down, unexplained ritual or poor quality, half-hearted worship. This generation desires to experience God in wholly different ways than did their parents – with their hearts as well as their heads.

Young adults desire clarity in a world filled with uncertainty. The lack of a clear, unified vision for our churches is a stumbling block. We must find a way to clarify our vision and renew our commitment to making disciples and changing our world. <snip />

They are also perturbed by constant political in-fighting within the denomination. The church’s tendency to make mountains out of molehills seems ridiculous to this highly practical and pragmatic generation. <snip />

Finally, the church’s token attempts to reach young adults are actually alienating rather than attracting them. They see it as hypocritical when the church states how important their presence is but develops program for them but not with them such as “90’s style” praise services. This is a generation of “doers” and not “watchers.” They do not want to send money to missions as much as they want to be part of a missionary endeavor. They desire to put their hands where their hearts are. They also perceive the incongruity in rhetoric about wanting young adults in our churches at the same time that funding is cut for ministries with college students.

Amen, amen, and amen.

Don’t think that the guitars are going to bring in the younger crowds. Don’t imagine that they won’t notice that your $180,00 congregation budget includes $750 for outreach and nothing for carbon offsets. Don’t think that you can sit back and wait for them to come “back” to church when they get kids of their own.

No, it’s time for wholesale rethinking of church. In 10 years, all the Anglican Communion quarreling that’s happening now will be seen as what it is: fiddling away while the city burns. There’s still time to do something, but we’d better start paying attention.

Oh, and go subscribe to Leading Ideas right now. It’s one of the best emails I get, every week. Great stuff.

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1 Response

  1. well, wholesale rethinking, of the sort that means tossing out what we thought we learned in the sixties.

    what is depressing to me is that it’s again the way Gen-X gets screwed. the boomers remake the church in their own image, gen-x-ers find it inauthentic or worse and stay away in droves, and the church finally wakes up just in time to care about the millennials.

    the central issue, as always, is about control. welcoming young adults means letting them have some control, and that means they will actually change things.

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