Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Young Adults Don't Go To Church

There is a spiritual problem in the current generation of young adults (which happens to be the generation I'm a part of).  Many young adults are not connected to a church.  There is a multitude of different reasons, but the majority of them boil down to a few generalizations.  This is part one; part two is coming.  If you think I missed a point or if you think I'm completely off-base, let me know.  This is an important topic to me, so I appreciate any thoughts you have.

Who Wants To Be Talked At?

The format of most Sunday morning morning church services is heavy on preaching.  There's nothing wrong with preaching per se, but it's not a format many young adults connect with.  Don't misunderstand me, there are times when preaching is the best format to download information to a group of people, but a less didactic technique should be pursued more often than it is.  Teaching and discussion helps the typical person retain much more.

Teaching and discussion are also more engaging.  Ask the average twenty-something if they get the daily paper.  Chances are very low that they do.  Why?  Something like a blog or Facebook post allows for the spread of the same news, but in a much more interactive and engaging way.  The passivity involved in sitting back and listening to a lecture (sermon) doesn't captivate the attention of most young adults.  The Gospel must stay the same, but way in which it is communicated should remain fluid, not stagnant.

Young Adults Don't Feel Like They Belong

People like to feel like we belong.  We are social creatures, and we usually seek out those that are most like us.  The fewer and fewer less adults there are in the church as a whole means that fewer and fewer young adults are going to take themselves inside the four walls of their local church building.  There are plenty of activities for the elderly, for men and women, for families, for youth and children, but the young adult demographic gets skipped over.

This is one that resonates with me.  I accepted the position of Youth Pastor with a church as an unmarried young adult.  It took me over two years to feel like I fit in.  There wasn't even a handful of young adults in the church; me and one other person.  Most of the church's activities were geared towards families.  That left me out of the loop unless I wanted to babysit.  I was already working for as low as $2.50 and hour--no way was I going to give more time to babysit.

Believe it or not, my thoughts to overcome this problem are not more separation but more cross-generational integration.  What made me feel like I belonged was a varied group of people--a family unit in more ways than one.  Thanks to Maus, Ronett, Brandy, Connie, Ed, Andy, Marc and Kelli, I actually felt like I belonged (and of course all of the wonderful kids).  I felt like part of the family and truly felt that I belonged.

There's No Bridge To "Big Church"

This one area that I know for certain I have contributed to in a negative way while serving as a youth pastor.  In America, we like to segment our ministries.  We have a children's ministry.  A youth ministry.  A men's ministry.  A women's ministry.  Singles, convalescent, and, occasionally, a young adult's ministry.

I think that's okay to have all of them separated out sometimes into the affinity-based groups, but we do it too much.  They feel like part of the youth group, but feel out of place amongst the church body a whole.  There's not enough integration, especially when it comes to youth.  Maybe it's because we feel the youth will get bored with the sermon in "big church" (though, if the youth are bored with it, there's a decent chance the rest of the congregation isn't paying much attention, either).  Maybe they don't dress right or nice enough to be included with the rest of the congregation.  Maybe they're too ADHD and off the walls.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

And when they become full-fledged adults, there's not much to keep them at church, especially if they move away for college.  They need help with finances, with meeting new people, a care package, or even free pizza.  But there are few churches offering those things, and with no real sense of belonging to a church as a whole

We've Been Hurt

This one is a biggie, which is why I've saved it until last (for today, at least).  It's also one I deeply identify with.  Some people feel rejected by the church because they've been ostracized for dressing differently, not knowing enough of the secret, Christian language known as "Christianese," or asking too many of the difficult questions.  Maybe they've had doubts or been unsure of themselves and were met with ridicule instead of a friend to listen to them and help sort everything out.  Maybe a well-meaning individual responded to a deep, traumatic issue in a way that devalued that person during a time when they already felt vulnerable.  Maybe they were abused in one way or another.  Who knows.

The list of hurts goes on and on, but many pastors unrealistically expect believers to get over their trust issues overnight.  It doesn't work that way, especially when most churches never seek forgiveness for the wrongs they have in one way or another perpetrated.

Stopping these hurts is only part of the solution; people will fail and individuals will be hurt by churches.  When that occurs, when we see encounter someone who bears a grudge toward the church, we leaders must be proactive in seeking forgiveness, even if we were not the actual ones to do the harm.  Healing cannot happen until forgiveness does.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, and again, please let me know what you think in the comment section below.


  1. Chris I would say you are right on for most churches in America. Our church is a very fast growing church in Idaho and have done several church plants. One thing I think that has helped draw ALL to Christ is that several of our pastors have been where the sinner has been. They have been saved from drugs, jail and other things. They are not afraid to tell others the areas they use to have faults in. Christians do need to accept everyone where they are at. To find a growing healthy church you must have sinners coming to Christ. Those sinners should be from all age groups. If they are not, then much of what the church and Christians are showing is an irrelevant and dead word. Christ went everywhere and spoke to everyone. He didn't choose those good looking and "christian" looking people. Rather he went to those no one else would go to. I would challenge any church and Christian not to forget what they have been saved from. Tattoos, colored hair, too many earnings, lack of "appropriate" clothing etc. never restricted Christ. One of the ladies at our church that I value very much as a solid Christian and leader for our teens has tattoos, red hair, wears some interesting clothing colors but she's saved and has a very sweet heart towards God. "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart." The old argument that they will just turn the sinner off if they are this way or that way is silly. Sinners need to know we are not perfect but saved by grace. Sinners don't need people showing off how perfect they look. They need us Christian to be real with them. Showing the love of Christ. Our pastor has a saying I like. He says, "We are loving the hell right out of them."