In preparation for my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, I had the opportunity to visit almost 90 different churches. My journeys took me to a wide variety of church sizes. One church attracts almost 18,000 people each weekend; while another church struggled to reach double digits. I visited churches that gather in homes, in shopping centers, in veritable cathedrals, in store fronts, in traditional “churchy” buildings, in health clubs, in schools, and 1 church that met in a barn.
These visits provided a revealing glimpse into current developments in church programming and function. I am certainly no expert on the effectiveness of the different ministries of these churches. In most cases, my stopovers consisted of 1 service or 1 day. However, I did notice some interesting trends. One of the most noticeable was a lack of emphasis on college age or young adult ministries in so many churches.
It’s easy to spot. In fact, many church leaders have openly admitted it. College age or young adult ministry is often one of the weakest aspects of our programming. I’ll say it again: young adults are leaving the church – and many churches are simply letting them walk away. The churches I visited seemed to be at least somewhat concerned with children, youth, adults, and older adults. But, young adults are often the missing generation in the church.
Current research substantiates my observations. For instance, one recent article claimed, “One-third of Americans under 30 say they have no religious affiliation.” (See http://factsandtrends.net/2014/11/17/10-facts-about-nones-in-the-u-s/#.VGzLd03wupr.) And David Kinnaman of Barna Research adds, “Millions of young adults leave active involvement in church as they exit their teen years.” (See You Lost Me. Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.)
So, what can churches do about this dilemma?
I am convinced that almost any church, anywhere (with a burden to not let this generation leave the church) can provide a relevant and effective ministry to college-age young adults by implementing the following features:
r Bible study. This age group needs the Scriptures; not just entertainment or programming. They crave life-related, theologically-oriented teaching. Young adults are in the process of figuring out what they personally believe, and they are in the process of making some of the most important decisions of their lives. Churches must make the creative presentation of truth a top priority – but, the teaching must include the opportunity for young adults to ask their hard questions.
r Prayer. It sounds simplistic, but they also need powerful and personal times of prayer that are a genuine reflection of a total and urgent dependency on our all-powerful and all-knowing God. Our ministries with young adults must include specific time for them to collectively and privately cry out to God.
r Fellowship. Social interaction with other people their own age is very, very important to this age group. That, seemingly, is why mega-churches do a better job at attracting young adults than smaller churches do. Young adults are looking for friends – and perhaps they are looking for a mate. There’s no shame in that. Of course, church leaders must not forget that “fellowship” with this age group shouldn’t look like youth ministry’s all-nighters, or trips to amusement parks. I’m being somewhat facetious here of course; but seriously, this cohort would probably be more interested in hanging out at a coffee shop than participating in a scheduled, high-energy activity. And any church can host young adults for coffee.
r Leadership development. I’ll put this as simply as I can: let your church’s young adults lead the program. They are adults now; involve them somehow in leading the ministry. They won’t have ownership unless they have a voice. Of course, they will need to be mentored through it, but it’s imperative for churches to be intentional about developing younger leaders.
r Ministry. This is another simple one. Young adults need to serve. Ministry is what the church is all about. Churches must give young adults the opportunity to serve – even if we have to create service projects for them.
r Use homes. My wife and I have been actively involved in our home church’s college age ministry for several years now. This experience has taught me that this generation loves to be in homes instead of institutional rooms in conventional church buildings. Plus, utilizing the home gives the church an ideal way to connect the generations. And that leads me to the next point…
r Inter-generational connections. Developing inter-generational relationships is a must! College-age young adults need older people – and your church’s older people need the infusion of “new blood” that young adults provide. (See my chapter entitled “Don’t Let Anyone Look Down on You Because You Are Young” in my Inter-Generational Youth Ministry book. You can order a copy online at: http://www.intergenerationalyouthministry.com.)
r Food! Our many years of ministry with young adults has me convinced that one other priority must be mentioned – food. This is something you could ask older adults or church families to provide for your ministry. Believe me, it’s important. And it will provide the occasion for other ministry to happen.
Blessings as your church seeks to minister and reach out to this important age group!