by Alex Hardt, Youth and Young Adult Pastor
“According to an extensive survey by the Pew Research Center, the share of adults in the US who identify as Christians fell from 78 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2014.”
-Growing Young by Powell, Mulder, Griffin
It’s an extraordinary statistic that can’t be ignored as it helps re-define how we might interact with the Scriptures. The Bible is not a complacent text that one can read and then set aside like a non-fictional novel or a history book. America for a while now, I believe, has seen the gospel of Jesus Christ and the entirety of the Scriptures in that way. We have viewed it as a good book that gives us good thoughts, makes us feel good inside, and reaffirms what we already believe to be true. Or in other words “It’s all good!” While it’s true the Bible is filled with a compelling message of hope, love, and joy; it’s also filled with a message that challenges us to do something with what we have heard, to move beyond our boundaries, to unmask our secrets, expose our vulnerabilities, and to accelerate hope. The trend within American churches is to “grow old” by maintaining the current set of programs, activities, and ways of engaging the community in order to stabilize their congregation attendance pattern. The adult population within the US consists of 22% young adults (18-29) while in comparison young adults only make up 10% of the US church population. Declining church population is primarily attributed to aging congregations that are hesitant or resistant to aggressively engaging the young adult / youth population. We define these as the “bare spots” within a congregation. Each church has a bare spot, a demographic that we tend to miss which we have to be intentional about engaging (eg: a particular part of town, a nationality, a gender gap, an economic disparity, an age gap), and across the board youth/young adults tend to be where the biggest disparity is.
What is Growing Young?
Churches in America need to reshape the demographical landscape within their congregations by “Growing Young.” “Growing Young” means having a vision that incorporates young adults into the greater body of the church, actively engaging young adults, and providing young adults an opportunity to develop as leaders. The young adults of today are different than the young adults of 10, 20, or more years ago. “The share of American young adults living with their parents is the highest in 75 years,” according to Pew Research. Pew Research calls them the Boomeranging Generation, “Pew’s researchers think late twenty-somethings are boomeranging back home because, in contrast to previous generations at this stage of their lives, they are less likely to have a well-paying job and less likely to be married. It turns out that no job and no partner makes living with your parents a lot more appealing.” Even the idea of going to some far-off place for college is less appealing to young adults today. The prospects of college are becoming less of an attractional idea for young adults who look at the weight of debt, the fear of being on own, the highly stressful competitive nature of college acceptance, and the limited resources that are offered to them.
So how do we Grow Young?
Young Adults (18-29yrs old) are looking for spaces to explore their identity and self-worth. They are tired of being told that their self-worth comes from the size of their bank account, or whether they are married or not, or if they went to college or not. They want to know that they are valued beyond extrinsic things. They want to explore who they are, have fun, and go on crazy adventures before “settling down.” They lived through and saw the effects of getting married early, chasing after big bucks, having kids, and working 24/7 generation did for their parents. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate of baby boomers was close to 50% while millennials have lowered that rate by 18%. Church can become a great place for young adults to discover an identity that is separate than that of extrinsic value. Church can be a space a young adult can safely explore who they are, whom God has created them to be, and whom God has called them to be. We can challenge them, grow them, but most importantly invest in them. One of the things that’s great about a “Growing Young” church environment is the opportunity for young adults to have leadership opportunities without it being “value based, task driven, or grade based.” Young adults want to give but often are limited by their financial resources. “Growing Young” churches are a space where their time is valued equally to their financial contribution. Recognizing that a young adult may not have the financial resources as Baby Boomers or other generations but often have the desire to participate at a much higher level.
“The truth is, every church needs young people. Their passion enriches the soil around them. The curiosity they bring to the Scripture and the authenticity they bring to relationships keep your church’s teaching fresh and fellowship fruitful. Young people also need a thriving church. A thriving church both grounds them in community and sends them out to serve.”- Growing Young
What can I do?
Adults have a responsibility to actively seek after young adults (18-29 years old) and invest in them. Invite young adults out to coffee, open up a conversation on Sunday morning with them, incorporate them into your conversations on Sunday Mornings, ask them to serve alongside you, give them opportunities to lead, mentor them, do bible study with them, and help them to root their identity within God’s word.
Getting super practical
- On Sunday mornings, intentionally seek out conversations with one young adult. Every Sunday ask yourself, “Did I spend more time with my age group or with young adults/youth?”
- If you are in a Life Group or a Ministry Team with a young adult, then invite them out to coffee afterwards or ask them to sit with you Sunday morning at worship.
- Talk with them and hear what is on their heart. Pray for them.
How do I talk with a young adult?
- How is God moving in your life?
- What’s something that’s challenging you right now?
- What “moment of glory” have you witnessed another person celebrate that you too would like to experience?
- How would you most like to be remembered?
- How have you changed in the last three years?
- When and where have you been in the most peace?
- If someone asked you how you’ve made a difference in the world, what would you say?
- What’s a dream of yours?
If you’re looking for a prayer guides, how to talk to young adults, or more info on what “Growing Young” looks like for you and the church, go to https://churchesgrowingyoung.com/churchresources/