Where did all these young adults come from?

By Loren Bergstedt, Congregational Development Assistant

I visited a new church a couple of weeks ago. I periodically do this partially because of my own natural curiosity about how different churches cultivate spiritual vitality differently.

On this particular week, I visited a congregation only two miles from my home in a suburb of Minneapolis. I found several unique aspects about this congregation. 1). The church began only about six years ago. 2). It now has five services per week at multiple campuses throughout the city; thousands of people attend. 3). About 70% of those attending are under 29 years old. This last tid-bit I found to be most intriguing, partially because I very close to that age group. I have had friends say that the younger generation is not interested in church and that they are almost “unreachable.” Yet, this congregation clearly demonstrated that this doesn’t have to be the case. When I visited this congregation I experienced a solid, Biblical message from the pastor and contemporary music. However, this is not unique. What could it be about this congregation that attracts so many young people? It felt to me that something really dynamic in a cultural way was happening, yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. 

 I wasn’t there for the history of this church; so I cannot fully understand what God is doing there to inspire so many. Yet, after reflecting for most of the afternoon, I was able to put my finger on two things that changed my thinking.

  1. People were welcoming….really welcoming. When I started to walk out of the building, a man in his 20’s held a homemade, tagboard sign with these words written on it: “Come hang out with us!” He proceeded to invite every person who walked by to go have lunch with him and his group. I’ll be honest, I choked up when I walked by. To me the message of the sign was: “We don’t care who you are, and we don’t care that we don’t even know you. We welcome you into our life.”  Living in the city can be lonely and isolating. This young man understood that. This inclusion went further than the normal one minute in the service to greet your neighbors. (And let’s face it, how many truly engage strangers and how many of us primarily speak with those we already know?) In this church was a sense that visitors were really wanted.
  2. They got people involved. The pastor invited anyone who wanted to make a difference to come forward to be connected to a ministry of their church. At a recent conference I attended, the Gen Y Guy, Jason Ryan Dorsey, www.jasondorsey.com said that today’s young adults want to be valued for what they bring to the table, they want to have their voices heard, and they want to make a meaningful difference. This church didn’t ask them to sit on a committee, or to wait in the wings for a chance to be part of the community. When people came down for prayer after the service the prayer team was made up of young adults. The greeters, ushers, audio/visual team, announcement givers, and mission trip leaders appeared to be largely people in their 20’s.

 It’s not about numbers. It’s not about turning my church into a mega-church. It’s about reaching new people. Although I believe that culture changes, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is timeless and powerful. What do you believe young adults are looking for in a church community? What are some ways that your church is bringing this life-transforming message to the next generation?

About maccongdev

The Office of Congregational Development is all about reaching new people and helping congregations to cultivate healthy spiritual vitality!
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4 Responses to Where did all these young adults come from?

  1. Victoria Rebeck says:

    Just goes to show you, people have to GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to welcome people, and make it seem REAL. The invitation to “get involved in a ministry”–not a committee–is indeed crucial. People of all ages prefer hands-on, make-a-difference opportunities. We have to get out of the habit of getting newcomers on a committee. We should make new visitors wait a while until they get on a committee.
    In just a few years these young adults will no longer be young adults. Will the church stay nimble so that they continue to retain these folks (who will be middle age) AND continue to reach young adults? (I’m not doubting it; just pointing out a challenge that ALL churches have.

  2. Patricia Wells says:

    This seems so down to earth and so like Jesus! It also reminds me( and I said this at our recent Cong. Development conference) – like the sixties! Some people there took offense at that but I remember it with warmth! People just want the openness and love that is promised by a loving God a redemptive God. Thanks for writing this observation.

  3. Dan Johnson says:

    I regularly hear young adults describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” I think I get most of the nuances they imply, but can you really grow spiritually without a religious community? It’s neat to see a model of young adults taking faith community seriously. How important is it to have a critical mass of similar people to help you feel at home? Can a demographically diverse congregation learn to be just as welcoming?

  4. Jenny Beall says:

    I must agree with Loren about the importance of a welcoming environment. I am currently on the hunt again for a church and one community I visited with only 50-75 people I walked in and didn’t have a single greeting. Even the so called welcome center didn’t seem to know how to handle a 25 year old stray entering their church. This church had a strong global vision, but it seems they may have missed the importance of local impact and, needless to say, I will not be returning.

    I also agree that sound bible teaching is crucial. Many churches have started watering down the gospel in order to be less offensive to outsiders and (I think) my generation in particular. The word has application, value, and is relevant to every generation as it was written and should not be tampered with or dumbed-down. People truly seeking truth may feel better about their sinful lives after leaving a “feel-goodery” labeled a church, but they won’t find the deeper meaning and answers they seek without being challenged by the amazing truth, grace, love, and power of God’s word.

    Beyond that, I want to point out that worship style is critical in developing a comfortable environment for many in my generation. While the music should not be focused on being a performance, there is something to be said for speaking to my generation in our own language and not with organs and hymnals. This is one of my prime focuses in my own church hunt and one of the main ways I feel I can connect with God and prepare my heart for the message.

    I feel like a lot of churches miss the mark in this regard by trying to simply liven their normal performances and songs with faster tempos and if you want to be really “contemporary” you throw a guitar on stage. I like to worship with music from the radio and music with which I am somewhat familiar. By trying to simply make a few tweaks so the older generations are not shaken up too much, you end up completely missing the generation you are trying to attract. I also think many churches would be surprised by how many of their older congregation members would appreciate more modern and youthful worship. The church I attended before moving was one that played hillsong type music with electric guitars, drums, and bases and the congregation was comprised of many college students as well as many senior citizens. That church was rebuilding as I moved to be able to fit their 5000 plus members and growing. The church needs to be relevant for our generation which means the same Truth and message in a different delivery system.

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