Only 54 percent of Christians aged 18–35 attend church once a month or more. Meanwhile, Christianity is rapidly declining in the American population, especially in the younger generations.
The secularization of society is evident wherever we turn, and it will only worsen as young people continue to turn away from Christianity. To survive, the church needs to continue through the generations and get young people back in the pews.
I’m among this group of young Christians with skepticism toward church, though I do currently attend. And for a long time, I didn’t attend as a result of many valid reservations, many of which are echoed in research on young people.
So, if the church is the body of Christians, why are nearly half of young Christians not at church?
Within this 18–35 demographic, young people say that the main element missing from their church is social and community opportunities. Young people want to attend with friends and family, they want support and social groups, and they want mentors.
In an increasingly lonely world, it’s no wonder the youth want community and some sense of belonging at their church. The churches around me that attract young people are ones who intentionally foster a community for this crowd. Whether it’s opportunities specifically for them or even connecting young people with each other, there’s a community of peers. Beyond this, the most vibrant community of young Christians I know of intentionally hosts events with each other. Whether it’s board game night or a spontaneous outing for cheap appetizers, there’s plenty of opportunity for connection.
Young people want to be involved and integrated with the church. They like being included by helping out with planning, events, and other church activities. Put simply, young people want to be part of the church community.
The other common items young people say are missing from their church broadly fall under the category of outreach. The younger generations are interested in helping the needy and concerned about oppression.
Outside the church, there’s pressure for everybody to become an activist for some cause, so it’s not a stretch that young people want to be involved in charity and social engagement within the church.
Indeed, part of the purpose of the church is to care for the sick, poor, and needy. Rather than letting the youth get caught up with social justice activism, churches can redirect them toward outreach that actually improves people’s lives and the world.
A major reason people attend church is to learn about the Bible, but these days, it seems that many pastors or church leaders don’t ascribe to everything in the Bible. For example, one study reports that only 37 percent of Christian pastors in the U.S. have a biblical worldview. If a majority of pastors don’t have a biblical worldview, it’s no wonder that church attendance is dropping: A key reason to attend church is now gone.
Churches need to rise to the occasion and boldly proclaim the truth of the Bible. The truth is in short supply these days, and churches should be one place people can turn to for it. Young people are surrounded by lies in culture. This means churches have an opportunity to give the youth something they can’t find anywhere else.
In America, the church has declining cultural influence, and many churches are loath to speak on cultural issues for fear of offending part of the congregation or, perhaps, losing tax-exempt status.
The Bible has plenty to say on culture and lifestyle. People are steeped in culture every day, and with how corrupt culture has become, the church has plenty to comment on. This is a way to connect with what people experience each day in their lives and show what Christian living looks like.
What Young People Don’t Want
There are many churches attempting to bring young generations back into the church, so what separates successful strategies from unsuccessful ones? Are there any misplaced efforts?
In what may be a surprise, young people aren’t concerned with a church being trendy or modern, according to a study from Christianity Today of 250 churches. In this study, factors such as a hip pastor or a church’s location, size, denomination, and facility were not as important as is often thought.
Another factor that was also relatively unimportant for a church’s draw to young people was worship style. Of course, many young people prefer contemporary worship. But many young people also prefer liturgical services. I can personally attest to this as I find contemporary worship music less than enjoyable, a preference that is so strong that I won’t regularly attend a church that plays contemporary worship music.
Reviving the Church
Young people may be turning away from Christianity, and those who are Christian often don’t attend church. But they’re not without their reasons for non-attendance.
With some intentional effort, every church can start getting young people in the pews. The idea that “If you build it, they’ll come” is too simplistic. We have to first build something people actually want to come for. Then, we have to invite people to come.
Perhaps it’s time for another revival. Many churches have slept for long enough, and the younger generations have been absent from these churches for too long. Let’s focus on biblically grounded sermons, community, and outreach. This is what the church is built for, and it’s time to fulfill this calling.
Image credit: Flickr-Tim Wilson, CC BY 2.0