In the previous post, we evaluated the church’s ability to capture the millennial generation.
It’s an ever-growing conversation among church leaders. Reaching the “young people” as a church has been a conversation since I was a young person. My guess is every generation of the church has struggled to reach the next generation on some level. But I wonder if it has less to do with their generational grouping and more to do with their stage of life. Certainly every generation has its unique qualities, and we would be foolish as church leaders to ignore these trends, but twenty-something’s of my generation behaved in many ways like the twenty-something’s of this generation. In fact, there might be more in common with twenty-something’s across each generation that we realized.
If my presumption is true, reaching the “young people” in the community is less about their generational intricacies and more about understanding a twenty-something. From where I sit, I don’t see this segment of adults fleeing the church in record numbers. What I see is these young adults behaving like I did when I was in my twenties. They aren’t lost — they’re just disconnected until they feel a tension to reconnect.
To that point, when these twenty-something’s marry and have children, many show back up to church. The reason is simple: They have a felt need for God and the church again. Felt need is what always drives us to God (and the church), whether it’s a felt need to feel less guilty or in this case a need to fix a marriage or learn how to raise a kid.
But we as churches don’t want to wait around until the twenty-year-old turns thirty and finds a spouse and has a kid to engage them spiritually. That’s unhealthy for our churches, but even more, it’s unhealthy for these twenty-something’s. How can a church reach twenty-something’s?
Here are 7 clues from my experience leading a church with a density of younger adults:
1. Felt needs must be addressed, no matter the age group.
This is true for every age segment — it’s just easier for the older adult segments. Marriage and parenting bring with it a full plate of growing felt needs. The more complicated our life, the greater the felt need for God in our life. The key to reaching the twenty-something community is addressing their felt needs and giving them specific ways to apply solutions. This is not difficult, but it takes a great deal of need mining and intentionality.
2. Young adults want to connect.
Older adults already have a stable of connections. They may not have many close friends, but they have a wealth of connections and connection opportunities. This is especially true for those married with children. The school, recreation fields, and the neighborhood provide ample connecting spaces. And let’s face it; if you’re married, you are already experiencing the most important human connection on earth. You’re connected.
The twenty-something, single crowd has the same deep need to connect, but it’s lacking the various opportunities. It might be their biggest felt need to leverage (or exploit if you will). Creating intentional connection opportunities for this age group is part of the secret to reaching this age group.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of convenience.
Most twenty-something’s have more discretionary time than those twenty years their senior. Marriage, children, and more demanding careers significantly reduce discretionary time. With more time, you would think twenty-something’s could more easily include church in their life, but the opposite seems to be more true. It certainly was for me during that stage of life. More time means more choices, therefore convenience matters when reaching this group.
Let me share a practical example: We recently started a college ministry, but rather than ask the students to leave their university campus and come to our church, we took the experience to them. Every Wednesday during the Kennesaw State University school session, we offer The Living Room, a worship experience designed for college students. We have only been meeting for 2 semesters, but we already have over 125 students at each gathering, with over 150 students in small groups during the week. We are reaching this generation as a church, partially because we made it easy for them.
4. Engage in their community.
If our community isn’t diverse, we can’t expect our church to be diverse. And if our community doesn’t have a strong twenty-something population, then our church will struggle to reach this group. Reaching twenty-something’s requires a presence in a twenty-something community. If your current community doesn’t have a younger population, you might consider planting a campus or supporting a church plant in a new community.
Reaching the twenty-something’s at church doesn’t necessarily mean at your church.
5. Expect more insiders than outsiders.
In know — duh! But there’s more than meets the tip. Older adults who are not believers begin to sense a need for God and the community of the church when life beats them up. The older we are, the more opportunities we have for life to punch us in the face. It’s a felt need kind of thing.
Many Christian kids who grow up into Christian young adults have a felt need for the church from their childhood. It could be a healthy need for continued spiritual growth, or an unhealthy guilty need. Either way, this means the younger the adult in church, the more likely they are to be from a churched background, and that has implications for how we minister to them.
6. Give them real responsibility.
When twenty-something’s see a church managed by their parents, they will not stay. To attract and keep young adults, they need to be trusted with leadership and provide responsibilities in keeping with our trust. This means those leading worship, preaching, and leading ministry environments must have an element of youth engagement.
7. Allow them to make a difference beyond the church.
Again, statistics tell us that millennials desire to make a difference — that they are more socially concerned. That may be true as a generation, but finding significance is also a characteristic of most twenty-something’s. As a church, we have the opportunity to engage these young believers in their church and back in their community in meaningful ways. This is part stewardship as a church, but it’s also part of a strategy for reaching young adults.
I don’t believe the millennial generation is lost from the church. I believe they’re lost in their twenties, behaving in many ways like most of us behaved in our twenties. We’ll see them again when life gets more complicated, or we can ensure we create a church experience that meets their specific needs and engages in their communities.
If you’re a twenty-something yourself, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you are working with this group today, how have you found success? Leave a comment below so we can continue the conversation and learn more together.