The future is now! Connecting with the young adult generation (Week 2)

September 12, 2014

This month this writer is addressing the topic of why there is a disconnect of the church with its young adult generation. Some churches have been successful; while others are struggling to reach and understand this group of church goers. The attitude of most young adults is their church is not accessible to them. If the faith community and church leaders are desirous of attracting, connecting with and retaining young adults, there must be a change in the attitude of church leaders. Young adults must be treated with the same respect as adults are treated. Last week this writer began outlining the reasons for the disconnect. The research was the result of a five-year program headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman who explored the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in the book by Kinnaman titled: “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.” Reasons 3 -5 are summarized this week. Reason #3 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twenty-something Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of
the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Seventeen percent of young Christians said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” Reason #4 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems
open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Three out of 10 young Christians (29 percent) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” Twenty two percent of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders.” Reason #5 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting sometimes Christianity does not make sense. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36 percent) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23 percnet). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about 1 out of every 6 young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience. The research pointed to two opposites, but equally dangerous responses by many faith leaders and parents: either catering to or
minimizing the concerns of the next generation. The study suggests some leaders ignore the concerns and issues of teens and twenty-somethings because they feel the disconnection will end when young adults are older. Yet, this response misses the dramatic technological, social and spiritual changes that have occurred over the last 25 years and ignores the significant present-day challenges these young adults are facing. Beloved, the assumption has been if a congregation
is interested in reconnecting with young adults the church must make a few updates such as installing a coffee shop in the fellowship hall and having the pastor preach in skinny jeans. While a few updates are needed to replace outdated technology and ministry methods utilized by many congregations, most young adults, like any generation before them, are primarily searching for acceptance for who they are and the contributions they bring to the table and to the faith community. If church leaders are seriously eager to bring back and connect with this age group, church leaders must sit down and really talk with these young adults in a non-judgmental, compassionate manner about what they are looking for. The answers just may surprise you.

Next Week: Continuation

The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in these articles, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer.
Rather, the objective is strictly informative and educational. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.