If they are to have a vibrant future, many congregations need to focus special energy on young adults (ages 22-30).
Â· A balanced age mix is critical to the future stability of a congregation. The rising average age of mainline congregations — currently estimated at 62 years old — simply isn’t a sustainable trend.
Â· A lively presence of young adults will keep the congregation current with the needs and trends that will shape future ministry.
Â· Through targeting young adults, congregations will embrace key principles like responsiveness to a changing market, seeing needs through others’ eyes, need for broad diversity of offerings and nimbleness in changing design. This will keep the congregation open to new ideas. Or, said another way, it will prevent the congregation from simply growing older (rising average age) and losing touch with emerging constituencies.
Â· Young adults are difficult to reach through normal avenues.
Why are young adults absent from so many congregations?
Young adults don’t seem to be averse to Christian faith, but they aren’t seeing traditional church membership as the primary path for expressing or seeking faith.
They are more likely to:
Â· Sign on with a mission opportunity, whether church-related or not
Â· Engage in faith-centered interactions on the Internet
Â· Attend occasional events at non-demanding large churches with little or no denominational overhead
Â· See faith as something to be addressed later, perhaps when they marry and have children
Â· See church as an irritating venue where smug people argue
Â· See mainline churches as tightly controlled by older generations
Â· Turn away from the growing conservatism of many churches, especially in moral issues such as sexuality and immigration
On the other hand, in a diversity that confuses many older adults, some young adults are flocking to conservative congregations precisely because they seem sure of themselves and offer firm answers in a fluid world.
To serve young adults effectively, congregations need to listen to their needs and not assume they are just a younger version of what older congregants were 20 or 40 years ago.
(For an in-depth look at Young Adults Ministry, you are invited to join the Church Wellness Project at http://churchwellness.com.)
Tom Ehrich is a writer, consultant, and leader of workshops. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. The church wellness project may be found at www.churchwellness.com