Unlike megachurches that have forged strong ties to young adults, mainline Protestant congregations tend to struggle in responding to people in their 20s.
The problem isn’t that they want to freeze out young adults. They just don’t have practices that enable them to hear young adults and to respond to their unique needs and interests.
Here are some tips on how to improve your congregation’s “hearing” what young adults are saying:
It is important to engage young adults in identifying obstacles, if any, to full and enthusiastic participation in regular congregational worship and activities. Older adults shouldn’t assume they know what young adults think, want, or need. It is better to let the young adults speak for themselves.
Rather than surveying many young adults and running the risk of communicating uncertainty, use a focus group of a few trusted young adults to glean useful insights.
As they call on young adults, clergy should listen for needs and yearnings, especially those that might require new responses.
Then, using the “test and measure” principle, try some fresh approaches, and see what the response is.
For any of this to succeed, the overall congregation must be ready to hear what the focus group says and to modify current offerings in response. If young adults seem uninterested or drift away, ask them why.
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 http://www.churchwellness.com