I am a Presbyterian minister and, like many churches, my church is trending older on the average age. Some of my members have watched their children and their grandchildren find church unimportant in their lives.I am asked every once in a while why young people do not go to church anymore. I think what they are also wondering why young people do not come to their church. Here are a few thoughts if that is your church:
1. Young people aren’t going to church very much. I have seen different statistics on this, but for those under 30 it seems to be about 2 in 10 are in church. That is a lot lower than previous generations. I lead off with that not to depress you but to help you understand that it is not just your church. Believe me, you church is pretty messed up. It is a church so it cannot be perfect. Just understand that this is a trend bigger than your particular church.
2. Your functional mission is not compelling.. Most churches have a mission statement or a vision statement about worshipping Christ, serving one another, and reaching out into the community. In other words, most churches have worthless mission statements. The real mission in most churches (especially mainline) is to stay open. When we make decisions and talk about our church that is often the heart of the conversation. Beyond that, we may say we want to grow, but if we were honest we only want to grow as much as needed to stay open. After all, we want to know every church member by name. Here is the truth–young people are not compelled in any way, shape, or form by organizational loyalty and survival. They can get passionate about doing important things and even trying for impossible things.
3. Your 1950’s style worship service is not cutting it.- Don’t get me wrong. Young people are not just about contemporary worship. In fact, a lot of millennials are attracted to high church worship. What they value is authenticity. If you are worshipping in a style because you have intentionally decided that is the best way for you to connect with God AND YOU CAN EXPRESS WHY then by all means stick with whatever style works. Many mainline churches are exercises in nostalgia and young people won’t do that.
4. Your programs are outdated. If your programming was cutting edge in 1930 then there is a pretty good chance it is no longer cutting edge. If your church has a ladies association that meets for tea, an early morning men’s breakfast, or a quilting club then I am not sure you are going to get a lot of young people there. These programs fit the people that are currently in them. If some people are not there then there is a reason some people don’ t come. That does not mean you should stop those programs–just understand that they are not geared for young people. Also, young people tend to like less programmatic, less structures and more relational activities.
5. You are not talking to young people. The church has lots of sayings that it likes to use: God never gives you any more than you can handle, true love waits, you can’t take it with you… Young people are not satisfied with short statements and sentimentality to life’s complicated and difficult situations. Here is a rule of thumb: if you can put it on a coffee mug then it is not really valuable to young people. My experience is that young people long for answers and are willing to talk and study to find the answers. They will even take coaching from older adults. But they will not accept short pithy statements that oversimplify both the problems and the answers of life. They want to go deeper, but Church often wants to stay shallow rather than wade into the deep of real life.
If you want young people, go talk to them. Listen to their questions and struggles. And, for the future of your church, start to look in the mirror and what can you differently. If you keep looking at your past, eventually you will not have a future.