Where Have All the Youth Gone?
Many churches are wringing their hands with worry and there may be a good reason to, as they ask, "Where have all the youth gone? According to a 2014 Pew Research Center Poll overall church attendance in the United States is dropping and one of the leading factors is generational.
According to the poll, current generations are not replacing older generations in church attendance and affiliation. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.
About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years.
What this means for churches is that there must be a shift in the way we reach out to the younger generations. That means social media and at least attempting to be more contemporary. I am not talking about music choice but in the overall outlook of the church. To reach this younger group we need to understand their generational traits. They include:
Instant Gratification & Recognition - Millennials need to feel like what they are doing is important and that they are on the right track. Yes, it sounds a little needy…and it is. But, many Millennials grew up with constant praise from their Baby Boomer parents. It’s what they know. What this means for you is your church needs to find a spot for them quickly and make sure they know it is important. This generation will not be pew sitters like previous generations. Find them something of value to do and then give them a need a pat on the head often. I am tired of hearing that church don't recognize accomplishments. A little acknowledgement will go a long way.
Flexibility - Millennials want to come and go as they please. Multiple options for services and small groups is a good idea if you are a large enough church. They also want flexibility in the technology offered. Internet throughout the church will help. Be willing to have leadership offer times when they can meet in an informal setting through out the week. This means personal Bible studies.
Collaboration - Millennials are extremely team-oriented and enjoy collaborating and building friendships with colleagues. They will thrive in service projects that benefit the community and the church. Reaching out and working together for a good cause comes naturally to this group.
Transparency - Millennials have heard every lie and can spot a phony a mile a way. This mean that you must be genuine in all you do and transparent to a fault. Older generations rarely aired their dirty laundry in public but, younger generations see that as authentic. Always be honest and truthful even if you might be uncomfortable. When they have an idea don't sugarcoat your response but be willing to work with them to find a purpose or solution.
Give this generation the up and downside of any dilemma and plenty of feedback.
Future Development - Older generations would often teach the same Sunday School Class for decades. They were happy and satisfied to labor at the same ministry. This sometimes led to a person getting stuck spiritually. Millennials want to know they can grow and change positions if they find something more suited to their abilities. Spiritually they are looking for advancement by deepening their faith. Give plenty of opportunities to grow and try new things.
If you take the time to understand this generation you may find that it will reinvigorate your church's mission and ministry and possibly breath life into your church in ways you least expect. Every church needs to think about what they do and they programs they offer and how it will impact this younger group. We shouldn't be afraid to let some younger Christians take positions of authority with guidance. Just letting a younger group run wild is not the solution.
The harvest is great but the workers are few and if churches don't start reaching into the younger generations there will be even fewer workers in the future.