Four Tips for Engaging Young Adults in the Church

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BY JESSY BURCAW |

Editor’s note: the author, Jessy Burcaw, is a 24 year-old young adult member of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. 

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.com

These days a lot of people are talking about young adults in church–how to get them there, how to keep them, and how to get them involved. Here are four tips that might be helpful as your church thinks about engaging young adults. 

1) Don’t tell us it is our job to bring in more young adults

Well-meaning people have suggested that I need to bring my friends to church or have implied it’s my responsibility to fix the “young adult problem.” This logic has a few flaws. Most of my friends are Moravian and already belong to a church. My non-Moravian friends either have their own church to attend or are not interested in church. So if young adults don’t bring in more young adults what do we do? Listen to the young adults you do have. Realize it may not be a Sunday School class they want. You may have to try some new things and get out of your comfort zone a bit as a church. Young adults are happy to help but it’s not our job to fix the young adult problem just because we are young adults.

2) Don’t assume we all want to do the same thing

Often times when young adults come home from college and want to be involved in church, people assume they want to work with kids or youth. In my case, as a teacher, the last thing I want to spend my Sunday doing is working with kids. After a long week working with children, I want a break from them. Yes, it is true that many young adults do enjoy working with youth or children but keep in mind we are all different. Millennials are not all the same! We have many gifts and talents that can be put to good use in church. For some it might be playing handbells or singing in the choir. Others might want to get involved with building and grounds and help take care of the church building. Others will organize outreach and mission. Take the time to get to know us and to understand what gifts and talents we might be willing to share. Not only will it make us feel more welcome, it will also make a better church!

Photo by Eric Bailey, via Pexels.com

3) Remember we are adults now too

Many young adults grew up in the church we attend now. That means people remember us when we were children running around after church or when we were teenagers acting cooler than the flip side of a pillow. It also means people sometimes forget we are no longer those 16-year-olds in church because our parents made us come. We are now coming to church because it is a place we want to be. We want to make a meaningful contribution to our church family, but it is a two-way street. Churches are going to have to not just create space for us, but proactively invite us to get involved in meaningful ways. This means people who’ve been in leadership for years might have to move over and let young adults help, which might mean changing “the way we’ve always done it.” Young adults don’t need to run everything, but one day we will be the ones making the decisions. Why not start training us now, let us in on some decision-making, or at least listen to our voices? It’s time to start being intentional about sharing responsibilities with young adults who want to be involved.

4) Don’t panic if we aren’t at church every Sunday

Just because I am not in church every Sunday doesn’t mean I don’t want to be involved anymore. A lot of my friends don’t go to church every Sunday, but they still want to be involved too. Many of us (not all) get more out of mission work and putting our faith into action than we do sitting in church on Sunday morning. Now don’t get me wrong–I enjoy very much going to church and listening to my pastor, but that’s not always enough. I don’t need to sit in church every Sunday to feel close to God. Sometimes I feel closer when I am on the mountaintop at Laurel Ridge singing camp songs, or sitting by the river writing in my journal. The place I felt God’s presence the most wasn’t a church; it was when I sat on the floor of a school in Nepal listening to a child read to me. For many young adults, church isn’t about being in one place to worship or listen to God’s word. Church is walking in the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk; church is going to Nepal to teach; church is helping with hurricane relief; church is so much more than a building. So just because you don’t see us in worship doesn’t mean we are never coming back. It just means we are out in the world putting our faith into action.

Young adults do not just represent the future of the church–we are the church right now! Please continue to encourage us, love us, and make space for us as we embrace both old and new ways to follow Jesus in the world.


About the Author

Jessy is a lifelong member of Unity Moravian. She grew up in Winston-Salem and attended Appalachian State University to study Elementary Education. Now she is a 2nd grade teacher in Winston-Salem. She is a proud mother of her fur-baby, Olive. Jessy has a passion for mission work and spent her summer in Kathmandu, Nepal working in a school. She plans to return this summer again to continue working with the school.


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Why Does the Church Struggle With Millennials? Young Adult Moravians Respond

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RESPONSES FROM YOUNG ADULT MORAVIANS |

We recently asked young adult Moravians to respond to this article by Sam Eaton. In the piece, Sam lays out the reasons why more than half of Millennials have dropped out of church. We also asked young adults to share with us their perception of church in general.

The New York Times defines Millennials as being between 20 and 35 years old, or born between 1980 and 1995, give or take a couple years. Below are six responses from Moravian Millennials and their thoughts on the church’s struggle to attract young people.

Young people


1

Many bloggers and church thinkers have written articles on why we Millennials aren’t attending church. I won’t presume to be any wiser than them, and my perspective is admittedly that of a Millennial who does attend church. However, I do know what draws me to the churches I’ve attended. Rather than a rock band and a coffee bar, the two biggest things that attracted me to my church homes have been community and challenging theology.

My wife and I attend churches whose members greet us with a warm, welcoming reception. Instead of us shuffling into an empty pew unchecked, our church homes had members who introduced themselves and invited us to sit beside them during the service (differing themselves from the common “my pew” phenomenon that often exists). Other church members not only excitedly welcomed us, but invited us to stay for fellowship after the service and introduced us among the congregation.

Radical, challenging theology is the other draw. Never have I felt more filled with faith than after a sermon that made me question myself. While there is certainly need for sermons that affirm our core beliefs and tenets, there’s no reason those same sermons can’t relate those to how we can be more radically Christ-like. While I’m hesitant to speak for all Millennials, I will venture to say that many of us quickly lose interest in sermons on safe topics. A pastor who lovingly challenges me to be more charitable, forgiving, and selfless will win my attendance quicker than anything else. Love me. Challenge and teach me to live love. That is what I desire in a church.

-Kyle Todd, member of Bethania Movarian Church, currently attending United Methodist Church Anacortes, Anacortes, WA

 


2

As a Millennial and self-professed Christian, I feel like I’m often tasked with answering for the sins of Christianity, both historical and ongoing. I think my generation struggles with reconciling actions and proclamations of people associated with the church with our values. I would really appreciate candor from the church regarding these discrepancies and guidance on how to actively address these differences while upholding truth and peace.

On another note, a part of the article that really resonated with me was the section on cliquey-ness and the call to “stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected.” I’ve seen church communities fall short on this a lot, and I have failed on this front as well, but an atmosphere of authentic (not transparently forced) inclusion and acceptance (a.k.a. love) would be transformative in a way that appeals to Millennials, in my opinion.

-Alex Ford, (long-distance) member of Kernersville Moravian Church, Mokpo, South Korea

 

Young people


3

Valid points in the article, and I have seen many similar articles lately. I have been sad to see examples where we, as a community of faith, have drawn in, rather than reached out, when we have faced declining attendance and giving. Shouldn’t that provide for the great moments of faith we celebrate from our history? The moments where God calls us to go beyond our own ability to trust something larger may be in the works? Surely we can live like the community we read about in Acts 2-4, and that we hear about from the days of Zinzendorf.

Finally, the article ends with a section titled, “The Truth is, Church, it’s Your Move.” Here is where I disagree. As an older Millennial, but still in the club, I think now is the time for our move-ment. If we feel the lack of resources is driving a sense of deep seated fear drawing the church inward, then isn’t it up to us to take the action (“be the change you want to see in the world”) we are desperately waiting to see? If we want to be seen and heard, and valued, then we need to be willing to jump into the fray with words and actions that add value, and not just critiques to the system.

In many congregations, a group of 20 young adults could join, participate, and collectively wield a loud voice to help shape the growth and ministry of that community.

Yes, the things on the list are concerns to be faced… but the church needs us to be a part of the solution, and not just point out the problem.

-Justin Rabbach, Ebenezer Moravian Church, Waukesha, WI

 


4

The author’s number one reason as to why Millennials are not attending church speaks the loudest; no one is listening to Millennials. Most Millennials are adults (18+) now and they are tired of still being treated as if they were still kids. The church must be willing to implement new ideas from newer generations.

-Anonymous

 


5

I think I agree with most of what is said in the article.

My thoughts are that many perceive churches to lack authenticity, whether that is true or not. The idea of “practice what you preach” is disconnected as churches seem to only look inward with their programs and beliefs. Personally, I hate being lumped into these age group classifications. Sure, they exist and are a way to analyze data but generalizing that data is not healthy sometimes.

Finally, I like Justin Rabbach’s group, Moravian Church Without Walls. Constraining the church to four walls, a steeple, and worship on Sunday morning, is where you miss this large demographic. There are other ways to worship and serve our Lord. Think outside of the paradigm and maybe this “missing” demographic will reemerge; maybe not in the pews, but in other ways.

-Anonymous

 


Church Pews

6

I nodded my head in agreement so many times that I had a crick in my neck by the end of this article. I grew up in the church, my husband grew up in the church, but neither of us has been a regular church member for over a decade. Why? My excuse was always that life got in the way: college, moving away from home, jobs that required work on the weekends. But now we’re in our early 30s, we’re settled in a town we love, we bought a house, we’re off on Sundays, and we both admit that we feel like something’s missing and that something might just be a church family. Yet every time we get a “Welcome to the neighborhood!  Come visit our church!” postcard in the mail I find myself tossing the card in the trash. I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is–what’s really keeping us from finding a church home now?

I felt like every point made in this piece was spot on, but what resonated with me most were reasons 2, 3, and 5 (which I think are all connected). My last memories of church were the painful realization that, for many in my church family, the mission statements, the church politics, the cliquey-ness were more important than helping the people in this world who need it most. As I get older, religion has become more and more about showing kindness to strangers, giving to the poor, and reflecting Christ’s love through actions in my day-to-day life–the values I learned in Sunday school as a kid, but didn’t see the church practice once I got older.

I don’t need a church family to live out those values, and I’m not confident that I could find a church home committed to practicing what they preach. But, it would be so nice to find a place that did, and a place for my future children to learn those same Sunday school lessons that helped shape me into the person I am today.

-Anonymous (forever-a-Moravian-at-heart)

 


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