Where Have All the Young People Gone?
Like most churches we want to keep our young people. Sure, we bless them on Senior Sunday and send many of them off to school or work elsewhere. But … we hope they come back.
Not all of them do.
Of course, there is a much larger generational conversation (or crisis) taking place among most churches in the Western world. The number of young people who have left the church and not yet made it back is staggering. Many churches are feeling the effects of this exodus and are rightly concerned.
The church where I serve follows that larger conversation closely. Our leaders are giving serious thought to the challenge of incorporating and forming young people now and in the future. Yet at the same time, for us—like for you—the broader conversation is only so helpful. Let me put it this way: on Sunday morning, we don’t miss statistics; we miss faces. We miss specific young people in whom we invested and for whom we have hopes.
So, we asked them why they haven’t made it back. That’s right. A couple of years ago we contacted every millennial graduate of our church that we could (over 200 of them) and asked them why we don’t see them anymore.
How did we do it? Facebook, of course. How else?
Here’s some of what we learned.
Many had simply moved out of town. That makes sense. No hard feelings.
Of those who were still in town, their reasons varied widely. Sadly, there wasn’t a silver bullet. Here were the top reasons they provided:
I prefer instrumental worship (26%)
I do not want to attend a “Church of Christ” (22%)
Highland is a good church, I just found one that fits me better (22%)
Highland is too far away from where I live in Memphis (22%)
I prefer increased roles for women in worship and church leadership (20%)
My friends do not attend Highland (16%)
Some of these are hot-button issues in our fellowship. What is fascinating, however, is that no one reason is glaring. For instance, a worship band would make a difference to some, but not all. Dropping the name “Church of Christ” might help others, but not all. Relocating the church may please some young people, but not all (and from experience, Highland can tell you it will not please many others in the congregation!).
With young people, church can feel like a boat full of small holes and slow leaks. When bailing isn’t working, and you are taking on water, it’s tempting to throw your hands up, and say, “It’s useless! I’m swimming for shore.”
Well, as a millennial who still believes in the church, let me encourage you to keep bailing. Plug the holes you can, and for goodness sakes, stay in the boat.
Join me and the Siburt Institute from Abilene Christian University for ElderLink San Antonio on October 27 at the MacArthur Park Church of Christ, where I’ll explore the worldviews of millennials and their children. Together we’ll sketch some strategies for patching a boat that God will keep afloat (of that I am sure).