Young people have been leaving churches at an alarming rate. They attend church with their parents when they are younger, and most of them intend to continue going to church even after they leave home. Instead, many young people drift away from church as they age. They begin to skip the occasional service. Then, they attend less and less often before ceasing coming altogether. Sometimes the process takes months or years. Other times, it happens quickly, in a handful of weeks.
Regardless of how long it takes, the exodus of young people from churches spells disaster for the remaining congregation. Without young people, there will be no one to whom older people can pass the torch. Slowly but surely, the church will die. In order to keep this from happening, churches have two main goals. They need to keep the young people currently attending from leaving, and they need to attract other young people. This is easier said than done. After all, what do young people really want?
Many adults think they know what millennials want, but they tend to get it wrong. The admittedly well-earned stereotype about the fragile and entitled millennial does not help when it comes to keeping young people interested in church because for the most part, young people do not want anything extreme. Instead, what is needed to keep them interested tends to closely mirror what the rest of the congregation wants anyway.
Listen to Their Concerns
If you want to keep young people interested in church, you need to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. That does not mean that you need to hand the reigns over to them entirely and let them take complete control of the church, but you cannot dismiss them either. Young people tend to be intelligent and many want to be engaged in their church, but it is hard to retain any interest in attending when you always brush them off as needing to listen to their elders or seeing their concerns as too small. In the grand scheme of things, every human concern is arguably too small to worry about, but little worries can mean a great deal to someone’s life in the moment. Older adults may roll their eyes at a young person who is concerned that their boss does not like them or is losing sleep over whether or not they should pursue a relationship with a coworker. Older adults already know how to handle those issues with grace, so they see such concerns as proof that young people are immature and self-centered.
Older adults forget that they had to learn how to handle those issues at one point as well, and they lost sleep over them the first time they had to deal with them. Young people have to learn to handle such things, and they are unlikely to look to the church for guidance in serious matters if no one can spare a few minutes to help them sort through minor issues.
Embrace Your Singles
Some people marry young, but the demographic trend is that people are marrying later and later in life. As such, young people are increasingly likely to be single. Normally, one would not think of a person’s marital status having too much influence on whether or not they feel welcome at a church. It is easy for churches to inadvertently make singles feel like outcasts, however, when the church focuses all its energy on celebrating married couples. If every church event targets families and spouses, young people who are not ready to get married can quickly start to feel ignored. This is especially true if you have small groups meant for singles that are filled with married people who did not want to leave the group with all their friends. It is wonderful that such close bonds have formed within the group, but when a young person joins a group that specifically is geared toward singles and finds that everyone is wearing a ring, they are going to feel incredibly out of place and rather frustrated. After all, the church is making it clear that there is no place for someone who is still waiting for the right person.
Your pastor can be a wonderful listener and your church can have dozens of things for singles to do, but if the congregation is unwelcoming, you are not going to keep young people around for long. Most young people grew up with the understanding that if they did not like their current church, they could simple start attending the one down the street. As such, they are unlikely to put up with an unwelcoming congregation long enough to thaw out everyone’s hearts. Instead, they are simply going to trot down the road and join another church.
Another reason that it is so important to have a welcoming congregation is that young people are more likely to have been recent transplants to an area. As such, they are looking for a support system. If your church is unfriendly, a young person looking to put down roots is going to look elsewhere.
If you want to keep young people in your church, you need to make sure that you have created an environment that young people will embrace. Be welcoming, friendly and listen to them. In short, treat them like any other member of the congregation, and you will likely find your young people continuing to fill the pews on Sunday morning.