Top Four Myths About Young People and the Church
Deacon Kenny - January 22, 2023
“How do we get more young people to come to church?” Almost every congregation asks this question! Churches all over the US are looking for ways to connect with young people as we watch weekly worship numbers decline, giving sliding downward, and the average age of most congregations going up. Every church is trying to find that magic bullet that will bring in more young people to combat against these rising concerns.
I have served in three different congregations and on a synod staff with 15 years of children and youth ministry experience and I’m here to give you the bad news: there is no magic bullet!
But here is the good news: all hope is not lost! In fact, there is so much to be hopeful for (after all we are a people of resurrection and hope, aren’t we?). I find that the biggest roadblocks for congregations seeking to grow in their youth presence is a misunderstanding of young people’s perception of the church, what they desire, and how the culture around them shapes their lives.
So, let’s debunk some of the top myths about young people and the church!
1) Young people don’t believe in God.
It is true that younger generations are less churched now than previous generations. This does not mean they don’t believe in God! In fact, much of the latest research says that younger generations are interested and even very open to exploring spirituality and the idea of God. The issue lies in the fact that younger generations are largely unchurched which means the way we reach and teach about God must adapt and change. The Sunday School and Confirmation models that our grandparents grew up with will no longer do the trick!
2) Young people aren’t interested in church.
There is an overall rising distrust of institutions within younger generations. In addition to this, younger generations have seen churches historically as exclusive and divisive institutions that do more harm than good. While this is a gross generalization on the part of younger generations, it is easy to understand where this viewpoint comes from. Younger generations are interested in belonging to communities that care for each other and for the world. In fact, they desperately are seeking these communities out! The reality is younger generations are interested in exactly what the church should be!
3) Youth ministry teaches our young people how to be morally good.
This may have been true decades ago, but this should not be the purpose of youth ministry. Our call as Christians is to share and spread the Good News of Christ and live in the way of Christ. While this may lead to a form of moral living, the true purpose of youth ministry should be completely wrapped up in young people experiencing the love of God through relationships, exploring deeply who God is, and being invited to participate in the action of God, God’s kingdom building. In addition, young people need to experience the true grace of God knowing that when (not if) they screw up morally they are still loved, valued, and forgiven (not judged or condemned)!
4) Young people don’t respect traditions of the church.
Because they are largely unchurched, young people don’t understand the traditions of the church. Younger generations need to be taught the purpose and why’s behind our traditions, not just “because we’ve always done it that way.” Congregations must also be open to hearing about and trying new and different ideas that younger generations might bring to the table. Let’s be honest, many of our “traditions” only came about 50-70 years ago. If we were to truly embrace the tradition of the ancient church, many of our “traditions” would look very different! One person’s tradition is another person’s barrier to experience something holy.
This just begins to scratch the surface of the assumptions we make about younger generations and the church. Of course, we make these assumptions coming from our love for the church and desire for younger generations to experience God the way we did when we were younger. There is much to be hopeful for in the church! I continue to see all kinds of glimmers of new life and new possibilities, but it requires us to consider new ways and a willingness to give up our assumptions of the past so that we can look forward.
So, what assumptions do you have about younger generations? Where do your concerns lie with the future of the church? Where do you see the glimmers of hope and new life?
Send me your thoughts, questions, ideas, myths, and assumptions! I’d love to hear them and explore these things with you! I am excited to be on this journey with everyone here at Christ Lutheran Church and look forward to debunking more myths in the weeks to come!
Deacon Kenny Champagne