Christian Family, Community Outreach, Parenting

The Secret to Retaining Youth in Church

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The church’s desire to connect and retain teens is an age-old battle.  However, as the church continues to suffer considerable losses in membership, this problem takes on greater significance.  The church may see youth as the one group that can rescue a bleak future. “If we can just stop the youth from drifting away after High School, then we have a chance to reverse the decline.”  Look around, this is a very different generation.  Their values have shifted.  What matters to them is different than previous generations. What matters to their marginally committed parents has changed.  This post will be based on some research by Barna on the different goals for youth ministry between senior pastors and youth ministers and the parents of those elusive teens.  But just look at the unexpected changes to culture and notice how little time it took for the changes to occur.

Surveys in 1986:

70% of high school grads leave the church, never to return
65% of evangelical teens never read their Bibles
33% believe religion is out of date and out of touch
40% of all teens believe in astrology
30% read astrology column daily
93% know their sign
58% of Protestant teens believe students should have access to contraceptives.
25% of high school students contract some form of V.D.
42% of protestant teens say there are many ways to God.
60% question that miracles are possible
28% feel the content of the Bible are not accurate.

According to surveys in 1990:

65% of all H.S. Christian students are sexually active
75% of all H.S. students cheat regularly
30% of all H.S. students have shoplifted in the past 30 days
45-50% of all teen pregnancies are aborted
3.3 million teens are alcoholics
1,000 teens try to commit suicide daily
10% of H.S. students have experimented with or are involved in a homosexual lifestyle.

-Bruce Wilkinson, 7 Laws of the Learner.

Imagine what the survey would discover today.  As church leaders what are you trying to accomplish with young people today?  When I asked this question of a young couple one striking observation was shared with me.  “After High School, the church had nothing for us to do.  We weren’t a part of their planning and strategy.  There was no space nor place for us or our friends.  So, we just drifted away.”  Church, what is your plan to reach post-High School students? Do you have a ministry plan for the youth you claim you desire desperately to engage? If you are not intentionally planning and preparing to connect with youth and their parents, it probably will not happen.

It is my prayer that this post and the ones that follow will give you encouragement and direction.

One of the questions the Barna researchers asked was: “What are the goals of the pastoral leadership team?”

The goals of the pastor and youth leadership team?

The Barna researchers found that senior pastors and youth leaders were fairly united with the goals they were seeking to accomplish.  Barna’s research discovered this:

  • The top two goals of youth ministry for a substantial majority of church leaders were: “discipleship and spiritual instruction.” Also, seven in 10 senior pastors (71%) and three-quarters of youth pastors (75%) say this is one of their top goals.
  • “Building relationships with students” is a primary objective for about half of youth pastors (48%) and two in five senior pastors (40%), while “evangelism and outreach to youth” is selected by roughly one-quarter of each group (29% senior pastors, 24% youth pastors). “Evangelism to the parents of teens,” on the other hand, does not appear to be as important (7% senior pastors, 4% among youth pastors).
  • Even if most church leaders don’t prioritize reaching out to parents, many express a hope that parents will reach in. One in six senior pastors believes “getting parents involved with spiritual formation” is a top goal of youth ministry (18%). And youth pastors are even more likely to say so: One-quarter identifies this as a priority for their ministry (23%).[1]

One of the shocking revelations is that most pastors and youth do not rank evangelism to the parents as a high priority.  This may explain why youth groups have become a safe house ministry more than an outreach opportunity.

Two other interesting facts came out of the research involving engaging youth in community outreach.

  • Similar percentages of senior pastors (12%) and youth pastors (10%) feel that providing a “safe and nurturing environment” is an important goal—which, as we will see, is a much higher priority among parents.
  • Senior pastors (17%) are more likely than youth pastors (10%) to emphasize “serving the community”— but “serving the church body” is at the bottom of both groups’ lists (6% senior pastors and 4% youth pastors).

Church, you are missing the boat if you ignore involving youth in service outside their church.  Studies also show that teens are flocking to churches that are involved in the community.

 One bright spot in the research is that teenagers are flocking to the local church when they feel the urge to volunteer. The desire to be a part of a community that is making a difference in the world is our doorway.  What are the most common forms of service for teens?

  • The most requested form of service is feeding the hungry/helping the homeless (35%)
  • Second are educational opportunities (31%)
  • Then environmental/cleanup (28%)
  • Less popular are volunteering with animals (20%), service trips (18%), social advocacy/political (11%), or medical or healthcare (10%).[2]

Retaining young people today is not low hanging fruit.  It will require the church working hard to find a way to connect with them and their families by creating a community that engages their passion to serve outside the walls of the church.  What a tremendous opportunity.  Here is your assignment:  Do you have youth ministry as a priority in your church?  If so, what are you doing to connect with them and their families?  If you don’t what will you need to change to make youth a priority?   Let’s start a discussion of what is working.

[1]https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-parents-differ-youth-ministry-goals/

[2]https://www.barna.com/research/teen-attitudes-toward-service/

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Millennials

Five Key Ways to Connect With Millennials

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Dear Millennials,

This is the Church writing to you. We have been trying to reach you for decades, although admittedly with little to no success. We have tried all kinds of methods to connect with you. We have dumped our traditional service, fired our organists and replaced them with a praise band leader and more edgy music. Still, you do not come. We have put away our suits and ties and dress more casually, yet you still do not come. We have moved our worship service out of the sanctuary into the gym, added mood lighting changed worship time to later on Sunday, and still, you do not come. We have abandoned the assigned Scripture readings for Sunday and replaced them with sermon series more in touch with today’s challenges and you know what happened?  You still did not come. So this is an open letter to Millennials with a simple plea. Help us figure you out.

Signed,

The Frustrated Church

Maybe this letter could appear in your local newspaper as you feel this frustration. How do we reach what some have called the “Lost Generation?” I pray this blog today will give you some insights. It is based on some very telling research from the Barna Group.

In a study about Millennials, the Barna Group uncovered some key details:

  • The unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population.
  • Nearly six in ten (59%) of young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life.
  • Third, when asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors. Instead, the most common drivers of spiritual growth, as identified by Millennials themselves, are prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children, and their relationship with Jesus.

Now you may look at this information and come away feeling even more hopeless than before. Well, fear not, hopefully, this blog will give you five simple things, within the capabilities of your local congregation, that will not bust your budget yet still make a kingdom impact with that lost generation every congregation is seeking to connect with. So do I have your attention now? Good, here is why you should be encouraged. From the Barna research:

About one-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds are practicing Christians, meaning they attend church at least once a month and strongly affirm that their religious faith is very important in their life. A majority of Millennials claim to pray each week, one-quarter say they’ve read the Bible or attended a religious small group this week, and one in seven have volunteered at a church in the past seven days.

The Top Three Reasons the Research Says They Attend Church:

54% To be closer to God
31% To learn more about God
16% See the church as God’s hands and feet in the world
So in good Lutheran fashion what does this mean?

  1. Make room for meaningful relationships.

The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships.

My ministry twin Mike Mast would love this. He talks to congregations all the time about the fact that if you want to connect with those outside your walls you have to build relationships with them. Sounds simple, right? Yes and no, because the type of relationships Millennials seek is to develop a close personal friendship with adults in the church. If that kind of deep relationship is formed the studies show that fifty-nine percent (59%) of Millennials will stay at that kind of congregations versus thirty-one percent who are no longer active in a congregation.

So the coaching questions for you Frustrated Church is: What systems do you have in place or could develop to create and environment where deep relationships can be formed?

2. Teach Cultural Discernment

I remember working with a call committee who wanted diversity in their team so that added a millennial. As we were discussing what they wanted in their next pastor an OWL (Older Wiser Lutheran) said, “We have to make sure this next pastor is against gay marriage.” The millennial responded, “I don’t see anything wrong with gay marriage because you love who you love.” Boom goes the cultural clash of values.

Barna’s study found that Frustrate Church needs to provide a vehicle to help Millennials navigate this strange new world of post-Christian values. So it is important that one of the ministry outcomes is to help today’s Millennials to develop discernment skills, especially when it comes to understanding and interpreting today’s culture. To better serve this generation that is lamenting the complexity of life, the Frustrated Church can provide clarity to this frustrated generation. Millennials need help learning how to apply what is in their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities.

3. Make Reverse Mentoring a Priority.

The Frustrated Church often talks about the leaders of the future. In other words, when I am too old and tired to serve who will take my place? So often the thinking behind that statement is we need some “youngins” to join so we can step down. The Barna Group has learned that an effective ministry to Millennials involves understanding that young people want to be taken seriously today— and not just seen for some distant future leadership position. So how does the Church make room for them to lead now? However, this is the kicker, Millennials don’t want to necessarily lead our Church structure they want to lead a Church that is making an immediate, transformational impact in the community around them and the world. So the idea of sitting in meetings three or four times a month is not what they have in mind. A meeting to plan a community event?  Now you’ve got something.

4. Embrace the Potency of Vocational Discipleship

A fourth way churches can deepen their connection with Millennials is to teach a more potent theology of vocation or calling. This is what Kinnaman calls it “vocational discipleship,” a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to. Help them find their God-given calling in life, what is the purpose for which God created them. As the sainted Dr. Martin Luther wrote”…the works of monks and priests, however, holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.” The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

5. Facilitate connection with Jesus.

Finally, Millennials look to the church to generate a lasting faith by facilitating a deeper sense of intimacy with God. For those in the church who argue they want a watered down version of God’s truth, no. Millennials seek a deeper connection with the crucified and risen Savior. The challenge to the Frustrated Church is: “How do we take them on a deeper spiritual journey?” “How do we create a worship, Bible Study, fellowship culture that leads to a more in-depth, intense, relationship-forming connection with Jesus? A tough challenge I would say, but boy would that be an exciting opportunity not just for Millennials, but for every Christian who currently sits in the pews? So Frustrated Church all is not lost. I would say what the lost generation is seeking, we already have, Truth, Relationships, a sense of Calling and a deeper connection with the Savior. They want we all want, to be a better disciple in this age.

So Frustrated Church, all is not lost. I would say what the lost generation is seeking, what we already have: Truth, Relationships, a sense of Calling and a deeper connection with the Savior. They want what we all want, to be a better disciple in this age.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like to read this one:
https://revheadpin.org/2016/10/26/millennials-are-more-than-a-target-market/

https://revheadpin.org/2016/05/17/simple-plan-to-worship/