A View from the Pew: Five Ways to Attract Young Adults

For the past 10 or so years, my wife and I have taught a young adult class at our church. During that time, we’ve seen the group ebb and flow as a transient demographic moves through a transient urban area.

Though the numbers have fluctuated, several principals have emerged on the best ways churches can appeal to the young adult population. Here are five ideas based on our experience:

  1. Don’t ask “What can we do to attract more young adults?” Nobody likes being pandered to, including young adults. Especially young adults. If you have to do everything in your church differently just for them, they will quickly sniff it out and reject what you are doing. Be who you are genuinely and authentically, and they will be drawn to it. They are in a phase of life where they are trying to parse out meaning and truth. If you provide a context for that discovery, they will consistently return to learn and grow from that truth.
  2. Foster conversation and connection. Much has been written about how our society has become more fractured and disconnected because of societal trends like social media. What was claimed to be a tool to bring people together so often makes young adults feel even more isolated and alone. They see images in their feeds of people having fun and being with others, exacerbating their sense of loneliness. Whether it’s through Bible study, small group times, lunches, outings, or, preferably, a mix of all of the above, the church can be a place for young adults to connect with each other.
  3. Be consistent. Their lives are often filled with inconsistencies. Their careers pull them in competing directions. Their finances require them to make difficult prioritization decisions. They find themselves only intermittently engaging with their families or past friendships. You can provide a place of stability. Prepare for them each week. Great them warmly and lovingly no matter how seemingly infrequent they attend. Make sure they know that no matter when they show up, you will be there to greet them with a hug and a warm smile. If they know they can count on you, they will be back.
  4. Make it meaningful. No one wants to waste their time, and young adults are no exception. If they feel there is no point to getting together in worship or Bible study, they will not make time for it. But if they are challenged and connected and have something they can take away from each experience that causes them to reflect not only in the moment but throughout the week, they will make time for it in their busy lives. Your church has to do more than merely go through the motions. You can start by assessing your own experience of your church. Be sure it’s meaningful for you before you export it to young adults.
  5. Be flexible. My greatest struggle probably in life but definitely in leading young adults is too quickly falling into a routine and failing to understand when to change. Yes, they desire consistency, but that doesn’t mean they can engage with you in the same way all the time. We led a monthly small group for young adults from our home once a month for years, continuing the practice well beyond its useful life because I wasn’t flexible. I couldn’t admit it was time to take a different approach. However you minister to young adults, remember, they are not always going to take advantage of what you think they would like. So go with the flow. If they are traveling and not there as often, try doing something spontaneous when they do show up rather than guessing when they might surface. Scheduling is one of the greatest challenges in ministry with young adults, so keeping flexibility in mind will help you keep your focus on them and not your own ambitions in the ministry outreach.

I hope you find this helpful. I am keenly interested in what you and your church has found effective in making connections with young adults. Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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