4 Things I'm Learning from the Young People in My Church

Posted by Aaron Buer on March 21, 2019

Over the last few months, I’ve been meeting with small groups of young people in our church for coffee and dinner.

If you’re wondering what I mean by young, I’m talking about 18-29 year olds.

My goal has been to understand what it’s like to be young at our church and also to uncover what young people care about.

I’m doing this for two reasons.

First, I recently discovered that I’m not young anymore.

It’s cool. I’m not mad about it. Well, maybe a little.

Second, I’m doing this because our church is growing older.

We still have lots of young people in our church but every year, the average age of our congregation ages by one year.

We are deeply interested in becoming a church that is growing younger.

For more about this, read this book:

Anyway, I thought I would share some of the reoccurring themes for the meetings I’ve been having because I’m guessing that there are generational similarities between the young people in my church and the young people where you live.

And, I bet you are just as concerned about young people leaving the church.

So, here we go.

1. We Care About the Preaching

The most prevalent theme was a bit surprising.

More than anything else, our young people made comments about preaching.

And what do they care about?

Not that it is flashy or cool.

Not that the preacher is young and hip and wears skinny jeans, but rather that the preaching is biblical, relatable and real.

These young people want to be taught the Scriptures and they didn’t care very much about logos, graphics or trendy videos.

This is good news because sometimes it feels like you need a million-dollar AV budget and all sorts of bells and whistles to attract young people but I don’t think that is true at all.

What is true is that you need solid Bible teaching that is real to life and delivered by communicators who are comfortable with being real, authentic and vulnerable.

2. We Want to Be Connected

The 2nd most common comments had to do with connection.

Young people want real relationships.

They want to actually know the people they attend church with.

And, you might find this surprising, but they want relationships with older people too.

I heard a lot of negative comments like,

People don’t talk to me in the atrium.

I can walk into church, sit, sing, listen, and walk out of church without talking to anyone.

And I heard a lot of positive comments about a life-changing community happening, mostly through regular serving opportunities in our church like serving as a small group leader in our kids or student ministry.

My takeaway has been that we have to find ways to help people make easy and lasting connections at church.

3. We Care Where the Money Goes

Another theme had to do with money.

Young people care where their money goes!

I heard repeatedly:

I care where my money goes and if I knew where it was going, I would be likely to give more.

Millennials and Gen-Z (or iGen depending on what sociologist you are reading) have always known the internet, YELP, Amazon, and social media, where their feedback is important and constantly solicited.

They are used to having a voice and they are able to access information of all sorts at any time.

Then, in the church they often find a wall around information, particularly financial information.

Also, young people typically care very deeply about social justice and helping people. Something I heard over and over:

I want to see more of our giving go to help people in our community.

The good news is that they could recite a list of projects and organizations we are working with in our community.

The bad news is that young people often respond with suspicion to what appears to be expensive technology in our auditoriums.

How much did we spend on that? I’d much rather give that money away.

I found these comments to be very eye-opening and I haven’t completely resolved what I think in response or what to do about it.

Maybe you can relate.

4. We Want to Talk About Hard Things

Here’s one last theme that I noticed in my conversations with young people.

They want to talk about hard things.

They want our pastors to share biblical teaching about hot button issues in our culture like politics, racism, poverty, LGBT+, etc.

So, why do they want to discuss these topics, issues and tensions openly from the stage?

Because they like drama and fights?

No, because they want to be able to engage their friends and peers in responsible conversation.

This is a generation (or generations) that instinctively knows how to thoughtfully and gently engage a diversity of difficult cultural conversations in ways that older generations are simply not capable of.

I find it absolutely amazing.

I really believe that we can trust our young people to responsibly engage these topics without bailing on the truth.

I really do.

But, I’m discovering that we must teach them what God has revealed in the Scriptures and how our churches interpret what the Bible says.

I’m definitely NOT saying that you should do a sermon series, or even a single sermon, on some of these topics because many of them require dialogue not monologue.

But, I am saying that we need to teach and engage our young people so they are equipped because they can enter these conversations in ways that you and I simply can’t because we haven’t grown up in the same culture as them.

Wrap Up

Well, there you go. I hope this has been helpful.

If nothing else, I challenge you to listen to your young people.

Have them over for dinner. Take them out for coffee. Ask them what matters to them and what keeps them up at night.

Ask them what would make your church better for young people. It will be well worth your time.

Topics: Advice

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