Church attendance by young people across the nation has plummeted in recent years. Though some churches are simply ignoring the reality of the situation, others are addressing the phenomenon and seeing positive results. Recently on my blog I asked my readers to respond to the question, “Why did you attend church as a teen?” Fifty eight percent of the responders indicated that they went to church as a teen because they had great friends at church. Thirty three percent said they went only because their parents made them attend. Sadly, a mere eight percent said they attended church because of the inspiring sermons. It was not a surprise to me that not a single person indicated they attended church because of the music, even though music is the language that teens communicate with most.
What can we learn about reaching the next generation from surveys such as this? First, we learn the importance of the “group.” Today’s young people think in more postmodern terms than their parents and grandparents. A hallmark of postmodern people is they like to “belong” before they believe. That means they want to feel like they are part of the group before they decide if they accept the beliefs of the group. If churches want to reach today’s young people, they are going to have to learn how to build a community of faith that accepts those who have not yet committed to the tenets of that’s faith’s belief system. This does not mean a church has to abandon their beliefs, it just means that you have to be willing to accept people for who they are and trust the Holy Spirit to help them believe. After all, the Bible does tell us that no one comes unless the Spirit leads, so maybe we should let Him lead instead of trying to manipulate young people into believing before they are welcome in the “group.”
The next thing we can learn is that parents do still have a significant impact on the life of their teens. According to my survey, one third of teens only went because their parents made them. But something happened to them during that time that changed their motivation. They are still in church years later, and that in large part is because their parents made them go. Parents, don’t give up trying to get your teens to attend church, because it does work.
Finally, those of us who plan and lead worship services need to think about how we might make our sermons and our music more appealing to young people. That does not mean that every service has to cater to their desires, but it does mean we have to be conscious that they have different needs. If we want to impact the next generation, we must make an effort to meet their spiritual needs. If we fail to meet their needs, they will find somewhere that does.
Let us be life-long learners. Let us learn from surveys such as this and use what we learn to be more effective in reaching the next generation.