Most churches are struggling to reach young adults because life as a young adult in America today really is different than it was twenty years ago. Some of the church's struggle comes from a lack of understanding of the postmodern worldview which most young adults in America have now adopted.
Researcher George Barna describes the postmodern viewpoint as one in which each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. He goes on to explain that in this world view no one has the right to say any of those decisions are wrong. Instead, if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Because postmodern young adults see life as a series of subjective experiences, the things that matter most to them are having experiences and building relationships with others. Many postmodern young adults consider themselves to be quite spiritual and may even believe in the existence of a personal God, but they do not feel they have the right to compel anyone else to believe in God.
Because so many young adults now share this worldview, when church leaders attempt to share Christian concepts with these young adults, it may require different methods than in the past. One effective method is to use stories from our own lives, especially about our failures and weaknesses. Postmodern young adults grew up in a culture of brokenness. There is a good chance their parents are divorced. A large number of them have at least one parent who is suffering from some type of addiction. One out of three of the young ladies and one out of seven of the young men have been sexually abused. Life has been very hard on them even though they are still young. They are not interested in hearing how "perfect" we are or how "perfect" we think our faith makes us. They are not interested in hearing about a fairy tale world where people just say a prayer and all their problems go away. They know that world does not exist. Instead they need to hear about our own spiritual journey with all its bumps, setbacks, troubles and hardships. They need to hear about the times we doubted and were afraid. They also need to hear that somehow we received enough strength from our faith to keep going despite our troubles. They need to know that there is hope to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.
When we discuss spiritual issues with young adults, we should be prepared for them to bring up complex issues. Their questions will not be simple or easy. If a young adult has made the effort to show up at church or seek counsel from a pastor or youth minister, they are not interested in a light devotional or a pre-packaged answer. They want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life's perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists and why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad stuff happen to good people if God really is so powerful.
The day of eating pizza and having a 15 minute "feel good" devotional for youth group is over. Today, churches that want to minister to young adults had better plan for lengthy discussions that will not have simple conclusions or easy answers. That doesn't mean they still don't like to eat pizza, it just means that free pizza will no longer satisfy the deep longing young adults have for answers to the complex world they have been thrust into. Churches willing to invest the necessary time, energy and love into the lives of young adults and journey with them through the difficult questions and experiences, will find those young adults quite interested in what the churches have to say.