Let me say this clearly. It… is… not… about… the… worship style.
Part of my job is talking with people in churches about how to do effective ministry to young adults. In almost every conversation the assumption from the person I am talking with is that the main issue of why young adults are disengaging from church is because of the worship style.
If only it was that simple.
I would be delighted if all that we had to do as a church to keep our young people engaged in their faith and in our communities was to change a few of the songs and jazz up the liturgy a little. This would be easy. This would be simple compared to the true challenge that faces our faith communities in their struggle to stay relevant to young people.
The reality is much more complex.
Tom Rainer in his most recent podcast highlighted six keys for reaching millennials (young adults) that helps paint a more holistic picture of what is involved in effective ministry to young people.
Some highlights from the podcast include:
- Anyone who is intentional about reaching others for Christ will reach more than those who are not. Intentionality is a must.
- Churches need to understand that Millennials have different views than previous generations on social issues.
- When Millennials look at a potential church, ministries and opportunities for their kids are major deciding factors.
- If you want to reach a generation who cares about their children, the church must care about their children as well.
- Millennials want to have intentional mentors to come along beside them.
- Churches must offer Millennials opportunities to serve and to lead. Don’t make them “wait their turn.”
- If your church is relying on the worship style or architecture to reach Millennials, you’re relying on the wrong thing.
The six keys for churches to reach Millennials are:
Be intentional in engaging & understanding them
Offer ministries for their family and children
Offer to mentor them
Offer opportunities for them to serve and to lead
Have a presence in the community
This shows us that what really needs to happen is not simply a change in style, but a change in attitude towards young people. Our churches can not afford to be an ‘old boys club’ where those with the most years experience get to make the decisions. Rather, they need to be a place where young people and what they bring (including their youthful optimism and naivety) is seen as a valuable gift of God to the life of the church. Where we celebrate the fact that children are present and noisy. Where we accept that they will often get things wrong and mess things up because we are simply delighted that they are involved in the life and practices of the church.
We need to be a place where we value the opinion and worldview and faith of a 6 year old, a 16 year old and a 26 year old as much as we do a 56 year old. Where we respect, value, seek to understand and celebrate the unique viewpoints and way of relating to God that each one brings.
Young adults are not looking for contemporary songs as much as they are looking for a place to serve where they can effect real change in your community, where their view actually counts for something.
I have often said, if you are not letting your young people do things in your church that upset you, you’re not letting them do enough. What I mean is that we need to give them permission to do things their way. To express their faith. And sometimes that will be something that makes us awkward or will be something we don’t agree with or think isn’t right…and this is OK.
This is how you will keep young adults in your community.
It’s not about worship styles… but then it also kind of is.
You see, if we have involved children and young people and young adults so much in our community, if we have given them responsibility and permission to effect real change, if we seek to serve and understand their faith as much as they seek to serve and understand ours, if we seek to communicate the gospel in an authentic way to their life stage and world view…
Then our worship will look different.
Not because we think this is what young adults want, but because we have integrated the place and influence of young people into our communities.
So next time you talk about how to keep young adults and young people engaged in your church community, please do not start by talking about worship style. It is not about worship style. Please start somewhere deeper.