Twenty Nothing

This weekend I had a conversation with an older adult about the attendance of twentysomethings like myself at our church. I expressed a sentiment that not many twentysomethings attend church, based more on experience and intuition than anything. Here’s the facts to back that up, and it’s rather sobering:

80% of twentysomethings said religious faith is very important in their life.
75% of twentysomethings said they prayed to God in the past week.
57% of twentysomethings claim to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to them.
31% of twentysomethings attend church in a typical week, compared with 42 percent of thirtysomethings and 49 percent of those 40 and older.
8,000,000 twentysomethings who actively attended church as teenagers will no longer be active in a church by age 30.

(Source: Barna Research Group)

12 thoughts on “Twenty Nothing”

  1. I’m not too surprised by that. Most churches have good programs for their youth and their married couples, but not much for us single 20 somethings (or even if you’re dating, but not married). It’s a kind of blackhole in church outreach that needs to be fixed.

  2. So…what happened in your conversation w/ the older adult?

    I have been to churches where there were so many gray hairs that they all would whisper when I walked by. Something like, “Look! A young person! Let’s lock her in the basement with the rest of them!”

    At least, that’s what I thought I overheard….

  3. Yeah, I understand that completely. I am one of those twenty-somethings of which is writ. I went to church all during my teenage years and some of my twenties but quit when the new church I started going to when I moved had no support for my age group. The older adults did not accept me in their group even when I put myself out there, trying to gain some firmer relationships and guidance. The teenagers welcomed me with open arms; however, I was not being guided as I needed to be. I stopped going when I heard the minister give a sermon on how a church should be welcoming and open to new members from the moment they walk in…and the welcome should never end. I was disappointed because I never received one, let alone one that kept me warm when I would walk in the door each time. I was asked by my friend, the youth minister there why I quit going and I explained that none of the adults could tell her my name after months of having gone there, of having tried to talk with them during Sunday School adult group, of having seen them in public and not even receiving a smile or small wave. I explained the sermon opened my eyes. My friend told her minister of what I had said. His response? To write in the next newsletter (yes, I still receive it) that their church was a welcoming church and to make sure that if anyone said otherwise the congregation would know that it was because that person just was copping out of attending church, that the church people had nothing to worry about and had nothing to change. I was flabbergasted by this and quite upset. I held my tongue and let it go by, but the minister has since written a couple more times in the same vein. I was still disappointed because I know that I am not the only one who feels this way about the “welcoming” attitude of that church. My friend told the minister that she would say that I hadn’t even tried, hadn’t pushed myself out there to get to know people, *but* she then told him that she couldn’t because I *had* tried to be accepted by the older adults. I had tried to join in their activities and groups…they just looked at me as though they were wondering why I was daring to open my mouth in their presence. I’m sad to say that I’m still “church-hunting.” I hate this disjointed feeling because my relationship with Christ is very important to me…but I am supportless when it comes to other Christians in my area right now. All my guidance is coming long-distance, which is hard to do, especially when dealing with issues of accountability.

    But, ach, I have written too much and taken up too much space. I can say, though, that I understand this poll. The problem for most is probably the same as it is for me: lack of support for the age group and lack of acceptance for the ideals we have in conjunction with our faith in Christ. A smaller problem for others, like me, may also be lack of accceptance of our appearance and the misunderstood perception that more than one or two ear piercings and the “casual” clothing that we wear is not kosher with God. This age group is just as hard as being a teenager because we are still moving and changing and starting new ventures every couple years…we need the guidance and support of older Christians…we need a mentor to help us find our way and to let us know that we have someone with experience to talk to. We *do* need them, but they are hard to find when gazing around the pews at the hostile eyes of those wondering why you have walked into their church in too-baggy khakis and so many earrings in your head. It’s okay for teens to do these things, but we are old enough to know better…but not old enough to be graced with being a contemporary of those we need the support of most.

  4. Ooh, looks like I hit a nerve.

    This is a pretty complex issue. If you’re not familiar with it, I’d encourage you all to check out Relevant magazine. They’re a new media company focusing on ministering to the needs of people in their 20s. Their article, “Church: Take it or Leave it?” collects the views of twentysomethings on church. Very interesting.

    And the “older adult” isn’t that much older. It’s all relative. I just meant that they weren’t my age. I passed these numbers along and now we’re having a conversation about how our church is reaching out to twentysomethings. Pretty cool.

    I’m finding myself torn in this whole debate, because I don’t care for the compartmentalization of the church. I don’t think every social category should have their own group (the youth group, the college group, the singles group, the retired group, the parents group, etc.). Sometimes it may be necessary to hang out with your social group, but I think there’s a lot to be gained by hanging out with the broader, inter-generational church body. Compartmentalizing is a very consumer-driven way to run the church.

    I think this issue is also complex because it ties in with post-modernism and the Emergent church. Ten years ago the big debate was between the traditional and contemporary service. Now things are infinitely more complex.

  5. I agree that grouping people off in such a way as to isolate them within their own “age range” would be a pretty stiff way to run a church…we might as well just create churches for just a certain age range. The twenty-somethings go here, the thirty-somethings here, etc.

    I propose something very different indeed…how about a inter-age group group? For example how about someone in a more mature relationship in Christ reaching out to those seeking further guidance? I’m a huge proponent of passing on the gift we are given by helping those we see struggling with their walk, even by helping those who don’t seem to be struggling to strengthen their faith. Hands held out in love to help others remain steady are often a key to a growing church…

  6. Yes, I have discovered that being a twenty-something (and single) in church is not always the most opportunistic place to be, nor the place I find the most support. Yet I am convinced that many (no, not all) people my age use the lack of young adult groups, support systems, leadership opportunites, etc. as a cop-out to jump from church to church or just not attend at all. When I became a Christian the church I went to (and still attend today)was not at all open to youth and young adults being in places of leadership. Yet with persistence and prayer that is changing. A young married couple now leads a young adults group. I, as a 23 year old female, have been given opportunties to preach on sunday morning for the main service. I am currently working with the youth group developing youth led mentor groups. And the list goes on. Sometimes when you don’t like what you see in a church it’s up to you to stick it out at the church and change it. Were there times when I felt like leaving my church due to frustration? Yes. But that is just it, it was frustration and you don’t leave a church out of frustration. And truthfully, I can say that if it were not for my willingness to tap into the senior saints, 40 somethings, and youth in my spiritual development, I would be right where two thirds of all other twenty somethings are…seeking another church or giving up all together. Sometimes we have to get out of ourselves…uncomfortable is not always bad.

  7. Despite a strong distaste for the term “postmodern” I have to agree with Kevin.

    I’ve had experiences where older Christians will offer their wisdom–evidence for textual accuracy of the Bible, arguments for creationism, or similar resolutions to Christian-Modernist debates. It’s caused me to realize that the questions that troubled folks of my parents generation are somewhat inconsequential to me.

    And I’d rather they didn’t try to answer the questions that I AM asking either. For me (existing in this “postmodern” condition) it’s more a matter of process than of arriving at orthodox answers. I’ve only ever found one church which embraces this process of “living our questions” and I happen to live 1300 miles away from it.

    Finally, I heartily agree that uncomfortable isn’t always bad–it’s inherent in my question-based process theory-thingy–, but you still have to decide what varieties of uncomfortability you’re comfortable with….I’m ok with the uncomfortability of not knowing what Jesus means when he says “you must be born again.” I’m not ok with the uncomfortability of being told by a pastor in the weeks after 9/11 that I ought to invest my money in the stock market, go shopping, and generally work to improve the American economy to prove to the Arab world that America will not be defeated.

  8. I’m tired of groups that are geared toward ages. They seem more like social venues than Bible studies. I think kids need something geared towards their age group…but once you become an adult, I don’t think the concern should be about meeting people my own age. I want to study the freaking Bible. Sometimes I get so tired of churches separating adults off by age groups…I just see division there. I wish that churches would offer a variety of topics ranging from basic Christianity to precept studies. Then, people are together based on their interest in a particular study, not because of their age group. Conversations can strike up and people can grow. Then, for the next quarter (or however churches divide up teaching sessions) you might switch to a different group with different people.

    The only way to break down these age barriers is to actually get to know other people in the church, including different age groups. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really get to know any of the older people in my church during the two minute greeting time during the service. I need to study the word of God with these people.

  9. Before our pastor and his family moved, his wife had some big ideas on how to make our church feel more like a family. She talked about how she wanted to form groups of people, sometimes the groups would be based on age, so you can support one another becuase chances are people in your age group are going through a similar experience, but she also wanted to mix people up so that the young could learn from the elders and people could just generally get to know each other. She left before she could really put her ideas into action but to me, what she was thinking made sense. I don’t really like the idea of seperating everyone into specific categories but I do think there are times when it is beneficial and there are also times when you need to be with people based on interest, not age.
    Somewhere there has to be a solution or at least a happy medium to all of this. Maybe all of us 20-somethings that are feeling left out/lost in the church need to speak up and do something about it. At my church there are tons of different commities – the search commity (we’re looking for a new pastor), the building commity, the youth commity, etc. and on all of these commities there are voices for the older members of the church and there are voices for the teens (yes, there are actually several teenagers on these commities) but there is little to no representation of the 20 somethings….

  10. Excellent thoughts Abby, I was thinking along the same lines. My parent’s and I actually talked about this at my church, as they had to figure out what groups they were involved in. First and foremost, they needed to be in a group of people that were in a similar situation as them (older parents, etc), as that was a good starting point.

    After that, they tried to join groups and get involved in other areas as well. I think every church needs this kind of mindset to really work.

  11. I have been fortunate in having found a church in Connecticut that is in a college town, and therefore attracts a lot of students, while also bringing in a fascinating mix of older adults. Most of the adults in this church are people that I would love to spend more time with and learn from. Some are Yale professors, others live and work in New Haven, some have young families, some are graying empty-nesters. But all of them have fascinating stories, and even though I haven’t spent nearly enough time connecting with them, I am encouraged just by seeing them there every week.

    In going to a Christian college, I had serious doubts about whether I needed to go to church on Sunday. Ultimately, my going came down to three things: 1. liturgy; 2. communion – two things that was missing from my college spiritual life; 3. worshipping with people not my own age. I came to realize that I didn’t like the church much when it was predominately white, suburban, college-age, Midwestern, second-generation Christians. By only seeing them, I saw their weaknesses as the weaknesses of the whole church. I needed to broaden my vision.

    Don’t know if all that’s relevant, but there you have it.

  12. It’s great to hear from so many 20-somethings about this, though I find it kind of interesting that we’re not hearing from anyone older. That’s probably just a limitation of the audience, but I think it might be indicative of a larger trend: The fact that as much as we crave inter-generational interaction, it’s not happening.

    Even simple dialogue is missing, and that goes for both sides. In my conversation with the older adult from my church, I was surprised that he really wasn’t aware of a lot of the cultural happenings I take for granted. But why should he be as familiar as me? Sometimes I arrogantly assume others are as interested in the same things I am.

    I’d like to blame part of the problem on the cynicism of my generation. If we’ve been burned a couple times, we tend to shut down and turn off. I’ve had that experience several times while trying to develop relationships with older adults. Sometimes it’s a matter of time and schedules (I’ve tried to befriend adults who are just too busy — understandably, they have to carefully guard their time commitments), and sometimes I don’t know what it is. But those instances can really sour you.

    I’m not building up to any sort of answer, just adding some ideas and observations to the pile.

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