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7 characteristics of congregations attracting young adults

7 characteristics of congregations attracting young adults

ARDA blog reports on a study that features seven characteristics of congregations successfully attracting young adults:

A new report analyzing the 2010 Faith Communities Today study of more than 11,000 congregations provides insights into what makes congregations with significant numbers of young adults distinctive. The profile by researchers Monte Sahlin of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research explores the characteristics of the mere 16 percent of those congregations where 21 percent or more of participants are ages 18 to 34.

The KISS principle: Keep it spiritual, stupid:

Eat, pray, read the Bible

Keeping up with new technology

Electric guitars rock

Gender balance

Promoting young adult ministry

Read what each one means here.

More of the study at Faith Communities Today.


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Weiwen Ng

More thoughts: See Chart 1, which is the percent of churches with people ages 18 to 31 making up 21+% of the congregation. There may be problems related to sampling (e.g. not sure how randomly their sample was selected, not sure if there are enough churches in each denomination to analyze), but if you look at the Episcopal Church, we are way behind. And by way behind I mean we are dead last, with 2.4% of Episcopal churches in the sample having a significant number of youth, which is an abysmally poor performance.

The folks who are gravitating to high church liturgies? Great but not enough to save us by themselves. It always seems like someone brings up the fact that their church or some church they know has a lot of youth and is very high church. It’s a trope, by now. But it probably doesn’t represent the entirety of the Episcopal church’s experience with youth, and it doesn’t represent a large fraction of young adult experiences with Christianity. This is not to say we shouldn’t do high church and do it well, but recognize that it is one style of worship among many.

John Shirley

As a “young adult,” I caution taking wholesale another tradition’s answer to the lack of youth and young adults. Instead of trying to imitate another Christian tradition’s road to “success,” why can’t we utilize our own spiritual/theological/liturgical identity to meet this need/concern? I understand that this is the intention of this article, but, for whatever reason, it seems that we are attacking ourselves at our heart, the Liturgy. I agree with Cynthia – studies and experience have proven that a strong, solid, historical liturgy paired with community/social justice involvement, are the keys to attracting the millenial generation. It’s what attracted me, my partner, and many of those close to me. Just something to think about.

-John Shirley

Cynthia Katsarelis

And yet a recent study noted that some young people are gravitating to high church, such as high Episcopal and Lutheran Churches. The ancient liturgies speak to them, they connect to something larger than themselves, and no one is pandering to them.

I don’t know about your parishes, but we have a lot of work to do at ours and if young people want to come in and help with the heavy lifting (which means envisioning mission as well as rolling up sleeves) they are quite welcome! Seriously, come on down to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver. We volunteer with homeless women, homeless families, homeless everybody, we’re looking at new ways to engage in our neighborhood. Just come on down and be part of it. Oh, and we’re Anglo Catholic so we won’t be pandering, but we are doing a 3rd experimental service, I don’t know where that’s going yet. It’s still open.

Weiwen Ng

The young adult ministry comment gets at one of the things I am dissatisfied with the Episcopal Church on. There don’t seem to be a lot of places for young adults to come in, take charge of something, make mistakes, make innovations, have fun. In particular, I have toyed with the idea of an experimental worship group, but there have been a litany of reasons why this isn’t possible (choir director has no time, costs to license non-traditional music, lack of interest, etc). I suspect that younger adults do not appreciate being told that they have to get in line behind the seniors. We need space to experiment. If we do not get that, we leave church.

As to the line about electric guitars and overhead projectors … I urge readers to ignore the instruments and focus on the zeitgeist. I think there is something to be said for experimenting with worshipping differently than we do in mainline churches. I suspect that something about the way we’ve traditionally done things is too old and too staid for younger adults. It’s not just about doing the same songs to electric guitar. It’s about broadening the variety of songs, about allowing more expressiveness in to our singing.

As to the study, many of the congregations studied are large megachurch or similar congregations. Those tend to have younger members. We are the mainline, so our cultural instruments of worship are different from those of Evangelicals. The key is to read the study and think how do we apply this in our context? My answer: hold to the traditions and make them more flexible.

Paul Woodrum

Golly! I thought it was “read the bible, pray, eat.” I guess I’m still mired in Dom Gregory Dix.

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