Jason Evans, young adult missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, is writing a series of articles for the diocesan blog called Ministry Among Millennials, which he hopes will take the edge off of some of the unhelpful anxiety loose in the church over its difficulties in connecting with people in their twenties and thirties.
In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman writes that there is a “43 percent drop-off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement.” The Pew Research Center reported that more than 25 percent of millennials were unaffiliated with a faith community. This is enough to concern any rector or vestry member. But it isn’t a complete picture of what is happening amongst emerging adults. The National Study of Youth & Religion tracked the religious transitions of young people over a five-year period. Sociologist Christian Smith wrote in his book Souls in Transition that the study found mainline Protestants were “… relatively good at attracting new emerging adults who grew up in other religious traditions–good enough, in fact, to hold their own over these five years in terms of overall ‘market share.’”
Referring to anyone as a “market share” makes my skin crawl a bit. But you get his point–enough emerging adults are finding their way into the Episcopal Church to abate what would otherwise be a steeper decline. So, what are we doing right? In order to answer, I thought we should ask some of those I’ve met in our Diocese.
Emerging adults often find in the Episcopal Church a respite from a stage of life that is transient, instable, and distracted. I might summarize their appreciation in one attribute: Integrated. There is something genuinely holistic in Episcopal worship that young people often find attractive. Yet, too often that integration stops with our worship. What young people desire is to continually discover how Sunday morning affects their everyday life. Whether or not they are conscious of it, they are searching for an over-arching narrative to sew together the dislocated aspects of postmodern life.
Like most things in life, it is often the aesthetics, the veneer that initially attract us. What commits us to something is determined by how integrated that affection becomes. I’m a devoted customer of Apple because the company’s products have become a part of how I live. In a similar way, young people need our guidance in discovering how the ancient ways of worship shape–even transform–our lives.