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Young adults will mess up your church

Young adults will mess up your church

Adam J. Copeland, blogging at A Wee Blether, believes most churches don’t really want young adults.

I have a theory about young adults and the church. Here it goes. Let me know what you think.

While many churches say “we want young people” they don’t really. If young adults actually showed up and joined their church for good, the change they’d naturally bring with them would be stark, even off-putting. In fact, making a congregation welcoming for young adults necessarily means it will become less comfortable for the current members.

It’s just a theory, but here’s why I’m suggesting it. A few stories…

First story: the ministry I lead hosts a book group that meets in a back room at a local coffee shop. We read books related to religion in a very open-minded atmosphere. Few of our book group members attend church. Some don’t believe in God. Most are highly suspicious of organized religion. Well, at a book group discussion recently conversation turned to why people don’t go to church and one of the members exclaimed, “Wait a second…this, this book group — it’s sort of like church! I mean, I’d never go to church, but this community reminds me a lot of one. Wow.” He was floored.

As many have noted about young adults today, we tend to seek belonging first; believing comes later. To welcome young adults churches need to make places where we can belong and then believe. Belonging takes time and often happens best outside the church’s walls. For churches to do this means, for many of them, major change in where, how, and for whom they program.

More stories here.

What are your stories of young adults in your church?


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A Facebook User

As a 21-year-old, I started attending church again after a three-year hiatus. One of the things I value is actually being given a little space, and not aggressively “welcomed” into a community. I’m a college student, and participate in some of our chaplaincy’s programs as well; what I’m looking for when I go to church is a place to worship. I suspect in a year, once I’ve graduated, the situation will be different once again and I’ll be looking for more community.

But please, above all, no special pizzazz or attempts to “be cool” or “get down to our level.” Treat a 20-year-old like you’d treat a 40-year-old rather than a 15-year-old—that is to say, as a fellow adult—and you’re instantly doing better than most people.

Dear A Facebook User – thanks for commenting – please sign your name next time.

I do not entirely agree that adding new young adults to any congragation will totally change things. The church does need to become more open, these young adults seem to want an advanced form of Spiritiality, they want to see it! To experience it! To incorporate it! Most people I see at church now days exprience God in their hearts as more personal, individualistic, private. So yes, to merge these 2 is a big change! But a beautiful one. Taken in steps, involving the community, extending this outwards,and helping others will bring the church back to what it once was, more prophetic, even mystical.

[Editor’s note: Thanks for the comment. Please sign your name next time.]

Diane Carter (added by ed.)


My experience is that we are better at welcoming newcomers than in serving them. Specifically, many parishes are happy to see new faces and will quickly try to pull people in to serve on committees, etc. But there’s often a different level of access to clergy and other resources for those who have not been around for a long time. Indeed, some parishes will even quip about “making the A list.” In short, as an organization, we tend to pull in resources as quickly as we lay hands on them, but we can be really bad about giving back. This conclusion has been supported by a number of studies, which state that perceived failures of pastoral care are one of the single biggest reasons people leave organized religion. That seems, too, to be one of the unfortunate outcomes of today’s environment–clergy often spend little time getting to know their parishioners, but instead become the official “happy face” of the parish. Smile, shake hands, and on to the next….

Eric Bonetti

Tom Sramek Jr

My favorite paragraph in the story is this one:

Welcoming young adults that fit the perfect church visitor mold is easy. You know the type church members long for: some magical newcomer who was raised in a perfect household, is married (not divorced), has a few kids, enjoys his well-paying job, and, of course, has orthodox unquestioning beliefs. Fewer and fewer young adults fit this image (if anyone ever did). To welcome young adults these days churches need to welcome the atheist, the single mom, the tattooed, the unemployed, and yes (of course!) even the same-sex couple.

While I think that, theologically, our church does a fairly good job of welcoming everyone, it only takes one or two disapproving looks or whispered conversations to propel folks who don’t fit the mold out the door.

Do we welcome the single, tattooed young adult in jeans as warmly and enthusiastically as we welcome the well-dressed young couple with perfectly groomed children? If so, great! If not, why not? And, as I noted before, all it takes is one or two people looking disapprovingly at a newcomer to have them never come back.

I think the question should be uppermost in our minds each and ever day–How do we welcome and embrace ALL newcomers and welcome and embrace both the subtle and obvious changes that they will bring?

Nicole Porter

Cynthia, I think some author’s true hidden purpose behind articles such as this is to spark a response. On the article itself is 40+ comments. I admit that I sometimes bite on these kinds of things. People need to learn, if they don’t already know, that no group is monolithic, so I absolutely agree with you.

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