Earlier this week I got the chance to catch up with a colleague and friend of mine. Steve Argue recently published a book about emerging adults and their church experiences in ministry (check out some of his work here) and as we talked, I was struck by the changes occurring in the way we talk about young adults and the church. Here’s what I appreciated about the changes in those conversations.
First comes a recognition of the way Millennials and Gen Z think. To say they’re uninterested in the “traditional” church might be incorrect— I’ve seen more and more that these age groups are driven by relationships, rather than by a specific worship style or doctrinal belief. The music may be traditional or the worship band might have a keyboard and bass guitar, but wherever their relationships are, is where they’ll go. Deeply investing in relationships with Millennials and Gen Z will help bridge the gap between them and other generations, and help them realize they’re loved and valued members of God’s church.
Second is the opportunity for legacy members. Those who’ve attended churches for years often feel they can’t be a part of the solution, or they don’t know what to do to attract and engage with young adults. Rather than shy away from this, it’s the job of church leadership to empower older members of the congregation away from the idea of assimilation and into a posture of mutual adoption. Instead of assuming that all young adults must conform to their church’s traditions and practices, invite them into conversation about how and where to make changes.
This leads to my last observation. Bringing legacy members and young adults together into conversation helps lead the direction of the church in a way that meets the needs of both groups (and encourages the deep relationships mentioned above). When young adults are included in decisions and relationships with congregation members they can forge a new path forward, one where every member of the church is empowered to share their stories in a way that reciprocally drives them towards trusting Jesus.
Conversations like the one I had with Steve provide a hopeful frame work for moving forward. Changes in the way we approach emerging adults in the church are crucial to making a new way forward, one that sees young adults authentically included in the body of Christ.