Obviously, this title is a BIT of hyperbole.
But you may be surprised just how many of your questions about Young Adults and the church are answered in a new study just released by the UCC ( United Church of Christ).
In this report, Engaging Young Adults, compiled by Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi and the Center for Analytics, Research and Data of the United Church of Christ, we get a plethora of important, incredibly practical information about Young Adults and their engagement with the church that we did not previously have access to. Much of what the report has to say may be obvious to some of us, but the important thing to recognize is that it may not be obvious to all of us in the church – and this report could be a launching pad for renewed vitality, engagement, and vision for you and your congregation.
You never know.
Stranger things have happened
This study, whether intentionally or not, is rooted in the incredible work about engaging change done by Chip and Dan Heath in their incredible book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Essentially, the study is done by observing the “bright spots” and asking the question of how do we duplicate success. Rather than focusing on all of the things that are NOT working, it analyzes congregations in the UCC where Young Adult Ministry is working, and asks the fundamental question, “So what is working there that we aren’t doing here?”
The study begins by recognizing many of the essential truths and trends that have been discussed here, setting the landscape by saying:
“Young adults pose a vexing and urgent challenge for congregations. On the one hand, they are particularly crucial for growth. On the other hand, and as many recent studies have shown, today’s young adults are less religiously affiliated, and less inclined toward religious belief and practice than ever before. As a result, their presence within faith communities has been on the decline for some time. In the United States today, young adults comprise about 23% of the total population; yet only one in ten American congregations reflects this level of representation.”
But it quickly moves beyond the paralysis that these tectonic cultural shifts and BIG questions can often cause, to a nuts-and-bolts-practical analysis of what is working, acknowledging:
“An exploration of these factors was beyond the scope of the Survey or this report. Nevertheless, there are key practices and characteristics of congregations that can make a difference in recruiting and retaining young adult participants. These are the focus of this report.”
So let’s get into it.
It is the practical, nuts-and-bolts data that the study has collected that is the real treasure here. Here are the key findings:
- Young adults are more likely to participate in larger, more urban congregations in growing population areas.
- Greater utilization of electronic technology, the Internet, and social media occurs in thriving young adult congregations.
- In general, many of the same characteristics of thriving congregations also exist in thriving young adult congregations, including participants’ involvement in recruiting new people and engaging in congregational programs, committees, and service projects outside of worship.
- Both prioritizing young adult ministry and creating a specific strategy for engaging young adults are necessary for a thriving young adult congregation.
- Nearly half of all young adults in American congregations are married with children. However, most young adults are not married.
- The majority of young adult participants come from families who are already present within the congregation.
- Attending worship is the most frequent way that young adults participate in faith communities, but thriving young adult congregations tend to be those in which all of the members are involved more in activities beyond worship.
- Young adult programming in congregations focuses largely on fellowship or other small groups, web/social media engagement, and community service.
- Specific dedication of people and time around young adult engagement is the key to enhancing this ministry within congregations.
- Congregations in which one or more leader(s) of young adult ministries are young adults themselves are more likely to have increased or maintained their young adult presence over the past three years.
- Congregations believe that their own lack of desire/passion to reach out to young adults, as well as a lack of interest on the part of young adults themselves, most impedes their ministry with this population.
All this barely scratches the surface of the report, and there are great, accessible, data-rich explanations of each and every one of these observations in the full report. So if you have an investment in Young Adult engagement in YOUR church, in the church at large, or a friend, son, daughter, or grandchildren on your mind as you read this…I STRONGLY recommend you check out the full report for yourself!
You can find the full report on Engaging Young Adults in your congregation RIGHT HERE!