Our churches are experts at drawing teens but epically ineffective at keeping young adults.
I have two teens in my house. Their bedrooms look and sound very different from mine. From what’s on the walls to what style (and volume) of music is playing, it’s clear whose room is whose. We don’t frequent each other’s rooms. By choice.
We might be a pretty disconnected family were it not for the living room. The life of our family happens there.
Our living room walls display pictures and art from trips we’ve taken together. Television shows are mutually chosen. It’s where we recount our days, share funny stories, and have serious talks. It’s shared space that appeals to all of us—and we’re growing up together in it.
However, this is not the millennial’s experience within the Church.
We generally keep teens in their “own room” until graduation, then age them out of their space. Then we wonder why they leave to look for their own place in the world. It’s a metaphor.
The knee-jerk reaction is to add on a “young adult room” to move them into.
Maybe there’s a better approach.
Maybe, if we integrate them into the “living room” while they’re young—when they’re young adults, they’ll still want to be part of it.
- Create a living room they want to be in. Give teens influence (while they’re still around) over atmosphere, song sets, sermon topics, and outreach targets. Expect them to participate. Make room for them to serve. It will require sacrifice from adults and vision and resolve from pastors.
- Raise them to be part of the whole family. Our youth events are brighter, louder, and better attended than ever, and the non-believing world is full of young adults with fond memories of them. Change the metrics. Disciple teens to be Sunday-attending, Bible-reading, praying, volunteering, tithing, faith-sharing, Christian leaders—now.
Integration over segregation.
What if our churches looked and felt and functioned less like a house asleep, with everyone in their own rooms, but more like a living room for the whole family?
David, together with his wife Carrie, serves as the Lead Pastor of Colonie Life Christian Center in Albany, NY and Presbyter of the Capital Section.