How is the mission of the church, first handed to us by Jesus, defining and shaping our ministries? For example, the people who are showing up shape our missional focus—but what about the people who are not showing up? The absence of certain people, and the reasons behind their absence, also must factor into our purpose and planning. Jesus tells a parable about 100 sheep peacefully grazing on a hillside—but one is missing, wandering away into the wilderness and now caught in the brambles (Luke 15:1-7). His mission, then, is to go after that one sheep, not leave it to die.
As a parent in my 50’s it’s troubling that the “missing sheep” at my church are the young people who are the same age as my own kids—the 20-somethings! A recent survey found the average age of an American pastor is 60 years old. That’s a big gap between the age of our “lost sheep” and the age of their “shepherds.” There’s nothing wrong with pastoring at 60, of course, but it means we must be more intentional if we’re going to restore spiritual health and wholeness in every generation. Here are five ways to establish a purposeful approach to reaching a younger generation…
- Be willing to adapt. The Church’s ability to connect with a new generation will require us to adapt and update our methods to meet the needs and preferences of this generation. Try new approaches by connecting with, then listening to, the young adults you already have. Dream together about ways you can cultivate additional relationships. Invite others who are passionate about reaching a younger demographic into this conversation. Make a list of five ways you can adapt to connect. Here’s a bit of advice—contemporary worship is not the only way to connect with young adults!
- Provide meaningful opportunities to serve. Generation X and Z are passionate about making a difference, so offering volunteer opportunities through the church can be a great way to engage them. Consider using social media to highlight and promote these events. Be sure to document the event with photos and storytelling to highlight how the volunteer event made a difference in your community.
- Be genuinely interested in them. Most young adults grew up in church and are aware of the tactics churches use to draw a crowd on Sunday. Your approach with this younger generation must begin with authentic, meaningful relationship that demonstrates your interest in them as a person. One way to show you want to connect is to begin a mentor outreach with older adults connecting with younger adults. Come up with a list of people from your congregation who are experts in finance, education, parenting, bourbon (I said you will have to do things differently), culinary arts (foodies!), music, and other artistic expressions. Once you have your list of mentors, have them describe their interest on Tik-Tok and other social media outlets. Connecting with people in areas of interest is a tech-savvy and socially aware opportunity to build strong relationships with younger adults. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and your traditional patterns for outreach. Let’s make Generation X and Z feel welcome, included, and valued in the church!
- Pay attention to your online platform. Most churches that have an online worship service stop there. Social media is a great way to enhance your connection to a wider audience. Young adults are staying connected to one another and to things they care about, primarily through social media. We are all captivated by stories, so tell your story as a congregation. Be honest and share that you really want to connect with younger adults. Share the ways you are currently seeking to grow your young-adult connections and tell stories of past events and present opportunities. Compelling stories are the key to cultivating curiosity and opening the door for a next step. Don’t use churchy words or big church logos. The goal is connection on a personal level, not to get through the doors of the church for worship. Jesus never invited anyone to a worship service!
- Environment is important. Go to any restaurant, coffee shop, or bar where a younger demographic spends time and you’ll encounter a unique space. Many of our churches are institutional looking, with bright overhead lighting, sporadic furniture, and TV monitors highlighting the next church event. Consider creating a more unique space that invites places for conversation with comfortable places to sit, the smell of good coffee, no overhead lighting, plants, rugs, and other items that make the space warm and inviting.
You’ll never hit the target unless you’re aiming at the target. Simply opening your doors every weekend will not draw young adults into your community. We must target a younger demographic and be willing to try new ways to be missional. As we strive to live out this mission, remember that we’re not perfect and are likely to falter at times. However, by continuously striving to embody the mission of the church, we can make a positive impact in our communities and begin to connect with younger adults.
If you are at a crossroad and would like additional help, please reach out to any of the Vibrant Faith Coaches—we can help you discover next steps as a missional church for all people, young and old!
Rev. Dr. Mark Slaughter serves as the Minister of Worship Arts at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN. In addition to his 35+ years of ministry, he received a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity and Church Music from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Music from Belmont University.