October 9, 2012

Church Trends

Where are the young adults? I visit a different local church almost every Sabbath, and I don’t see very many people in their 20s or early 30s. When I go to other denominations for events on Sundays, I see the same lack. 

There are a few local churches, however, that do have a significant number of young adults. About 15 percent of congregations in the United States report in a multifaith survey that more than one fifth of their active attendees are 18 to 34 years of age. The percentage was the same for the Adventist local churches in the survey.

The line was drawn here because that’s the proportion of the general population that falls into this age group. One church in seven has a number of young adults equal to what exists in the general population or more. Six out of seven local churches will have significantly fewer, including many who have no one in this age group.

2012 1528 page30Many people in this age group are looking for someone whom they might share their life with, and therefore not compelled to attend a church that has none or only a handful of appropriate individuals. Consequently, most metropolitan areas in North America have one Adventist church with a significant number of young adults, and the rest have few or none at all.

In the same survey, pastors and elders were asked, How much emphasis does your local church place on young adult ministry? In the multifaith data nearly one third said none. Another 38 percent said some. This means that seven in 10 congregations are really not making any attempt at all to engage young adults. Just 7 percent reported that young adult ministry is “a specialty of our congregation.”

Among Adventist local churches, close to three out of four (73.5 percent) are making little or no attempt to reach young adults, and only 8 percent say it’s “a specialty of our congregation.” Those 8 percent boil down to about 450 local churches in the North American Division (NAD).

What Do These Data Mean?
If your local church wants to engage young adults, it will have to plan and work in that direction. The secret for building a young adult church is critical mass. Unless you have at least two dozen young people, there’s little chance of even beginning to build a ministry. The second key element is to empower young adults by giving them the opportunity to gather on their own, have their own Sabbath school class, etc. Don’t try to control what happens. Trust them, and trust the Holy Spirit to move things in the right direction. 

The data I have shared here are from the Faith Communities Today (FACT) study and the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University. 

Monte Sahlin is director of special projects for the Ohio Conference. This article was published October 11, 2012.