This is one for the disaffected.
When my wife and I first moved cities,a few years ago, we knew one of the challenges we would face was finding a new church community. We were deeply knitted in to our church back home, and finding a community as strong as what we’d known was going to be difficult. We ended up attending a large church in central Melbourne for around 18 months before we eventually found ourselves in a long period of limbo between churches. I never thought that I would find myself in the position of not being well knit into a church, because my whole life I had been part of strong churches that I was able to really get involved in. The difficulty we found with the church we had started attending was around building relationships if you didn’t have a means of connecting with church. This is the challenge for people around our age today.
We are, without a doubt the hardest age range to deal with. People between the ages of 18 – 30ish have some very unique characteristics to them. Often these people are transient, moving jobs/cities/careers, have multiple responsibilities between uni, jobs, volunteering and socialising, and are still very keen to be part of a church community. But when you find yourself in the middle of this age range, it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of churches cater very well to teenagers, parents with children and older people, but miss the boat in between years of 18 – 30ish. The flow on effects of this is that people tend to “drift” when they hit this age bracket, and only come back when they rejoin the mainstream flow by having children.
Drifting out of church in this age bracket doesn’t just happen overnight either – people don’t tend to suddenly wake up one day and say “Screw it, I’m not going to bother anymore” out of the blue. It’s a gradual process, and you tend to be able to track it as people slowly drop out of activities one by one until one day they’re just not showing up any more. You might be saying to yourself “but I know lots of people in that age bracket – you’re off your rocker!” Well, maybe, friend, but I’d like to put some money down that the people you’re identifying are mostly in leadership positions of some sort, or are closely knit in through family ties. The key thing is that we’re missing a mode of connection – a genuine pathway to become part of a community.
Because it’s not that people in my age range don’t want to be involved with church communities – many of the people who I meet that are “out of church” are still very much following Christ in their day-to-day lives, but it’s hard to break into the church scene again once you drop out. You have to make new friends, get into a routine, and settling in like that doesn’t happen overnight.
And this is important, because the Bible is super clear that we need all parts of the body to function. Myself, I never meant to end up between churches, but I found myself utterly unable to connect because the church we were going to was so focused on a formulaic expression of worship, without time to meet other genuine people. Every meeting, no matter its size or purpose (Sunday service, creative gathering, small group, training day, discipleship program) followed the pattern of music/word/leave. As people new to the city, with no way to connect outside of services easily, we were in trouble because it was extremely difficult to even start a conversation – and even when we did, people were more keen to talk to someone influential than to new people without any importance. You know that community is lacking when you stop going somewhere and there’s no lasting connection.
The best thing we could do for all the disaffected is to make church a more flexible place. It didn’t always run for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning, with 2 fast/3 slow songs, announcements, offering, message and final song. Church communities are meant to be just that – communities. If we placed more attention on the needs of people to connect with one another, then congregations would naturally strengthen in this age bracket. People my age are after something real, and it’s not hard to give this to them. By focusing on flexibility and community, churches can start to learn how to get young adults sticking around, and we’ll all be richer for it.
Here’s to a diverse church that’s thriving, even for the DINKs, the yuppies, and even the hipsters.