Where Did All These Young Adults Come From?

December 02, 2010

By Loren Bergstedt
Congregational Development Assistant, Minnesota Congregational Development

I visited a new church a couple of weeks ago. I periodically do this partially because of my own natural curiosity about how different churches cultivate spiritual vitality differently.
On this particular week, I visited a congregation only two miles from my home in a suburb of Minneapolis. I found several unique aspects about this congregation. 1). The church began only about six years ago. 2). It now has five services per week at multiple campuses throughout the city; thousands of people attend. 3). About 70% of those attending are under 29 years old.
This last tidbit I found to be most intriguing, partially because I am very close to that age group. I have had friends say that the younger generation is not interested in church and that they are almost "unreachable." Yet this congregation clearly demonstrated that this doesn't have to be the case. When I visited this congregation I experienced a solid, biblical message from the pastor, [along with] contemporary music. However, this is not unique. What could it be about this congregation that attracts so many young people? It felt to me that something really dynamic in a cultural way was happening, yet I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. 
I wasn't there for the history of this church; so I cannot fully understand what God is doing there to inspire so many. Yet, after reflecting for most of the afternoon, I was able to put my finger on two things that changed my thinking.
1.    People were welcoming…really welcoming. When I started to walk out of the building, a man in his 20s held a homemade, tagboard sign with these words written on it: "Come hang out with us!" He proceeded to invite every person who walked by to go have lunch with him and his group. I'll be honest, I choked up when I walked by. To me the message of the sign was: "We don't care who you are, and we don't care that we don't even know you. We welcome you into our life." 

Living in the city can be lonely and isolating. This young man understood that. This inclusion went further than the normal one-minute in the service to greet your neighbors. (And let's face it, how many truly engage strangers and how many of us primarily speak with those we already know?) In this church was a sense that visitors were really wanted.
2.    They got people involved. The pastor invited anyone who wanted to make a difference to come forward to be connected to a ministry of their church. At a recent conference I attended, the Gen Y Guy, Jason Ryan Dorsey (www.jasondorsey.com) said that today's young adults want to be valued for what they bring to the table, they want to have their voices heard, and they want to make a meaningful difference. This church didn't ask them to sit on a committee, or to wait in the wings for a chance to be part of the community. When people came down for prayer after the service the prayer team was made up of young adults. The greeters, ushers, audio/visual team, announcement givers, and mission trip leaders appeared to be largely people in their 20s.
It's not about numbers. It's not about turning my church into a mega-church. It's about reaching new people. Although I believe that culture changes, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is timeless and powerful. What do you believe young adults are looking for in a church community? What are some ways that your church is bringing this life-transforming message to the next generation?