Young Adults in the CRC

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Before we begin this process of looking at what to do with our current situation and forming some idea about how the Spirit may be leading us to work in the future, let’s take some stock of where we currently find ourselves with respect to young adults and the Christian Reformed Church. The Young Adult Leadership Team (YALT) began its work in 2009 and, as a group, we’ve taken notice of some trends that have contributed to the problem of young adults leaving the CRC and been able to have some light shed on how we might move forward into the future. As objectively as we can, here are some trends that we’ve noticed:

  • NOT JUST OUR PROBLEM: The problem of young adults leaving the Church is not just a problem for the Christian Reformed Church, but is common to just about every denomination in North America. Even if we throw in non-denominational churches, the Church as a whole in North America is hemorrhaging young adults at a massive rate.
  • UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS: Some people, even church leaders, write off the problem of young adults leaving the church as normal. I had a 50-year-old pastor say to me once, “Young adults have always and always will leave the church during their college years. But just wait til they have kids – they’ll be back.” But with the average age of marriage and child-bearing getting larger each year, it seems that, even if that theory used to be true, the “time away” from the Church now is just too big and many times irreconcilable by the time young adults do start families.
  • RATE OF CHANGE: Most sociologists agree that culture is changing faster now than it ever has before. What used to be a 10-20 year gap between church and culture in terms of preferences, style, etc. is ever-growing, creating a bigger gap between the Church and those it is looking to reach.
  • RISE OF MISSIONAL: There is a massive divide in the church between attractional, program-driven churches and missional, service-driven ones. That divide is felt heavily in the young adult world.
  • DEATH OF DENOMINATIONAL LOYALTY: Amongst young adults, denominational loyalty is at an all-time low. That, combined with the increasing transient nature of young adults and the growing differences between local expressions of the CRC mean that just because you move to a city with a CRC church has almost nothing to do with whether or not you’ll attend it.
  • AGE-TARGETING HAS GOTTEN OLDER: During the 80′s & 90′s in the attractional model of church, each age group was served exactly as they wanted to be – children and youth began to be separated from adults for not just education, but worship. As those kids, who have always been given exactly what they want, become college students and adults, they have no reference point for compromise or inter-generational cohesion in the local church.
  • MEGA & MULTI-SITE CHURCH: A direct correlation to age-targeting can be found in ever-expanding mega and multi-site churches, many of which are targeted at one specific generation – some for boomers and increasingly, some for young adults.
  • HEMORRHAGE POINTS: In the CRC, we’re noticing two main hemorrhage points for young adults leaving the church. One is expected – between high school and college when freedom is new, but the other is between college/grad school and career. One reason for this may be college and campus ministries that are disconnected from the local church and, once again, are age-targeted so that no compromise is needed.
  • DIVERSITY OF CHURCHES MAKES FOR A DIVERSITY OF ISSUES: It does seem that the problem of young adults leaving the Church is common across ethnic and socio-economic lines, but reasons vary based on those cultural differences. For instance, in Spanish- and Korean-speaking churches, language is a large issue for 2nd-generation, English-speaking young adults. Similarly, the role of age as a primary measure of respect seems to be much more engrained in Korean, Latino and Native American cultures than it does in Anglo culture. This creates problems like one Synod had to handle about whether or not “Young Adult Advisers” was an appropriate term.
  • CASUALTIES OF WAR: Surprisingly, we’re finding a high number of young adults who have left, nearly left or stayed in spite of being very wounded by two big church wars of the 90′s – women in office and the worship wars.
  • GIVING: The way current young adults give with their finances, time and energy is very different than preceding generations. This will cause big shifts in thinking about ministry shares and even local church budgets.
  • RELATIONAL LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Since authenticity is a main value for young adults, our system of knowledge-based discipleship and leadership development can be unappealing as young adults yearn for leadership development environments that are based in relationship with freedom to fail rather than top-heavy structures.
  • CHARACTER > STYLE: Many churches mistaken believe that quick fixes such as more upbeat music of dress will solve the problem of young adults leaving the Church. While that may retain a handful, we notice much more that young adults are looking for authentic and consistent character traits in the members of the church which are modeled on Christ’s call to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • FOR THEIR CITY: Young adults are unequivocally drawn to churches whose impact is felt in the immediately surrounding neighborhood and city. That sort of impact can trump denomination, theology, worship style, building appearance, or even foreign mission concern. Churches that do not impact their immediate neighborhoods and cities with the gospel should not expect young adults to stick.
  • FOR ANYTHING: Oddly enough, the CRC seems to be retaining young adults only on the margins – and in specific, margins that would seem to have little to agree on – very traditional churches and Home Missions-influenced “missional” churches. So you could ask yourself, what do those have in common? Well, they’re both about something. By trying to please everyone and not offend anyone, too many of our churches and perhaps even our denomination has become about nothing – purposely vague, if you will. The very traditional CRC churches are about something – right theology, right worship, intense discipleship, church discipline, etc. and “missional” style churches are about serving their communities at almost-all-costs. Both about something.

So what does all of that mean for your church or you as a young adult? That’s what we’re here for. Keep checking back and follow us at Facebook & Twitter to engage in the conversation with us.

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I think the last paragraph says it all.  People, including young people, are attracted to churches that mean what they say, that really believe in something and are not just going thru the motions.  They are attracted to churches that look for sacrifice, that are more concerned about serving God than about serving themselves.   For churches that look outward towards God and others, rather than towards a comfortable pew.   For alive people, not for half-dead people.  A church filled with the Spirit, will be able to share that same Spirit.  And the Spirit is irresistable. 

Amen. 

First thing is to stand for something.  Try to be everything to everybody and you end up being nothing to anybody.  Some people won't like what you stand for, but that's OK.  I have no problem with referring folks to other churches (a church is better than no church).

Second thing, emphasize integration.  The purpose of children and youth ministry is to integrate them fully into the body of believers (same thing with evangelism, couples' clubs, etc.).  The "niche" has it's uses in that, which is fine, but if the sub-group, whatever it might be and however it is defined, is kept isolated from the rest of the congregation then what you end up with is two congregations instead of one - congregations too often defined along social science strata and thus far too uniform to be effective.

And avoid instant fixes - problems developed over decades are not fixed in minutes.

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