We have all seen the data. Religious ‘nones’ are the fastest growing religious demographic in the US. Every major denomination is in decline, none quite so bad as mainline Protestants. And the numbers all skew young – a full 70% of the ‘nones’ were born after 1980. Add to that this less-known stat – 20% of the American population is between 18-29 years old, but only 10% of church attenders are in this demographic. Something happens between high school and young adulthood that drives away many young people. And the numbers are only getting worse as the percent of American adults who identify as Christian dropped nearly 8 points from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. This paints a pretty grim picture for the American church, one that is most dire for Catholics and Mainline Protestants.
So what do we do about it? Every congregation is trying to grow, most without much success. Furthermore, every congregation wants more young people and young families, again, most without much success. WRPC is actually doing quite well on these fronts and let me switch from impersonal statistics to personal story. Soon after I finally moved to Raleigh with Ruth and Margaret – a couple months after Emma Kate had stolen the collective hearts of WRPC – we had several adults greeting them intentionally every week, asking them how their transition was going. One couple started inviting them to sporting events and even showed up at one of Ruth’s softball games. These adults – the one’s I’m thinking of specifically were not part of the Family Faith collective of parents – were investing time and attention in our girls. That one couple has been called ‘awesome’ and ‘the best’ by both Ruth and Margaret. And Katherine and I share that sentiment.
You see, one of the best things a church can do is invest time in their youth. A 2016 book by several Fuller Seminary youth ministry experts, entitled Growing Young, details the importance of such adults, research that is affirmed in the National Study of Youth and Religion as well as the Sticky Faith materials produced by the same Fuller team. Churches with healthy participation by those 10% of Americans aged 18-29 invest in young people. And this investment is so much more than just money. Paying a youth pastor or building a youth hangout is not what this investment is about – rather, it is the investment of time and genuine interest by adults in the community of faith. That National Study of Youth and Religion noted that adults in the congregation were among the most important influences on the faith of young people, outside of their parents. That is an essential ingredient for what churches must do in order to grow young and to raise a generation of church goers to carry on the faith.
Stay Tuned as next week Drew Rick-Miller shares practical ideas for West Raleigh and other churches who seek to “grow young.”