:: Saturday, October 04, 2003 ::
New Research Confirms 20-something Disconnect from the Church
A September 24, 2003 report from the Barna Research Group (www.barna.org) suggests that the dramatic decrease in church attendance by people in their 20s is largely due to two significant factors. First, there is a lack of mentoring by older adults in the congregation. 20-somethings seem disinclined to attend classroom-style discipleship programs. Second, many 20-somethings are "overlooked" in leadership roles within the congregation, perhaps because they are disinclined to be trained in classroom-style leadership seminars. Furthermore, the research indicates that many who were active churchgoers as teens have "dropped out" of church by their 20s.
This fits with my experience. In a paper presented on 21 March 2003 to Dr. Douglas R. Sharp and Dr. Karen Walker-Freeburg at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, I argued that "[college] students, upon graduation, often have great difficulty finding new churches in their new communities." This statement was based not upon research but upon the experience of my friends and aquaintences from college who were "pillars" of the church in college, but who have had one difficulty after another finding Christian community after graduation.
In that paper, I argued for five major factors in that "disconnect from community" after graduation.
1. Youth Leaders and "Home Church" Pastors encourage a consumer mindset in students by encouraging them to "shop around" until they find a church they like. "While this does help them to broaden their horizons, they do not realize that this is very ineffective for student ministry. Students end up trying many different places and some never settle in anywhere. This negatively affects their commitment level to any ministry – if they become annoyed, upset, or apathetic about the one they are in, they move on to something else. This church shopping mindset puts the students into a position of “looking to be served” instead of looking for ways in which they can serve. This is antithetical to the way of Christ."
2. "Campus ministries do not train students to face graduation effectively... Campus ministries, by their nature, focus on students while they are on campus. Unfortunately, few do much to equip students with skills and tools for life after college in any sort of direct or organized fashion. This tends to perpetuate the perspective that faith and the rest of life are separable, and that faith is not necessarily relevant to the rest of life. Moreover, campus ministries often spend so much time helping students “survive” college as Christians that they do not look much past graduation. When we are in “maintenance” or “survival” mode in ministry, we are not living out the kind of lives that God has called us to live.
3. "Community that exists in campus ministries is not as available outside of the student environment. Students leave college having experienced a lot of high-quality community throughout every aspect of their lives. When most take jobs elsewhere and move away, they make a break with that community they have known and are put into a position where they really need community but do not have the skills to find or make it. They have never had to find a church before in the same way. When they do find a church, their position in it is much more marginal than they had as seniors in a campus ministry. This is disappointing to people who were a leaders throughout their college careers. Few churches encourage the kind of leadership possibilities that campus ministries do for people right out of college.
4. "A massive culture shift has created a gap between the average local church and the faith experience of the students. This is self-explanatory. The Internet really took off starting in about 1994. Freshmen entering college in 2003 were born in 1985. They have grown up on the Internet. Their thought patterns have changed to a more web-based mode of thinking. Those who are new converts do not understand the “worship wars,” for example. The whole discussion makes no sense to them.
5. "Local church leadership resists recent graduates’ participation in leadership positions. We touched on this in section 3, above. Most churches reject the possibility of recent college graduate leadership outright. It is important for recent graduates to continue to learn from those who are older and wiser than they; but those who are older and wiser need to take a better look at the kinds of skilled, quality leaders they have among them in the 22 – 25 year old age bracket."
In the paper I continued with a list of proposals for change and a list of 100 points for discussion regarding ministry in 21st century America.
I would encourage your thoughts and critique.
:: Matt 10/04/2003 10:28:00 PM :: permalink ::