Understanding today’s young adults

“In search of authentic faith – how emerging generations are transforming the church”, Steve Rabey, Waterbook Press, 2001, 1578563194

authentic faith“Vital lessons from the Postmodern Reformation:
How emerging generations are transforming the church.

There is no one right way to “do church” for Generations X and Y and for the generations that will follow. But one thing is certain: The traditional baby-boomer church model isn’t cutting it for many young people seeking an authentic expression of Christian faith. Now noted author and journalist Steve Rabey takes a close look at the church in the midst of wrenching social, cultural, and philosophical changes. Drawing from thorough research and extensive interviews with emerging church leaders, he has written a comprehensive guide to what post-boomer leaders are thinking, doing, and trying in order to reach new audiences of largely unchurched but spiritually hungry people.

Rabey examines such vital questions as:

>How can we overcome the inherent distrust young people have toward institutions such as the church?
>How can worship services provide both an intimate spiritual connection for believers and a winsome spiritual reality for unbelievers?
>How can the church build relationships with postmodernists who have little use for absolute truth?
>How can we understand and reach out to the vast array of distinct subcultures among the emerging generations?

The emerging generations are yearning for something authentic and compelling. Something satisfying and hopeful. In Search of Authentic Faith provides Christians with fresh insight into these intriguing minds and the hearts behind them and how these new leaders will transform ministry in the twenty-first century.”

This book comes from an American perspective so some of the context is difference.  There is useful information contrasting different generations and their different perspectives on life and the culture that they live in.  This may bring newer generations into conflict with the traditional church and change is necessary if they are to find a home in the church, but Rabey concludes “It’s too early to tell what this future church will look like, but it’s unlikely that the emerging generations will either radically reinvent Christianity.. or drive it into extinction.  Instead, it’s more likely that they will modify Christianity with their unique generational and cultural perspectives, much like believers have been doing throughout the first two thousand years of church history.”

gen y“Making sense of Generation Y – the world view of 15-25 year olds”, Savage, Collins-Mayo, Mayo, Church House Publishing, 2006, ISBN, 9780715142424

“For Generation Y, born after 1982, Margaret Thatcher is a piece of social history, relationships happen over the internet and music marks their territory. How does this generation think about the world? What does their spirituality look like? And what implications does this have for the Church?

Based on original research, Making Sense of Generation Y explores how young people aged 15-25 draw on popular culture to shape their worldview and spirituality. The results of this research suggest that many of the Church’s previous assumptions about this generation have been wrong.  How can the Church begin to reconnect with this generation? Making Sense of Generation Y grapples with this challenging question and suggests ways forward.  This title is essential reading for clergy, youth workers and all those wishing to engage with young people.”

It is worth noting that this book was written ten years ago and so the 15-25 year-olds in the title are now 25-35 year olds!  The research was carried out to look at the way that this particular generation’s unprecedented immersion in popular culture informs the way that they make sense of the world and themselves.  It recognises that there is a disparity between the world views of young people and the church and so the church needs to revive genuine communication with young people to understand them and the nature of their spirituality. There is a very good summary of generational differences, setting the context for Generation Y/millennials (born 1982 onwards) in the world that they have grown up in and comparing this with previous generations.  The research’s findings use the phrase ‘Happy midi-narrative’ to describe this generation’s world view, which is summarised with three short, easily understood propositions: 1) The central goal in life is to be happy. 2) Happiness is eminently achievable through relationships with family and close friends. 3) Creative consumption of the resources of popular culture will provide it.   This clearly is at odds with a Christian narrative and the authors conclude by suggesting points of connection, with the helpful comment ‘don’t panic’!  They suggest that the happy midi-narrative can be subverted and that the church can provide a narrative of authentic happiness that is not just focussed on the immediate but on a long term hope.

faith gen y“The faith of Generation Y”, Collins-Mayo, Mayo, Nash, Church House Publishing, 2010, ISBN 9780715142066

The members of Generation Y (those born after 1980) in Britain have had less contact with the Church than any previous generation in living memory. So what interest do young people have in Christianity? Does belief in God make any difference to them? Using both sociological and theological approaches, the authors shed light on these questions by drawing on the views of over 300 young people who have participated in Christian youth and community outreach projects around England over the last five years. A response from the Bishop of Coventry is also included, considering the implications of the research for the wider Church. Building on the hugely influential, ground-breaking research in Making Sense of Generation Y, this is a must for all those working with young people in the church or wanting to develop their mission to young people.

The book addresses issues such as

  • Where do today’s young people place their hope and trust?
  • What makes life meaningful for them?
  • How relevant in their lives is Christianity and the Church?
  • What role does Christian youth work have in passing on the faith?
  • In and age when young people grow up quickly, where do they look for guidance on difficult questions or choices?

It is clear from the research that for Generation Y the cultural memory of Christianity is very faint indeed and many young people are ‘benignly indifferent’ to the Church. In its conclusion, the word ‘authentic’ is used frequently and the final words are that the church needs ‘to embody (Christian) love in a community that tells the story of love, experiences the source of that love and lives in and from that love in the world.  This is the authentic Church that Generation Y, and every generation, has a God-given right to meet and then to hang around its heart’.  These encouraging but challenging words are drawn from the findings that young people are willing to engage with issues of ethics and morality, that they appreciate the role of the church in society, particularly at times of difficulty, that church buildings made an impression on them and that the family has a central importance.  These are the points of connection that the Church can work at, often by simply being its authentic self.

leading gen y“Engaging Gen Y – Leading well across the Generations”, James Lawrence, Grove Books, 2012, 9781851748273

“It is often said that the younger generation are the future of the church. But why is it so hard to engage with them and involve them in leadership? Why won’t they take responsibility the way we did when we were their age?  This helpful study explores the key differences between the ‘generations’ and the different expectations they have of leadership. It outlines the key contribution that ‘Generation Y’ can bring, and offers practical strategies for nurturing them.”

This book is helpful for leaders from Gen X or previous generations who find it difficult to engage with younger adults from Gen Y.  It looks at the factors that have shaped the lives of Generation Y, including:

  • technology (being ‘digital natives’) and its impact of a need for speed, blurring of boundaries between work and play, personalised everything, information overload, hierarchy v networking, multitasking, global connection
  • parenting: the prevalence of helicopter parenting and the need for mentors, feedback and entitlement; in contrast abandonment through broken families, leading to an emotional longing for  connection and detachment
  • consumerism: choice is everything, meaning is in the here and now, celebrity culture, wanting to make a difference, Christianity as irrelevant
  • Learning: different experience of education means that experience is important (Feeling is as important as thinking about something), learning is approached differently, a connection in learning at an emotional level is important.

These different influences mean that Gen Y leaders expect different things and this this affects the way older people recruit and work with them. The book has some helpful suggestions about how to foster good working relationships.

download“You Lost me” – David Kinnaman, BakerBooks, ISBN: 978-0-8010-1314-0

This helpful book looks to ask the question that many parents and church leaders wonder about – how to most effectively cultivate durable faith in the lives of young people.

A five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman explores the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in a new book by Kinnaman titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.

The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.  Although this research is based in North America, there are many useful lessons that can transfer to the UK context.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. 

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. 

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Turning Toward Connection

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

“Consequently, churches are not prepared to handle the ‘new normal.’ Instead, church leaders are most comfortable working with young, married adults, especially those with children. However, the world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.”

The research points to two opposite, but equally dangerous responses by faith leaders and parents: either catering to or minimizing the concerns of the next generation. The study suggests some leaders ignore the concerns and issues of teens and twentysomethings because they feel that the disconnection will end when young adults are older and have their own children. Yet, this response misses the dramatic technological, social and spiritual changes that have occurred over the last 25 years and ignores the significant present-day challenges these young adults are facing.

Other churches seem to be taking the opposite corrective action by using all means possible to make their congregation appeal to teens and young adults. However, putting the focus squarely on youth and young adults causes the church to exclude older believers and “builds the church on the preferences of young people and not on the pursuit of God,” Kinnaman said.

Between these extremes, the book You Lost Me points to ways in which the various concerns being raised by young Christians (including church dropouts) could lead to revitalized ministry and deeper connections in families. Kinnaman observed that many churches approach generations in a hierarchical, top-down manner, rather than deploying a true team of believers of all ages. “Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body – that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”

authenticfaith-cover“authentic faith: fresh expressions of church amongst young adults”, Beth Keith, Fresh Expressions, 2015, 978-0-9560005-7-6

The Church is failing to reach or keep young adults. Only 11% of regular churchgoers are between the ages of 25 and 34, whilst 16% of the UK population is within that age group. In tracking church decline, the greatest losses per year are occurring amongst those aged 15 to 29. However, there are churches bucking this trend.

This 36-page report outlines the findings from a qualitative research project undertaken by Church Army and Fresh Expressions looking into some of these churches, including parish churches, traditional church plants and fresh expressions of church, all with growing numbers of people in their 20s and 30s

The research discovers that some larger churches that are contemporary in style yet with more traditional practices are succeeding in reaching middle class, well-educated young adults, who previously attended church as children. However, those churches that are managing to reach young adults with no prior faith or church experience, and from a broader socio-economic background, are those with more modern expressions of church, with very different traits and practices.

Five distinct types of church are noted which engage young adults:

  • Church planting hubs: These are contemporary in style, and with a specific service or congregation for young adults. The church life is organised around a Sunday service alongside other community based activities. The young adults meet in midweek. They are part of a large church body, and benefit from the resource of buildings, church governance and accountability.
  • Youth church grown up: These churches began life as youth ministries or youth churches. Ten years on, with members growing up and out of the youth church, but not connecting to other expressions of church, they began considering how their church could become a place for young adults.
  • Deconstructed church: These churches tended to be influenced by Christians who had previous church experience and did not want to go back. Meeting regularly but without the normal Sunday service features, and around a specific task, project or around a table, these churches placed a high value on community.
  • Church on the margins:Two of the churches studied were reaching young adults marginalised by wider society. They were being shaped by issues associated with deprivation and poverty, and raising questions, more defined by levels of deprivation than age group, such as ‘What is the gospel for the poor?’ The focus here is on transforming the lives of the young adults.
  • Context-shaped church: The churches that were defined as ‘context-shaped churches’ developed through direct interaction with their context in the community. These churches had a range of connecting points through cafes, projects, and discussion groups, through which people could link up, get involved and explore faith. The emphasis in these groups tended to be more on community and mission as starting places from which worship could develop.

The report urges the wider church to understand and recognise these new types of church which are greatly affected by the level of support and connection with the wider church.

mumford“The Missing Generation – a practical guide to 20s-30s ministry”, Kay Mumford, 10Publishing, 2012, ISBN 9781906173920

If your church is missing the twenties to thirties age group, sadly you are not alone. This is the common story across the UK. There are many reasons why this is the case, but it causes the church a serious problem… and the consequences of ignoring it will be seen in the years to come with dying, ageing and empty churches. So what can we do and how do we do it? In this little book, Kay Mumford asks these very questions  and begins to work through practical answers that will challenge, equip and enthuse you in your ministry with young adults. Kay has over 15 years of experience of battling against the trend that 20s -30s don’t do church and though this book won’t give you every answer, it is designed to be a springboard that will refocus your vision and excite you about what God can do when we live out and teach His Word.

This book is written from a particular evangelical perspective and the author’s experience is in working in areas with university students, so her ideas may not be relevant in all contexts but there are some helpful insights into the issues facing young adults, even if the solutions may not be ones that all would want to follow or would work in their context.

millennials“Millennials – reaching and releasing the rising generation”, Amy and Forg Orr-Ewing, Upfront Publishing, 2010, ISBN 9781844268603

“Millennials are coming, millenials are here. Born from 1975 and now fully part of the workforce, raising families, some in our churches, and many full of hopes, dreams and fragility. How do I get ready for the new dynamics of reaching and releasing this rising generation? Who are the millennials? What do I need to know as a leader about the changing dynamics and power structures? This book will set you on a path of discovery and recognition, casting a vision of what might be possible if the church really grasps how millennials tick.”

almost“Almost Christian”, Kenda Creasy Dean, OUP, 2010, ISBN 9780195314847

“Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion—the same invaluable data as its predecessor, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers—Kenda Creasy Dean’s compelling new book, Almost Christian, investigates why American teenagers are at once so positive about Christianity and at the same time so apathetic about genuine religious practice.

In Soul Searching, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton found that American teenagers have embraced a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”—a hodgepodge of banal, self-serving, feel-good beliefs that bears little resemblance to traditional Christianity. But far from faulting teens, Dean places the blame for this theological watering down squarely on the churches themselves. Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to lives of love, service and sacrifice, churches offer instead a bargain religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less. But what is to be done? In order to produce ardent young Christians, Dean argues, churches must rediscover their sense of mission and model an understanding of being Christian as not something you do for yourself, but something that calls you to share God’s love, in word and deed, with others. Dean found that the most committed young Christians shared four important traits: they could tell a personal and powerful story about God; they belonged to a significant faith community; they exhibited a sense of vocation; and they possessed a profound sense of hope. Based on these findings, Dean proposes an approach to Christian education that places the idea of mission at its core and offers a wealth of concrete suggestions for inspiring teens to live more authentically engaged Christian lives.

Persuasively and accessibly written, Almost Christian is a wake up call no one concerned about the future of Christianity in America can afford to ignore.”