According to Lovett Weems, younger people may find it easier to enter the church through the service door than through the sanctuary door.
While it used to be that the main portal into the life of the congregation was an invitation to “worship with us,” that seems to be changing with the younger generation.
Why is this? Two main reasons:
First, there is a high commitment to help others among young adults. Making a difference in people’s lives that are less fortunate than them is a high value in the younger generations.
Secondly, while the vast majority of young adults say they believe in God and describe themselves as spiritual, they are also suspicious about organized churches and doubtful about looking to the church for spiritual guidance or answers.
As Lovett Weems puts it in the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s recent newsletter.
For many young people, inviting their friends who don't attend church to "come to my church" may not be the most comfortable invitation to make or the one most likely to receive a positive response. On the other hand, few young people would be reluctant to invite any of their friends to join them for a service project sponsored by the church, and few young people will turn down such an invitation. The sense of commitment to help others among young adults is as strong as their excitement about most churches is weak.
So, how do church leaders make this trend actionable? Three suggestions:
1. Engage your community missionally. Of course that’s not just so that you can have young adults involved. It is also because it is part of what it means to be an authentic community of faith following Jesus Christ. The ways to do this are limited only by people’s passions and creativity. What are the needs in your community that break God’s heart? How can the people in your congregation address these needs or join with others who are addressing them? How can the congregation be a blessing to your community, to add to the common good? What is your congregation doing that makes a positive difference in your community?
2. Teach and model inviting people to join you in serving others. The people in your congregation may never think about inviting their unchurched (normal!) friends to join them in serving others. Share with them that this may very well be the best way to connect with many young persons. And don’t just talk about it; model it. Tell stories about unchurched persons joining you in service. When they join the church, let the congregation know that the first time they began to get to know people in the church was when they worked together on a particular service project.
3. Teach and model developing authentic relationships where spiritual conversation can naturally occur while you work together. As people work together and relationships naturally occur, conversations about spiritual matters can happen normally. That is the opportunity for disciples to share why they are doing what they are doing. The Holy Spirit may also open up possibilities to invite persons to visit in their small group or to go with them to worship. Many good church-going people, however, have never been encouraged to be intentional about developing relationships with unchurched persons and helping them take their next step in their faith journey.
While it may once have been true that we could build it and they would come, it just isn’t true anymore. In today’s world relational evangelism needs to be intentional, modeled and taught. And inviting young adults in the service door may be the most effective strategy we have for sharing the life of discipleship with others.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence