Wednesday, June 20, 2012

8 ways to keep young adults out of your church

One of the first books I read when I started doing some part-time study at Durham University three years ago was Don Tapscott's Grown up digital (New York: McGraw Hill, 2009). For some reason I keep coming back to it. Perhaps that's because, like some Old Testament prophet, he seems to be bellowing at the cloth-eared people of God, about something that should be like... DUH!

And that's ironic, because Tapscott, as far as I know, isn't all that interested in the church. He engaged on a $4m research project, ‘The Net Generation: a Strategic Investigation’, with over seven thousand 'net geners' (approximately 12-30 year olds), and comparative samples of those aged 30-41 and 42-62, in twelve countries, including the U.K. He gives some strong clues as to what attracts and equally what repels Net Geners or Generation Y.

I realise that the church, called to be counter cultural, shouldn't always pander to the wants and desires of the predominant culture. If it did we would have pews full of Christians singing cheesy Victorian hymns, separating church life from real life and having very convoluted and formal ways of making decisions. Actually, thinking about it....

But what the church can do, is take the hopes and desires of young adults seriously. Of course, this may not be for you. The last thing on your Christmas list is a church council full of 27 year old rebels. So if you want to make sure you keep young adults well away, simply apply these eight principles.

 
  1. Don't be tempted to offer variety.  Young adults value freedom and freedom of choice, so beware of their calls for a range of worship styles and gatherings and opportunities. They are trying to trick you into consumerism.
  1. Value your tradition above all else. After all it has been round for a long time and has never changed, and young adults are always wanting to customise things and make them their own. Look at the way they mess with their 'smart phones'.
  1. Preach and teach for all you are worth, but don't encourage disagreement or questioning. You are not there to have a chat. You are there to pass on the undiluted word of God. But if you are not careful young adults will be demanding collaboration, because they enjoy conversations not lectures.
  1. Make sure you stay tight-lipped about the inner workings of your church. They don't need to know what goes on behind the scenes. They are probably not going to be that interested. The trouble is they are always banging on about scrutiny and its importance at work, in politics and, before you know it, in church.
  1. Say one thing in church, do another out of church. OK, we know this may not always be the ideal way to behave, but it's often for the best. The annoying thing is that young adults value integrity. They smell double standards a mile off and won't hesitate to point them out to you. You don't need this.
  1. Take church life very seriously. Goes with out saying really. Young adults who desire fun, at work, school and in their private life, can't expect to have that in church too.
  1. Take your time. The church has been here for 2000 years and isn't disappearing tomorrow. Don't be rushed into making decisions. Make sure you have complex command and control structures that only you understand. They will have to get used to it, even if young adults value speed as normative.
  1. Avoid experimentation at all costs. You know this makes sense. It always leads to trouble.  Young adults see innovation as a normal part of life. They have grown up with it. Beware this snare of the devil.
So thank you Mr Tapscott for saving the church from the future.

15 comments:

  1. excellent. love it! cheers Norman. (MV at Durham)

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  2. Nearly all of this list would apply to baby boomers too. What a conservative lot these young adults are!

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    1. It probably would, but why are most churches then populated mainly by baby boomers and their parents?

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    2. Maybe that's why the UK church is barely populated at all. The last figure I saw was that 92-93% of the English population isn't in church on a typical Sunday.

      And/or maybe it is more about age than 'generation' and many baby boomers have become middle-aged and changed (compromised?) their attitudes.

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  3. Brilliant :D what a brilliant post

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  4. This would keep anyone out of church.

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  5. 9. Call people of a certain age "young adults".

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    1. Hope you didn't get a whiff of stereotyping there Andy. It was shorthand for adults aged 18-30.

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  6. Might I be so bold as to add a ninth item?

    "Never listen to young adults as their ideas about church are far too radical for the oldies"

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  7. Many of your points would actually be true of the large Pentecostal and charismatic churches where there seem to be quite a lot of young people. So I am not sure that there is an easy answer to why young people don't attend church.

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    1. I guess they are the exception rather than the rule, but that's a good point.

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  8. Brilliant. And I would add a tenth, if I may, so now we can completely fill some tablets of stone (not!):
    "Avoid any impression that how we worship on Sunday should relate to our social action and work ethics."

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  9. I would add "make sure your wedding and baptism policies are as unwelcoming as possible, so as to give young adults (who are the ones most likely to be getting married and having babies) the clear message that the church doesn't have anything to offer at key moments in their lives..."

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  10. zing - harsh but has a lot of truth imo.

    I've especially seen (and been royally offended by) #1 and #2.

    on one hand young adults can't and shouldn't expect overnight change.

    on the other hand, it seems like some people think that even minor changes are the equivalent of abolishing the Bible, or the 1982 Hymnal or the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church), or the main canon laws, etc.

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  11. The 8 points above are so true -a work of genius!

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