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Your ‘un-hip’ church can attract young adults

I sometimes feel that I minister at the most un-hip church in America.
Our membership hovers around the 300. Our building is aging ungracefully. Our projection and sound systems are laughable. Our services can be short on excitement and long on announcements.
Our Web site is nice but nothing special. Our carpet is blue and incredibly coffee-stained, and some of our walls are painted a very odd salmon color.
We sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter (to save money), and our college and young professional classrooms are in a basement across the street.
Yet despite these and other un-hip setbacks, our young adult ministry gradually grows with each passing year — which sometimes baffles me.
Why do they come, and more importantly, why do they stay?
Based upon my experiences as a painfully un-hip minister serving a quaintly un-hip church, I have stumbled across a theory: What keeps most young adults attending a specific church is not to be found in the church’s outward gloss and sheen, but rather the Christ-centered relationships found within.
Young adults ultimately are drawn toward love and family, not hype and presentation.
In this regard, I suggest three things that I’ve seen to be important in providing young adults a meaningful and “un-hip” church home:
1. Avoid trends at all costs. No hyped-up or edgy Christian music, books or multimedia will capture a young person’s heart. Christian young adults are not a marketing demographic and never should be treated as such.
We don’t need high-budget gimmicks to keep young adults attending service. We do need open and loving hearts, honest and sincere minds and the scandalous message of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is beyond cultural and generational trends and is infinitely more relevant to today’s issues than anything saturating the market — Christian or otherwise.
Trends and media will come and go, but the gospel is timeless. Only the unadorned gospel of Christ outlasts the slick packages in which we ceaselessly try to market it.
2. Provide college students and young singles with room to grow spiritually. Young adults will always question “why we do what we do.” It’s healthy, and it suggests that they really do want to build their own faith. It is our responsibility to provide them with an environment to do so. This means no more stuffy lectures, no more fluff devotionals, no more edgy DVD series, movie clips or song lyrics. A discussion-based environment is essential.
Feel free to embrace and borrow from culture, but never rely on it. Keep up with your Bible reading; keep up with the events of the day; keep an open and patient mind; and invite young adults to explore how God is working in his world and through their lives.
3. Most importantly, let them see the love of Christ in our church family. Whenever I have asked young adults about the most important factor they consider when deciding where to attend church, the answer is nearly unanimous: They will always attend wherever they see and feel the true love of Christ.
It’s not the building. It’s not the worship style (or lack thereof). It’s not the preaching, and it’s not the congregation’s size. It is the family atmosphere of loving and caring relationships in Christ.
We will never lose our young adults if we honestly and wholeheartedly live out the words of John 13.34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Yes, I work for an incredibly un-hip, far-from-perfect church and I am an incredibly un-hip, far-from-perfect, gawky minister.
And yet I take great pride in these two facts, for it daily proves to me that the only things we have going for us are Christ Jesus and the relationships established in him.
Thus I’d humbly suggest that we focus attention squarely on the un-hip — to be a member of a body whom we love and from whom we receive love in Christ. This is the single most important factor in determining where young Christians ultimately decide to attend church.

MARK WYLIE is young adult minister for the University church in Denver. He and his wife, Susan, have two children, Andrew, 3, and Michaela, 6 months.

  • Feedback
    I also minister to the college-age and we are reaching quite a few in our ministry. We have grown from 6 to 100+ and I agree with almost everything stated in this article. However when it comes to the Worship Assembly I have a few thoughts: The kind of songs we sing does matter to them. We have “blended’ our worship to match our people. We sing about half old songs (out of the songbook) and half new. I believe if we were to stop singing the new songs we would lose many of our college-age during the worship assembly. They would still come to the other ‘discussion oriented” events but I think we would lose them at the assembly. I find that “worship” is important to them and they want to praise God and the fact that we allow them to do so is part of what is keeping them coming.
    April, 8 2009

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