Dear Pastors, Missionaries, Chaplains and Friends,
Steve here…I’ve been visiting our churches across Canada for one year now. One demographic group I don’t see a lot of in our churches are those in their twenties. It’s a very obvious fact, and it has left me concerned.
And so, when I had an opportunity to hear from a couple researchers on a recently published report entitled, “Hemorrhaging Faith”, a study of church attendance patterns of young adults in Canada, I wanted to listen in on their discoveries. The report represented 2,049 surveys (approximately 80+ questions) from Canadian young adults who grew up attending church as a child. There is so much I could share about the report, but, these Monday emails are supposed to be short and so I’ll mention only several personal “take aways”.
There were some surprises:
1. Researchers discovered there is a greater dropout rate from church attendance between Sunday school and senior high than teens moving into their twenties. How do we spiritually acclimatize and prepare our children better for high school and the teen years?
2. Only one in three young adults who attended church as a child, still go to church one or two times a month.
3. The importance of parents modeling a daily faith walk (i.e. Bible reading, prayer, church attendance) was key to children remaining in church as young adults. Most of us already know this, but, the statistical difference between parents being “highly” visible in their spiritual practice, in comparison to those who “moderately” or “seldom” modeled spiritual disciplines, was absolutely staggering. And surprisingly, there was little difference between “moderate” and “seldom”. If parents chose to just “moderately” practice spiritual disciplines before their young children or teens, they might as well have done nothing. Their teens well largely become non-attenders in their twenties.
4. Young adults are leaving our churches because they say they are not/have not experienced God. This generation largely discovers truth based on, but not exclusively, experience. They want to know if it “really works”.
Fully one quarter of those who are still engaged in church life in their twenties said their faith “came alive” while attending Christian summer camp (52%) or experiencing a short term missions trip (71%). These two experiential ministries need to remain a growing focus of our local church’s ministries.
5. The report divided these young adults (who attended church as children) into four groups:
∙ 23% were Engagers: still attending church 1-2 times/month.
∙ 44% were Fence-sitters: attending a few times/year.
∙ 26% were Wanderers: not attending, but not hostile to faith.
∙ 15% were Rejecter’s: not attending, hurt by faith experience.
I found one statistic in particular, interesting: Among the “Fence-sitters” who may be the group we need to most engage. Regarding their view on “lifestyle demands”, fully 66% said the demands were “unrealistic”. For example to not have sex until marriage made little practical sense. This generation hears the church’s messaging on the right and wrong of a behavior, but they value freedom and autonomy. They think, “What behavior gives me the most freedom?” We talk right and wrong and they hear rules and slavery. You’re not allowing me to be me. This showed up over and over again on behavior/value questions.
6. Attendance does matter. Some might argue a report on “attendance” of young adults, who formerly attended church services as a child, as not addressing the true state of their spiritual wellbeing. The old thinking that you don’t have to attend church to be a healthy Christian is not correct.
This survey, like most recent surveys and social studies, clearly indicated that people regularly involved in church life are far more healthy spiritually. Church attendance ensures a robust spiritual life. Church attendance does matter.
And by the way, the thinking that teens who walk away from church during their university days will come back to church when they start a family—well, this report indicates that’s a myth. Very few return.
So what do we do? If we do nothing, imagine with me what our churches will look like in 25 years. I’d love to hear what you and/or your church are doing to retain the twenty something year olds in church life.
Fellowship 48 (National Convention) is only a week away (November 5-7). Registrations are up which is so encouraging. We are going to have one of our largest conventions together in several years. I hope to see you there.
I look forward to connecting with a many of you next week in beautiful Niagara Falls.
Have a blessed week.