Making of disciples in the Northern Lakes Region of persons under the age of 50

Our Church Council approved 2019 funding for a “Youth Minister.”  It’s taken time (too much for sure!), but we’re just about to have our first meeting of a steering group that will work on a job description, interview candidates, and then support our new hire.

I will offer the following information to the group to initiate our discernment.  I ask you to read it too.  I hope that you will see that success in connecting “young people” to the church today requires more than coffee, music, technology, and a hip pastor.  It all hinges on you!  Though other things are necessary, what’s critical to drawing people into church today is first-and-foremost relationship and passionate practicality.  Please read and see.

According to census data released in 12/2018, Moultonborough has a resident population of 4,101 persons with 763 under 20, 1,038 under 30, 1,354 under 40, and 1,842 under 50. 

The median age in Moultonborough is 53.3 years old.

Even so, MUMC has less than 15 persons under the age of 50 in worship and/or small group attendance!  We have less than 7 children associated with our Sunday school program, no youth group, and less than 5 youth who even occasionally attend worship. Typical conclusions include:  

1. The Silent and Boomer Generations have not been successful at passing the Christian faith on to succeeding generations in a way that church is a priority in their lives.
2. The Silent and Boomer Generations are not offering ministries or programs that meet the needs, interests, or schedules of persons under 50 years old.

Data also supports other conclusions.  One is: 

There just isn’t enough interest in young adults, children, and/or youth in current congregations … at least not enough to be felt by those persons.

I typically turn to two primary research groups to try to understand why current generations are leaving and staying away from the church.  These are:


1.    The Barna Group:  which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group, a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California.  Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.                     

2.    The Pew Research Center:  founded in 2004, is a nonpartisan American think tank which is based in Washington, D.C., providing information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world.  It is rated as “Least Biased.”

A 2002 book put out by Barna stated the top 3 reasons that people do not attend or drop out of the church are:

1.    Hypocritical behavior of the churched
2.    Strict/inflexible beliefs
3.    Nothing in particular
Interesting, people don’t see church people as living what they preach!  Also, I don’t see anything here about coffee or music or technology or specifically about the pastor or what he or she is wearing!

Here is another quote from a 2013 Barna report regarding Millennials and Generation X’ers:

“One of the specific criticisms young adults frequently make about Christianity is that it does not offer deep, thoughtful or challenging answers to life in a complex culture.”2

87% of young people today see Christians as judgmental, 85% see us as hypocritical, and only 8% say they don’t attend because the church is out of date.  Church simply is not seen as loving or relevant by young people today!

So, in her article in the Washington Post, Rachel Evans offers this WARNING:

“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse.”

(Emphasis added by me.)

It's really interesting to also hear:
 
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a ‘classic’ church over a ‘trendy’ one, and 77 percent would choose a ‘sanctuary’ over an ‘auditorium.’” 4

Wow!  This is totally counter to what I hear some folks of the church declaring and is very different than what some “non-denominational” church leaders are maintaining today. 5

Hence, though some churches do have youth and young adults who come for their great music, technology, or coffee, on average, these churches represent only 1/3 of persons under the age of 50 (an even lower number in NH - the second least churched state in the nation).  This means that at least 2/3 of young people are looking for something more!  They want the church to understand their challenges in this rapidly moving, digital, global world and to offer wisdom from God that will help them discern how to live a happy and peace-filled life.  And, they don’t want militant, controlling, exclusive dogma … but more compassionate, progressive thinking for life today.

So, here’s what Barna concludes is the #1 necessity for churches:

The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships.6

I preached this on May 10, 2019, using Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon.  Young people are looking for a relationship with God and therefore with those of like heart and mind in the church.  Their desire is to be a vital part of a congregation and its ministries … not just the next warm body to keep the church going.  This means that we must be genuinely interested in them, their lives – their joys and their struggles – and to be open to new ways that God is calling us all to be in Christ together.

Well, the steering group will look at other data and recommendations and let that guide our definition and search for a “Young Adult-Youth-Children’s Minister.”  We’ll keep you posted on our work and ask you to keep this in your prayers.  We also request that you think about how you will build on being the joy of Christ that helps young people into a vital relationship with the God in you and in Moultonborough UMC.

In Christ,
Pastor Bob


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