Faith Together: Young Adults and the Church

Those of us who have been in youth ministry for a while know the mixed emotions when youth graduate or age out of our ministry. Connections might become irregular or even nonexistent. There are a variety of reasons for this, but what is true for us all is that we continue to care about their faith, even beyond youth group. On occasion, when youth have moved away for school, they will tell me about a new church they started attending. I always ask them what they like about it, and without fail, their response is some iteration of, “There are a lot of people my age.” I am guessing you have heard this too. Maybe this response gives you joy to know they are plugging in to a faith community, or—if you are like me—it can give you a sense of insecurity about your own ministry. I wish I could say I always felt the former, but I can admit to sometimes feeling insecure. I can begin to count how many “young people” are a part of our church, trying to convince myself it is more than average. But my prayer these days is that God would increase my capacity to listen and understand those whom I get to serve. So, in the spirit of listening, what do you think a response like “There are a lot of people my age” reveals about the church’s need for young adults?

On occasion, when youth have moved away for school, they will tell me about a new church they started attending. I always ask them what they like about it, and without fail, their response is some iteration of, “There are a lot of people my age.”

I do not think there is a single church in town that would say, “We are good on young adults and do not want any more.” Maybe I am off, but I would guess that if you are reading this, you have a sense that the church needs this age group even if you cannot fully explain why. But before we can get to that, it is important to acknowledge what drives many young adults when it comes to their faith formation. And while we want young adults to plug in to a faith community and thrive in their faith, many of us could be holding poor perceptions about youth.

Raise your hand if you have even had a conversation with a congregant that resulted in someone saying something like, “Young people just do not want to come to church anymore.” You had both hands up? Yeah, me too. Many of us are anecdotal, letting our immediate experiences dictate how we think about young adults and their involvement in church. If one young adult member stops attending, all of a sudden, we feel like no young people want to be a part. Please hear me. I do not want to diminish the reality of your local church, for it varies from place to place. Instead, I hope to broaden our imaginations to see the trends that are driving a generation as related to their faith formation.

A study[1] conducted in 2019 revealed that from Millennials to Boomers (specifically in the US), only a ten-point difference existed in weekly church attendance. In the following three years, Millennial attendance increased by 39%, passing that of other generations. This statistic in no way fully captures the trends of young people, nor does it give us a sense of trends in other countries. However, it does help us to see the bigger picture. Here’s the point. Do not write off young people’s desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It is no surprise to me that group clubs are so popular, whether they be for exercise, reading, or community gardens. When I hear the comments from graduates I mentioned before, here’s what I am learning to hear. For them, faith is something they want to do together. They want to be in the presence of people who validate their perspectives and attempts to follow Jesus, even when they miss the mark. And they long to be a part of something bigger than themselves and make an impact in their communities.

…faith is something they want to do together. They want to be in the presence of people who validate their perspectives and attempts to follow Jesus, even when they miss the mark.

We know that the church needs young adults. I also believe that young adults need the church. They need a place that embodies the message of love, service, and generosity that compels us to act and speak directly to the longings of young people. But what is required of us? We must learn to be good listeners, discerning what is really at the heart of people’s actions and not assume our perspectives to always be right. We must embody a faith for those younger than us who, I can assure you, are watching, perhaps even wondering if this Jesus we preach is for real. 


  1. Barna Group. “Year in Review: Barna’s Top 10 Releases of 2022.”

 Posted December 21, 2022. https://www.barna.com/research/year-in-review-2022/#

Ryan Hannay