Churches buck the trend to reach young adults

Monday, 13 May, 2013

New research, released today, identifies five types of churches which are bucking the trend in reaching and discipling the ‘missing generation’ of people in their 20s and 30s.

Beth Keith, a tutor at Church Army in Sheffield, conducted the qualitative research project on behalf of Church Army and Fresh Expressions. Her report, authentic faith: fresh expressions of church amongst young adults, reflects the wide-ranging ways in which churches are tackling the fact that only 11% of regular churchgoers are between the ages of 25 and 34.

In the past 12 months, Beth has surveyed leaders of parish churches, traditional church plants and fresh expressions of church. The aim was to look at churches based in different contexts reaching young adults from a range of socio-economic and religious backgrounds – rather than simply tracking large student churches.

The five distinct types of young adults' church identified are:

  • church planting hubs;
  • youth church grown up;
  • deconstructed church;
  • church on the margins;
  • context shaped church.

Beth said,

They all have different personalities, are of different sizes, connect with different kinds of young adults and practice faith differently.

The research found that:

  • some larger churches, with young adult congregations gathering for a Sunday service alongside midweek groups, are effectively reaching middle class, well-educated young adults who previously attended church as children;
  • churches managing to reach young adults with no previous church experience - and from a broader socio-economic background - will more often see their young adults meeting around a dining table than in a church building because the getting together for a meal is very important in creating community

Beth added,

The first group of churches act as gathering points, and are highly effective in attracting, retaining and discipling Christian young adults for a vocational life of mission in the world and ministry in the church. These young adults tend to move on to family-based congregations as they grow up.

The second group exhibit very different traits and practices; these are churches where eating together is the new 'Sunday service'. For these small communities, access to communal spaces, such as cafes, large vicarages and community houses, can make a crucial difference to their growth and sustainability. Young adults attending these types of churches may struggle to make the leap to more traditional forms of church as they get older. This suggests the determining factor here is not their age or life stage and that these new forms of church will continue to grow and develop. The recognition of these small sacramental communities as church is vital, both for the sustainability of these fledgling churches and for the building up of the wider church.’

The 36-page report, authentic faith: fresh expressions of church amongst young adults is available to purchase now, both as a booklet and a downloadable PDF.

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