If young people don’t come to your church, don’t worry

Photo: Akira Hojo, Unsplash. Photo: Akira Hojo, Unsplash.

Everyone dreams of a multigenerational church. A church where there are old people, middle-aged people, young people and children running around the pews.

This is what many people want to see. But the reality is that this does not reflect many churches out there. Many churches in the United States are facing a crisis of people no longer attending. This has created panic in churches with a lot of older members.

Churches feel forced to ask, “How do we get more young people here?” They’re forming committees to prioritize bringing in a younger crowd.

Many churches have tried changing up their worship styles. They have tried adding special ministries to reach out to younger families. All as a last-ditch effort to save the church community they cherish.

I get it. The future is scary without young people to pass your traditions to.

As a pastor, my job security depends on making sure there are people in the pews. Also, as a 30-year-old, I am the exact type of person many churches are trying to attract.

People often ask me for advice on how churches can get more young people involved. While I value congregations thinking about how to cater to younger audiences, I believe we are asking the wrong question.

People stop going to church for many reasons. Some have suffered from church trauma. Some see church as a waste of time. Some (my parents, for example) work long shifts throughout the week, and Sunday is their chance to sleep in.

Considering all of this, what should the church focus on to grow our numbers and get younger people involved?
It’s simple: Focus on who shows up. Be the best version of who you are. Don’t be like the churches that completely change their identity as they try to attract younger people.

Now, I am not saying we should never change. Churches should always be open to change. But con­stantly trying to change who we are be­cause we think that’s what it takes to attract a new audience can lead us to lose focus on those who actually show up.

What does the 90-year-old woman who always sits in the fourth pew on the left side need from this church community? What about the couples who have been a part of the congregation for 40 years? What does your church offer to them?
Yes, it is important to be open to change and growth. But if we are busy worrying about numbers, we lose sight of the people who have already chosen to be a part of the church body.

We must remember that the church exists to serve Christ and our neighbors. This is our motivation.

We care about social issues not because we hope to attract more young people but because we follow Christ, and he calls us to care about the marginalized. We care about the poor not because they might decide to go to church with us but because Jesus calls us to serve them.

Yes, people may become more interested in your church because of these things, but that is not the goal. Our purpose is to focus on Christ and people’s needs. Church growth is a ­potential result of fulfilling our purpose, not the purpose itself.

If you are a part of an older and smaller congregation, please don’t hit the panic button. Focus on caring for the people around you. Focus on how your congregation can follow Christ, though you are small in number. Ask: How can we make a lasting impact in the lives of the people in the community?

To survive, the church needs a younger generation to replace the older. But institutional survival cannot be our motivation. If we take care of the people, survival will take care of itself.

No, the 30-year-old hipster couple with two kids might not come to your church. But the 90-year-old widow will be there every Sunday. Make sure your people’s spiritual needs are met, and continue to follow Christ the best way you know how.

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Salem (Ore. Read More

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