I have had the privilege of spending time in many churches over the last several years. I am often asked, ‘how do we get more young people in our church?” I always appreciate the people who are asking this question. Regardless of the motive, many in the Church are waking up to the fact that the next generation is essential to the life and future of the local church. Unfortunately, I usually begin to stutter when I offer my answers.
To be honest, for the last few years, I did not have an answer that I felt good enough to give. All I could offer them was an idea about a program. Programs that worked in certain contexts with varying degrees of financial support. Programs that were based on proven principles of reaching the next generation. Programs with popular names attached. Programs that I believed were good, but still just programs. Offering people an idea about a program seemed like really bad advice to me, but I could not tell you why I felt this way.
Last week, I found myself listening to Dave Ramsey’s new podcast, Entreleadership. It was during this podcast that I realized why the ‘programs’ answer seemed wrong. It is because the ‘programs’ answer skipped a step. Before we could talk about programs, we had to ask a very difficult set of questions. They are the kind of questions that I am not sure most churches (specifically church leaders) really want to ask. One big question: Is your church the kind of organization a young person would want to be a part of? An even more pointed question: Are you the kind of leader that a young adult would want to follow?
The problem with going directly to the programs is that it assumes that ‘anyone’ can be successful at the given task regardless of what kind of person they are. The weight of responsibility is on the program, not the person leading/facilitating the program. And while I totally believe that programs can be super helpful, especially when reaching the next generation, success is more so based on the character (not personality) of the leaders and supporting organizations. Furthermore, the life cycle of a program pales in comparison the heart and passion of a true leader to young adults.
The good news is being (and becoming) that kind of person and having (and cultivating) that kind of church is not out of reach for anyone. Even more encouraging is that churches and individuals who can attract young adults usually can attract everyone else. Unfortunately, few people sign up for self-examination and looking in the mirror. There are not a lot of programs that can fix that.