I've been thinking a lot about the church lately - and about how young adults seem to be viewed by the church. The more I've done this, the more I've come to the conclusion that oftentimes the complaint about young adults leaving the church in large numbers proves true, for reasons we don't care to admit. Not all, but many people seem to think that young adults will just stay at church and move from youth right into adult ministries without a problem . . . and then they complain when young adults leave the church and there is a huge gap in the young adult demographic at church.
As much as I love that I have connections with people of all generations in my church, I also feel a huge need to have an opportunity to be able to connect with other young adults. I don't fit in with the youth anymore . . . hopefully that is obvious. And while in some ways I fit in with the adults, in many other ways I don't fit in with people who are 20 years older than me. I'm single, hoping to be married one day (which means I need a place where I can meet solid Christian guys who are single), in my mid-twenties, and still getting started in my career and getting a life outside of my parents' house established. I appreciate and seek out the wisdom and advice of those further along on the journey of life than me. But, I feel most connected and develop my closest relationships with those who are in a similar situation to me. If I don't find opportunity to connect with people in my life stage at one church, it is relatively easy for me (because it's just me) to start going somewhere I do find that . . . or to just stop going completely and seek out that connection elsewhere.
I honestly think that if the church wants to keep young adults involved during those years of their lives when they are making some of the most life-impacting decisions they will make, then they must let young adults know that they care about us. The church, in very general and broad terms, has failed to do this in many instances . . . and then they wonder where the young adults are.
Yes, as young adults we are exactly that - adults. But, our life stage is much different than many of the other adults in the church. And the church needs to acknowledge that and make an effort to allow young adults to feel included and valued as part of the church as a whole, while also supporting a place where young adults within the church can connect with one another. Supporting it doesn't necessarily have to mean throwing tons of money and staff at a ministry for us, but it does require the church to step it up. It can be as simple as providing us with space to use and having church leadership acknowledge our presence in the church and caring enough to know what's going on and let us know that they will do what they can to help us make something happen.
We don't need to be spoon-fed, and if we're going to be ready to be the leaders of the church in the future I don't think it's really beneficial for us to be spoon-fed. But, we're still young and we're still learning and growing - we're in kind of a strange in-between time: we don't fit with youth anymore, but we don't quite feel at home with the adults in the church either. We need to know that the church cares enough about us to help us feel like we have a place in the church. Manny churches have children's ministries, youth ministries, women's ministries, men's ministries, seniors ministries . . . all of which may or may not be supported directly by church staff and church money . . . but they're supported by the church. And, I think that if the church wants to survive in the future then young adults ministries need to be supported by the church as well.
As I sit here and type this I can think of many names of young adults I know who have left the church in recent years. Some of them because they have chosen not to follow God anymore. But, just as many, if not more, have left because they felt like the church didn't care about them. They were left to navigate the murky waters of moving from youth ministry to adult ministry on their own and it was overwhelming so they left the church rather. It remains to be seen whether these people will ever return to the church in the future - my guess would be that not as many of them as we hope will return. They will build their lives around something else and over time the church will continue to lose importance to them until it is no longer even on their radar as a part of life.
Is this really what we want for the church? Will the church survive in the future if this trend continues?
Maybe . . . but I believe one of the keys to survival, maybe not of the church worldwide, but of the church in North America, will be a change in the attitude with which young adults ministries are approached.
I have been told over and over growing up in the church that young people are the future of the church. And when I was in children's ministries and youth ministries I believed that the church believed that. But now, having been a part of the young adult demographic for a few years, I'm not completely sure that the church believes it. I often feel as though they say that, but don't act it out in actuality. If they did act it out, I think that instead of just asking the question of where the young adults are in our churches, the church would do something to fix it - to draw young adults back to the church and to keep the ones who are still there but may be struggling with these same questions that have caused some of their peers to leave.