My denomination, like too many others, is in a state of decline. As Southern Baptists gather next week for their yearly convention, the numbers are all headed in the wrong direction. Membership is down, baptisms are down, the average age of church members is getting older. One of our seminary presidents Albert Mohler did a fine job detailing the societal and demographic changes that have helped contribute to this decline.
Yet what’s the answer? The standard call is for more prayer, more focus on the Word, more asking for revival. Those are things most churches are already doing and it hasn’t worked yet. I’ve shared in a previous post why asking for revival isn’t as spiritual as it sounds. More than another round of weeping and wringing of the hands over the next generation, what are practical things that churches can do to meaningfully reach people in their 20s? Or, let me ask it another way: what are churches intentionally refusing to do and thereby choosing not to reach people in their 20s? Prayer is always needed, and the focus should always be on Jesus and the Word. But what practical changes need to happen within the church?
1. Update your music. Let’s go ahead and tackle the elephant in the room because if your church isn’t willing to do this you might as well change your church’s name to Senior Adult Baptist Church. There’s nothing wrong with reaching senior adults for Jesus (if your church is actually winning new senior adults to Jesus and baptizing them rather than just entertaining the saints already on the road to heaven). This post is about how to meaningfully reach people in their 20s. If you want to do that, update your music. Imagine walking into a church where the music was nothing but Gregorian chants. How out of touch would that seem with your generation? If your church wants to meaningfully reach people in their 20s, start by playing music people in their 20s generally like to listen to.
2. Put people in leadership and on stage that you want to see in the seats. If you want to reach people in their 20s, what leaders in their 20s do you have in key roles, on staff, in leadership? If a 25-year-old seeker walked into your church, would they see anyone their age on the main stage, whether teaching or helping lead music? If you want to reach people in their 20s, put people in their 20s on the stage.
3. Ditch the suits. This one is a tough one for many churches because of the generational differences and how they view attire. Older generations see dressing up as a sign of genuine respect for God and His church. There’s nothing wrong with that. They also see dressing down for church as a sign of disrespect. The younger generation sees it completely the opposite. They see dressing down as a sign of authenticity and realness and dressing up as a sign of cold formality with strains of hypocrisy, especially if lifestyles inside and outside the church building don’t match up. Go with Paul on this one and become all things to all people. Ditch the suits, not out of disrespect for God, but out of your zeal to become all things to all people so that by all possible means you might save some.
4. Preach through conversation, not condemnation. If music has to change our approach to preaching does as well. That doesn’t mean that we have to start preaching gospel-lite. People come to church craving to know God through His Word. It means we change our attitude and demeanor. Preaching done poorly can build walls between the communicator and an audience member in her 20s, if the preaching is dogmatic, seemingly arrogant, with no room for questions or doubts. Preaching that reaches people in their 20s is less condemnation and more conversation. Give room for their doubts, imagine you’re sitting across from them at your kitchen table. Drop the Charlton Heston “preacher voice” and stop preaching at them. Start talking with them from the stage, and you’ll find yourself connecting a lot more.
5. Meet people in their 20s where they are: online. The first encounter you will most likely have with a non-believing seeker in their 20s is online, because that’s where people live these days. That doesn’t just mean a semi-functional website and a weekly e-newsletter. It doesn’t even mean a Facebook Page anymore, because Facebook is moving away from Pages to Groups. Is your church on Instagram? Is your church on YouTube? Can your church podcast? How can you create content, independent of the Sunday sermon, that can begin to meet and engage people where they live? They live online.
QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION: What other practical things can churches do to reach people in their 20s?