Thoughts on 2017 Lifeway Research Study on Why Young Adults Drop Out of Church

Today my mother-in-law sent me an article about why 18-22 year olds drop out of church from Lifeway Research. She knows I enjoy reading about what other researchers have found related to church worship, discipleship, and the like. The article she sent me led me to find the actual report, which includes the methodology, data, and results. Here is a link to the report:

Lifeway Research Study 2017 on why Young Adults drop out of church.

As I read the data, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that really stood out to me. While there are many points of data worth discussing, especially related to the “life changes/situations,” I want to focus on just a few that really should cultivate further conversation related to church and pastor related issues.

  1. Relationship issues mar the dropouts. The top responses for many of the questions related to church/pastor related issues include “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical,” or “I didn’t feel connected to anyone in my church or others weren’t welcoming and friendly.” I have no doubt this is an issue; I hear it all the time. One solution, although not the only one? Make intergenerational ministry your church’s priority. Create a family atmosphere and build relationships among the various generations in the church. Model mutual submission in all you do. If unity is the aim, and I believe it is, then the 18 year old going to college will feel LOST at college without the support of a church that values intergenerationality.
  2. Very few (13 percent) indicated that worship style is what kept them from coming. To me this just continues the point I’ve made for years—worship style is NOT the most important factor of growth/retention in a church. Worship style should be based on the church culture, actual culture/demographics of your area, and the resources and talents of all ages God has brought to you. Intergenerational worshiping churches will not look exactly the same and that’s GOOD. What will be the same? Use of various generations in worship leadership.
  3. Of those who stayed in church, among the top answers was “church activities were a big part of my life.” I agree that those youth who are connected to the church in other ways outside of worship and Bible study (i.e. serving) have a purpose/”skin in the game.” My personal experience is that all ages are more connected when they are pouring into the life of the church. We’re in this together—the church needs me to be there. I’ve found this especially easy to accomplish by involving as many in music ministry as I can. I’ve watched many, many students grow in their faith because they loved to play and/or sing and felt compelled to be here every Sunday. Yes, we are teaching “holy habits,” but we are also reinforcing the ideology of not simply being a consumer Christian, but part of the BODY of Christ. I think those students who leave for college who’ve been serving for years will be more likely to do so into young adulthood.

 

Involving Multiple Generations at Christmas Music Presentations

One of the easiest times of the year to bring multiple generations together in musical worship is Christmas. Most churches have special Christmas times of worship/presentations, no matter what style of music they use. Our event, Christmas at Ivy Creek, has been both multi and intergenerational for many years. Here are a few things we do to make sure our event reflects our intergenerational philosophy:

  1. We make sure there is a representation of all ages of our music groups in the presentation. By making “platform time” available to children, youth, adults, etc. you, as a leader, are demonstrating you value and appreciate all generations in this important event. We see involving all ages in our Christmas presentation an opportunity to invest in younger generations as they have the opportunity to lead in worship. We desire to raise up new worship leaders, orchestra members, and choir members that will lead the church in the coming years.
  2. Find literature/create or arrange literature that brings generations to the platform together for a song(s). We’ve enjoyed many years having children and/or youth sing with the adult choir on literature specifically written to feature multiple generations together.
  3. The process of rehearsals with multiple generations gives opportunities for various ages to build relationships. I make sure there are times of fellowship before and in between rehearsals and presentations for the purpose of relationship building.

 

We believe that creating an intergenerational worship event is a strong testimony of who we are to our community. Christmas at Ivy Creek is well attended for each of our three presentations. Many of those who come are not members of our church. While the message of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone is our aim, we also reflect to our community that families and people of all ages are valued here. Our visitors notice this and often we have the opportunity to explain our desire to reflect the entire body of Christ in our worship leadership.

There is no “Generation Gap” in God’s Kingdom

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve noticed it as I have. Popular music really hasn’t changed much in the last forty to fifty years. Sure there are new fusions of multicultural influences, and techno influenced styles that have formed new sub-genres, but by in large, popular music is generally the same. Pop bands are often still dominated by a rhythm section with one or more singers. These male and female singers generally sing in about the same register (much too high for most males and often too low for females). We can expect simple harmonic structure and repetitive lyrics that provide a “hook” needed for mass audiences. Contemporary Christian music is no exception. Musically, there has been little change.

While many trained musicians often think this makes popular music (secular or otherwise) boring, I think it means that there is more common ground musically than there used to be among our living generations. For instance, when I was growing up, my Boomer parents loved music from the 50-60s-especially doo-wop. There were beginnings of rock in some of the music I heard, but there was a major shift during the formative years of the Boomer generation in popular music. As my parents aged, the popular music of their day shifted. Much of the music I (as a Buster/Generation Xer) listened to growing up is similar in many ways to what’s currently on the top 40 radio stations.

Why is this important? Well, I believe that the youngest living generations have more in common musically than our older generations. This realization can help bridge gaps in the church as well. This is good news as we move forward, especially since the quality of both text and music in contemporary worship music has risen exponentially in the last decade.

Even so, your church may be filled with people who do not listen to any form of popular music. In fact that are stuck musically in a decades-old musical style. They couldn’t care less that popular music hasn’t changed much. What they want from church is FAMILIARITY!

Familiarity is two fold:
First, familiarity means what you’d expect it to mean…it’s something you know. For instance, I had a long conversation with a gentlemen regarding this a few weeks ago. He wanted to know why we didn’t sing more old hymns. He’s argument was our people sing with more enthusiasm when we sing old gospel hymns. I simply said, “yes, that’s true, but that’s only because the songs are very familiar.” What I explained to him was while the energy is not AS high on newer tunes, I am careful to choose newer songs that I believe will LAST and will eventually become FAMILIAR parts of our hymnody.

Second, familiarity is a general feeling of “this sounds like something I’ve heard before.” This is what I’m referring to in regards to how music has stayed similar-ish over the last several decades in both popular secular and Contemporary Christian music. The mood, the affect, the instrumentation, the vocals all play into creating familiarity that are “familiar” to our youngest generations (remember this is now adults 50s and younger).

Capitalize on both types of familiarity to make inroads into closing that generation gap because all people are vital in the Kingdom of God. Living in harmony means being even more creative as a worship leader in how you create familiarity in a worship service with many varied backgrounds and experiences. A great way to bridge this gap (as an example) is to use a familiar song with instrumentation/popular musical “style”/ vocals that are more in line with what’s present in popular music. Updated “contemporary” hymns are often great ways to accomplish this, but there are others. What would you add?