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.

Minority-Dominate Congregations are More Likely to be Intergenerational.

The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.

I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service is going to bring the young families in doesn’t necessarily apply if the church isn’t an Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving. The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar with aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars.” This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others. I’d appreciate feedback so the conversation may continue.

  1. Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
  2. Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
  3. Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new.  The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another.
  4.  Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
  5. Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in churches has decreased from 72.3% in ’98 to 58% in ’08, I do not see evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant.  In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.

I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together

1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.