The saying “the only thing constant is change” definitely rings true when it comes to attracting the younger generation to church every Sunday. LifeWay research found that 70 percent of young adults ages 23 to 30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18 to 22. As far as in Bryan/College Station, it seems to be coin toss as to whether or not churches have a high attendance rate of the younger generation, also referred to as “millennials.”
Out of three churches interviewed, Grace Bible Church, Brazos Fellowship, and First United Methodist Church in Bryan (FUMC), Youth Ministers and College Pastors alike have a few ideas as to why those 30 and under do not have church at a higher priority.
While both Grace and Brazos Fellowship have a majority of attendees falling under the 30 and younger demographic, Youth and Young Adult Ministry Director for FUMC, Jake Andrews, said “we attract 35 and up for the most part, but are currently making drastic changes to attract the younger generation.”
Andrews said, that there is a huge age gap and struggle across the nation keeping millennials in the church. “Millennials are those born between the years 1980 and 2000, and are the largest age group in our nation,” Andrews said. “There are 80 million and only about 17 percent go to church.”
While it seems non-denominational churches have a higher millennial turnout, a few factors could soon change that.
“It’s not so much what the church is doing, but rather the culture that has changed; so, the church has to adhere to that culture,” Andrews said. “Our church is a thriving church, but the denominational churches struggle is that they take a slow approach to making change happen. The process of making change is important, but some may get frustrated and look for a different church.”
Older generations may worship more traditionally than newer generations, simply because times change — morals and values are different now than they once were, just like fashion, technology, and now church services.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” about 44 percent of Americans say they have a religious affiliation that is different from the religion in which they were raised. Even Brazos Fellowship College Minister, Chris Shepperd, was raised in a Baptist church, only to later realize that labeling anyone to a denomination has little to do with the bigger picture.
“I’m more interested in my relationship with Jesus and what that looks like for me, so I think that whole demographic is about discovering who you are and what you believe and why you believe it. And if this is a church where I can express that and explore that then this is where I want to be. I think that has created a greater appeal,” Shepperd said.
Andrews with FUMC is on the same page, as he explains that attendees are there to worship the Lord. “If you just love the person, then you will put more greatness in their life than telling them how bad of a person they are,” Andrews said. “You just got to love people, no matter what their stories or where they come from. It’s all about loving people.”
Grace Bible Church’s College Pastor Trey Corry agrees, as he explains that the drive behind Grace Bible Church is not necessarily denominational identity, but the ability to find and experience community.
“If [attendees] can find a sense of community, then they are going to go there, which is why I think we see a lot of students in churches that do not have denomination identity,” Corry said.
Community is vital as changes occur, because only within community is one able to meet others who are experiencing the same fears, questions, and excitement that he or she is feeling. Community requires a common ground and something many can relate to.
Shepperd is in charge of the college ministry and young professional groups at Brazos Fellowship, and says for him it is about being a part of their life and investing in them as people.
“As the year progresses, we discuss the different stressors or things they’re focusing on or struggling with, and it really comes from spending a lot of time in prayer,” Shepperd said. “We spend a lot of time in community with them and finding out what they need right now, what they are struggling with going through in life, the decisions they have to make; then think about how we can tailor what we offer to speak directly to them, while still showing them the truth of who God is and how He wants to be in a relationship with us.”
Grace Bible Church reaches students in particular by having an entire service targeted toward them. This way, the sermon can hit more key points that relate directly to student life, rather than the traditional service which is broader to include all age groups.
“We have our main service, and then we have some college offerings on Sunday morning that are just for college students,” Corry said.
Not only does Grace offer a college-aged service, but topics covered include inductive Bible study, where they study the Bible verse by verse and learn how to study the Word by observing it, interpreting it, and applying it for themselves.
The way people worship is constantly changing; however, it seems that the 30 and under age demographic adapts more easily than older generations. Regardless of how you worship, as long as you are worshiping you cannot go wrong.
by Ashlea Gutierrez