Why is the Mainline Losing Young Adults?

On Saturday, Methodist pastor Alan Bevere wondered why mainline churches are losing their young adults.  This was my response.

This is probably going to be a future blog post, but I will offer a few observations. First, mainline churches have done a poor job when it comes to campus ministry with one exception: the Lutherans. When I was working for the local Presbytery, there was one church that was heavily involved in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota, but it was on the conservative end and therefore not given much attention. That church is in the process of leaving the denomination. There is another church nearby that could have a bigger presence and we will see if it does anything. I think that there has been some presence at that church in the past but not much. But most mainline denominations have not invested in campus ministry, which has to be a way to keep kids in church.

Which I think leads to number two; a lack of young adult ministries at the judicatorial level. The big downtown and suburban churches like Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis (where I work now) or Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, have thriving young adult ministries, but that is because there is staff dedicated to that sort of ministry. However, small churches don’t have the resources to reach out on their own. Middle judicatories need to either create resources to help small churches do effective ministry, or work to gather churches in one area to pool their resources and do ministry together.

There is also no talk about young folk as they enter careers. Michael Kruse is better at explaining this, but there needs to be some way that the young Christians learn of the importance of vocation. We pastors have to help them see the connection between their work and their faith.

Finally, there needs to be more expansion of Americorps type programs. The Lutherans have Lutheran Volunteer Corps which again is a breeding ground for new leaders. A few Presbyterian Churches in the Twin Cities are coming together to operate something similar.

Okay one more thing. Mainline churches need to make the main thing the main thing. Too often what we offer is something that is watered down and frankly no different than what is heard at a Democratic party convention. Young people are wise enough to know that if this is what they are getting in their churches, then they don’t need to come to church. They can get their politics from a plethora of places that do it better. We are called to make disciples, not Democrats.



One thought on “Why is the Mainline Losing Young Adults?

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  1. I’ve been marveling for awhile now at the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer Program (of which I’m an alum). There are scores of young adults in this program giving a year of their life to church service, but you won’t find any of them in worship. That doesn’t bother me, but it bothers those who take worship participation as the most important measure of church health.

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