I listened this morning to an itunes u podcast (this is my latest discovery) by Mike Pilavachi (recorded last year) addressing theology students at Ridley Hall, on how to reach twenty somethings. His talk interested me enough to want to jot some of the points down here, and to engage with it a little.
He gave a statistic that about 6 or 7% of the church population in England is in their twenties, and more shocking, that half of that number is in London. Perhaps because they have a number of large churches who cater very effectively for that age-group. Twentysomethings tend to quite like big churches (see below for possible reasons for this!).
He says that in Soul Survivor Watford they identified that they weren’t keeping this agegroup, because they found that in the morning services there were too many babies and children, and the evening teen services were too lightweight. So they ended up starting a 5pm service for twentysomethings, and found their numbers increased from 100 to 200. Those who appeared out of the woodwork had often not been going to church at all.
He suggests that there are three trends in modern culture which make it difficult for this age-group to fit in to church as we run it. First, consumerism. Second, individualism, and thirdly, entitlement. All these mitigate against a commitment to community. They say to church: ‘Come on, impress me’. They almost hold a grudge against the church.
Mike did a little market research at his church. Only 3 out of the 200 there on one evening were married, and 80-90% were not actually in a relationship. Twentysomethings find it difficult to commit to a relationship, especially to marriage. He suggested that a lot of young people dream of being Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, and getting swept off their feet by Julia Roberts. One guy said he ended a good relationship, because he thought that someone better might come along. This is the culture of entitlement and consumerism, which we all contribute to, to an extent, and all are responsible for! In reality, Julia Roberts will not walk into your life. You actually need to look around you, and see who is out there.
Also, twentysomethings find it difficult to commit to a career. He suggested that most of the 200 in their congregation are around 27, work part-time in Starbucks and live with their parents.
Finally, of course, twentysomethings find it difficult to commit to church. Perhaps churches should see youthwork as stretching from 9-29. It’s easy for youngsters to get disillusioned with church. To label them as hypocrites, to say you’ve been hurt, or let down. There is a sense of betrayal in young people that we have to understand (I speak loftily as one who has only recently left my twenties behind!). Of course, Mike is a little older.
It’s not long ago that you had to have a covenant with your church. You couldn’t move churches unless God had spoken to you in triplicate by angels (Mike’s expression here). If you were a church-hopper, or steeplechaser, you were the spawn of Satan! For many of us, our relationship with our church is rather contractual now. But for twentysomethings it has moved from contractual to casual. They say to a church: Don’t expect anything from me and I won’t expect anything from you.
But of course, like all of us, twentysomethings want authenticity. They long for real community, practical help, and to make good relationships. The whole of church needs to go on a journey together. Just as when Mike started out in youthwork, he finally admitted to his dwindling group of teens: “I don’t know how to do youthwork, let’s do it together.” Jesus’ model of discipleship, of letting his disciples do what he did, is what we should be following.
The youth/twenties cell that takes place in our church currently functions along these lines: it functions as community, as practical. Listen, but then do.
You don’t have to be young to work with young people. Mike said that at their 5pm service they have an 80 year-old woman, who gets to sit on a chair at the side, who goes around after the meeting and prays for the young people, and they really appreciate her. We had a prophecy in our church based on the verse about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children.
As a relatively young man, I need and crave for the affirmation, the encouragement, the challenge, that a really mature Christian gives me. I love and appreciate all the fathers and mothers in Christ in our church.
Younger Christians, take advantage on all-age services of checking in with the older folk. You will always bless them by thinking of them, and in that way you’re serving. But they will also bless you more than you can imagine, if you offer them a window, or even a door, into your life.
So how do we overcome entitlement, consumerism, and individualism? I don’t know – answers on a postcard please. But certainly, I mustn’t give place to it in my life. We walk together as believers, or we stumble and fall. And we receive from each other, a two-way exchange: none of us come to church expecting simply a download, as if it’s a purchase from a shop that we have any right to complain about. And how narrowing, painful, imprisoning and suffocating is the current climate of individualism! Get me out of there quick, and get me into Christ.