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27 October 2015

Diversity, doubt and faith: young adults reflect on landmark research

More than 150 church leaders and young adults gathered last night for the launch of the Evangelical Alliance’s latest research, Building tomorrow’s church today: the views and experiences of young adults in the UK Church.

This special event on the HMS President in London saw young adults and church leaders from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds join together in animated discussion about how churches can build genuine and honest relationships with young adults, equipping and inspiring them to live out their faith in all areas of their lives. The discussion centred on the findings of the Alliance’s survey of 1,703 Christian church-goers in the UK, aged 18-37.

One People Commission research launch panelA panel of young adults reflected on the findings, with Selina Stone from the Centre for Theology and Community speaking about the need for Christian communities to teach and mentor young adults to know how to function in the wider world, developing socially and emotionally as well as spiritually.

Many spoke of the importance of Christian mentors in their lives – people who have been honest and vulnerable with them, taking the time and energy to listen to their experiences and build relationships.

Yet our research found that while 93 per cent say that there are people they can look up to and learn from in their church, just a third (32 per cent) are being mentored by somebody from their church, and 30 per cent don’t have a Christian mentor or group of friends they are honest and accountable to about their life and faith.

One People Commission research launch panelAnd less than half of young adults surveyed (49 per cent) feel their church is helping them a lot to live out their faith in everyday life. Jackie Adedeji from RCCG described how young adults like herself need leaders who relate to them and understand their journey, taking the time to listen and share vulnerably about the struggles they’ve faced and the steps they took. With depression being something many young adults struggle with, many need someone they can talk to openly without worrying about topics being too controversial to discuss.

“Life is really tough for lots of us,” Jackie explained. “There is so much value in leaders just taking time to catch up with us, to listen and to care.”

Doubt was another topic discussed, with the research finding that 30 per cent have frequent or continual doubt, although their faith is strong enough to cope. Ben Doggett from Jubilee Church, Maidstone, reflected on how young adults hate taboos, meaning that when churches sweep issues under the carpet they are often doing more harm than good.

With around half of young adults telling us they’ve been really hurt by a church in the past, Wien Fung from the Chinese Church in London reflected on how many churches do not know how to deal well with prolonged hurt, and misery is often commonplace. “I met a lady in a gym who used to be on the leadership team of a church, but ended up so miserable when things went wrong in her life and people in church were just telling her the right things to do, but not listening and understanding her.” Wien went on: “I could tell she really misses Jesus, but she doesn’t miss church at all.”

Wien concluded: “Older people in our churches need to be more intentional, relational and encouraging, listening more, caring and helping us to grow.”

One People Commission research launch panelAnd Wayne Brown from New Life Fellowship reflected on the good news seen in this research, with many young adults being rooted in church and serving and leading there (the research found 84 per cent are serving in their church and eight in 10 have a leadership role).

“Young adults are a great resource in our churches,” he said, “but we need mentors who will be really honest and truthful with us as younger leaders – not scared to show us where they have failed.”

Then he challenged each church leader, asking them: “If I asked you to tell me one area in your life where you would have made a different decision, would you tell me the truth, or just tell me how it has worked out now? We need to learn from your mistakes.”

Building tomorrow's church todayMore about the research

This resource came about following a series of honest conversations with the leaders of our One People Commission, hearing their heart for the millennial generation and their passion to see their churches equipping and discipling young adults.

The results prove fascinating reading, and offer a great opportunity for churches to reflect on how they are engaging with and equipping the upcoming generation.

Download your copy online today at eauk.org/tomorrowschurch