Join us

Reaching young adults: a journey of hope, not despair

We can be optimistic about a church thriving with young adults, says Phil Knox

In recent years, younger generations have been the subject of bruising critique from authors, social commentators and viral Youtube videos. Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) and Gen Z (born after 2000) have been badged ‘Generation Me’, ‘Entitled.com’ and ‘Snowflakes’ as critics perceive their self-obsessed, emotionally fragile state.

Growing up at a time of global instability in the wake of a digital revolution was always going to make sociological and cultural waves. The effect of these are identified and analysed in a huge piece of research released on Tuesday by Barna Group and World Vision. Faith for the Future surveyed more than 15,000 respondents across 25 countries to better understand their values and their relationship to faith. 

The research does identify a number of challenges. But there are also some very good reasons to be hopeful. Here are eight reasons why we should be optimistic about a church thriving with young adults.

  1. This generation needs connected communities. According to the research, more than half (57 per cent) of young adults feel connected to people around the world but just 33 per cent feel deeply cared for by those around them. This is an astonishing discrepancy between the global and the local. The church at its best is a powerful network of emotionally connected individuals and offers a place where this generation can belong and it can call home.
  2. Christian young adults are better connected than their peers without faith. The report identified six key markers of connectivity. Those with the lowest levels of connectivity were more likely to feel isolated and anxious. People of faith are better connected, and followers of Jesus are even more connected. Faith really works.
  3. Young adults are surprisingly spiritually open. Whilst many sections of the media would have you believe that Christianity can be consigned to the history section of our society, this research found that 18 to 35 year olds, all around the world, are faith-friendly’, with the majority espousing the benefits of religion. We can be hopeful and confident that younger generations are open to the gospel and a conversation about faith.
  4. There are some extraordinary Christian disciples in this age group. The research analysed the characteristics of Christian young adults and found amongst a small percentage some astonishing and encouraging traits. Whilst relatively few in number, in our churches there are a significant number of 18 to 35 year olds who are intimate with Jesus, are culturally discerning, have meaningful relationships, are vocationally discipled, and live missionally. We have world-changers in our midst.
  5. Digital media is enhancing discipleship. Screens are changing the human experience and young adults are spending a lot of time looking at coloured pixels. Faith for the Future found that the typical 15 to 23 year old spends 2,767 hours a year using screen media, and whilst much of this is undoubtedly driven by Youtube, Netflix and social media, the report also found that over half of practising Christian young adults enhance their discipleship using helpful online content.
  6. Christian young adults have a deep desire to share their faith. When asked what is missing in church, many of us would take the opportunity to criticise the style of worship, the lack of pastoral care or last week’s sermon. The answer from this cohort of Christian young adults: My friends.” We should be so encouraged that a generation, labelled as consumers, are so outward focused and desire to see their friends encounter Jesus.
  7. Older generations are really important to today’s young adults. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of practising Christian young adults said they have someone in their life who encourages them to grow spiritually. Intergenerational discipleship is critical for today’s 18 to 35 year olds. If you are an older Christian, don’t write yourself off as irrelevant to younger generations, as they are crying out for significant mentoring and wisdom-sharing relationships.
  8. This generation believes that faith means action. Again, almost three quarters (71 per cent) of young adults surveyed said that they believed that they give their time up to help others in need because of their beliefs. For today’s young adults, a head or heart faith is not enough; it has to work itself out with getting their hands dirty in making a difference in the world around them. 

Research of this scale and nature inevitably raises a huge amount of questions. In today’s tumultuous times the church desperately needs 21st-century embodiments of the sons of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32), who understood the times” and knew what to do. We must not bury our heads in the sand but respond with creativity and hope. 

Sponsored

As the Evangelical Alliance we are grateful for member organisations like World Vision for taking a lead in spearheading this research but are also treating mission to young adults as a strategic imperative and investing time and energy in resourcing the church in this area.

If you are a church leader and would appreciate a conversation about how we can help, drop us a line here. May we be a church that speaks well of young adults, empowers them, reaches them effectively, and helps them navigate volatile times well. May we see significant numbers of the connected generation make the most important connection of all. And may we see a church thriving and full of all ages. 

At the Evangelical Alliance we are also passionate about equipping Christian young adults to be world changers and live out their faith in the public sphere. For more on our Public Leadership course, click here.

About the author

Phil Knox is the head of mission to young adults at the Evangelical Alliance. He lives to see people come to know Jesus and Christians inspired and equipped to share their faith. He has a passion for his generation, the local church, loves learning and has degrees in law and mission and evangelism. Phil is married to Dani and they have two sons, Caleb and Jos. He is an avid runner and footballer, a proud Aston Villa supporter and battles a mild coffee addiction.

See more from Phil Knox

You are already subscribed to our mailing list.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

By signing up you agree to our Data Protection Statement