One of the biggest keys to good communication is an understanding of who’s on the receiving end of what you’re saying. In the church world, we may feel in touch with the needs of our congregations. Even if we are not communicating the best that we can, we at least understand who we’re talking to; we know our people. The bigger challenge, though, comes in trying to say something valuable to the people who aren’t inside the walls of our church. Life outside of the church, or Christianity as a whole, is a little more foreign to us. This makes it harder to communicate effectively as outreach.
In an era of aging churches, we have the added challenge of attracting the next generations. Despite a passion for reaching younger people, many churches still have a gap in actually doing it. Trying to reach them and getting them to engage with the church is a different story. In an effort to better reach them, we need to know what they’re thinking.
Barna Research and David Kinnaman did five years of research to see what the new norm is for a younger generation. In Leadership Journal, they outlined six reasons why young people aren’t engaging with the church.
Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.
Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.
Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.
Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.
Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multi-cultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.
Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.
The results of this research should make us feel uneasy for many reasons. It could be that you’ve worked hard as a church to break down these stereotypes but yet the general population—and those who have given church a try—still views the Church in this way. Or maybe you look at the research, especially in the area of sex, and feel overwhelmed about where to even start.
Or maybe you find this kind of research encouraging. It’s good that Christians are leading studies that help us better understand the challenges ahead. We’re not just going into this blindly, but instead have some research that can help us tailor and fine tune our communication.
How’s your church communicating with a younger generation? In your experience, are the findings from this research true?