I love young adults; they are spiritual, intelligent, and caring people. They love the church wholeheartedly and they are looking to serve the church earnestly. However, many are leaving the pews while others are disengaged. What can we do to alleviate this problem? I’ve learned three key components to young adult retention through my interactions with them.
Young adults are looking for a spiritual church. Christ offers the best example of a spiritual church. In the New Testament church Jesus did four critical things: He prayed, lived a genuine godly life, helped the needy, and empowered His disciples.
By Christ’s example, He demonstrated that prayer was not an option, but the most needed activity in life. Throughout scripture, we find Jesus praying at every critical juncture. Jesus, at times, prayed all night (see Luke 6:12). Every critical decision and activity was preceded by prayer—His baptism with the Holy Spirit and entrance into public ministry, commencing His evangelistic journey, selecting disciples, during His ministry, and before announcing to the 12 His approaching death.
Jesus was genuine, He walked the talk. His life demonstrated His teachings. People wanted to be with him because of His devoted life (see Luke 15:1). Sinners and religious leaders alike were drawn to Him because of the life He lived. Jesus took time to help the needy, and those suffering (see Matthew 4:24). There was no town that Jesus’ presence did not bring peace and healing. While His primary task was to save us from sin, He spent a great amount of time ministering to those in need, showing compassion.
Jesus deliberately empowered His disciples. For three-and-a-half years He demonstrated how to live a life connected to God. Then He prayed for their unity (see John 17), and sent them to preach the gospel (see Luke 9: 1-27). He gave them authority and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28). He sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to preach the Word until the end (see Acts 1:8; Acts 2).
Young adults are looking for a church that really cares about them. In the study “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them” by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, 58 percent of 20-somethings would be more likely to attend church if people “cared for them as a person.” Young adults thrive when the people in church demonstrate they really care about each other. They should be devoted to each other, accountable to each other, call each other, and do things together. A church that cares demonstrates love in action, they reach out, and also provide a place for fellowship and hospitality. People who are lonely, discouraged, or afraid can come to church and find help in their time of need.
Young adults are looking for a church that lives as a community. They love the idea of joining a small group in order to learn more about the Bible and Jesus. LifeWay research affirms that young adults are longing for community and fellowship with peers, looking for ways to reach people in need, and are circling the church but not always finding a home in it. Young adults are looking for connection. Community with other young adults is extremely important in their lives. LifeWay research says young adults seek authentic answers in the Bible and Christian tradition that are best learned through participation in small groups. Making a difference is essential, and is accomplished by providing opportunities to meet the needs of others on a regular basis. Social action is cited as the major reason uninvolved young adults would consider becoming part of a church.
Jesus was a young adult with young adult disciples. They fulfilled God’s mission because Jesus’ church was a reflection of His life. Jesus’ ministry, as well as contemporary research, confirms and validates the fact that young adults will be drawn to a church that is connected to God, is caring, compassionate, and lives as a community. We can easily retain and attract young adults by using the small group model in our churches, demonstrating genuine love and interest toward those inside and outside the churches, and living a life that mimics that of Jesus. Jesus demonstrated prayer. It is the first and most critical step. Nothing short of a revival will lead to retention of young adults. Ellen White said it best, “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work”—Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 121.
Andrés J . Peralta is director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Pathfinder and Adventurer departments in the Atlantic Union Conference.