How to Bring the Young People Back

Posted by on Nov 9, 2012 in good idea!, Popular Articles | 3 Comments


The huge number of young people raised in a pew who are now exiting out the backdoor of the Church is an alarming trend in the

 profiles this elusive group of formerly or soon-to-be formerly churched young people.

Despite all our best efforts to serve great coffee, create community, and maybe even use clever marketing hooks to catch their attention, young adults are still bailing on the Church.

It is absolutely vital that within the first few years of adulthood, the Church deeply engages in the life of young people. After over a decade working with a lost, curious, and wandering crowd of young people and living in a town full of the formerly churched (in Whistler, BC), here are ten areas of connection I believe will help us call back this generation.

Connect the Scriptures

Actively exploring and connecting Scripture to Jesus, his Kingdom, its values, and life is vital. Taught, understood, and given the opportunity to dialogue with Scripture themselves, the meta-story of Scripture is attractive to young adults.

 Connect in Mission

Connecting faith with real mission promotes a faith outside the church in and among the realities of work, campus, and relational life. Connecting the skeleton of faith with the flesh of the incarnation propels the faith of many twenty-somethings.  Short-term projects promote hands on service without scaring off twenty-somethings who might be afraid of commitment. Show young adults a cause and invite them into a “one off” volunteer experience and you’ll help craft memories, relationships, and future commitments.

 Connect Authentically

Authenticity promotes depth, trust, and credibility with young people beyond the superficial: this means we must invite them into our lives, and not just for a moment! Rather, we invite young people into the victories and muck of real life—theirs and ours.

 Connect Year-After-Year

Serving the next generation in ministry is a long-haul project. In a culture of constant transition, longevity of relationship promotes consistency, stability, and familiarity in young people’s lives. Long-term relationships help orientate wanderers and is one of the few constants within their shifting worlds.

 Connect on the Issues

Dealing with taboo and morally grey issues promotes much-needed filters for young adults as they traverse these muddied subjects. By connecting a thoughtful Biblical narrative and a grace-based filter through which to dialogue, young adults are eager to discuss sex, wealth, justice, power, alcohol, marijuana, and political movements like the Montreal student protests.

 Connect Multi-Generationally

The treasure of multi-generational ministry is felt most strongly by our next generations. Connecting young people in the lives of those younger and older promotes Biblical mentorship models and encourages a unity found in the diversity of our local churches.

 Money talks

Churches with significant influence in the lives of young people almost always default to youth in their budget, resources, personnel, communication, and ministry practices. Evaluate your budget through the lens of youth ministry: Are young adults a priority? Does your budget reflect this?

 Connect Young Leaders

Where young people lead, young people will follow. Churches that provide young leaders key leadership positions of authority and responsibility promote “church ownership,” and empower and encourage other young people considering their own role and identity within a church.

 Connect Stories

When we tell stories it promotes more stories being told, many of which will surprise and shock you. Three stories I constantly tell young adults: (1) I tell true stories about myself and the Church that they already suspect but never thought I’d admit to; (2) I tell true stories about them they never thought I’d know; and (3) I tell true stories of God.

 Connect Through Simple Living

Churches who promote spiritual practices like Sabbath, hospitality, and generosity are places young adults enjoy interacting with. Simple living encourages a slower more rhythmic pace to life. There is a reason “Zen-marketing” works among young people: they don’t want to live the over-worked and over-cluttered life of their parents. Slow your church calendar down and watch as more young adults connect with you.

 Jeremy Postal has spent over a decade working primarily with a lost and wandering crowd of 20-somethings. He is based out of Whistler, BC and writes regularly at

If you’re interested in finding out more about Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to Church visit


Jeremy Postal has spent over a decade working primarily with a lost and wandering crowd of 20-somethings. He is based out of Whistler, BC and writes regularly at


  1. avatar
    November 12, 2012

    I have to agree that many of these are central to “retaining” young adults. I do however, think that the very outlook that we should be trying to “retain” is harmful. Is keeping young adults in the pews our goal? If so, perhaps we should rethink our goals according to Jesus’ and his disciples’ preaching of the good news: to make disciples of the nations. If this is our goal, then with the aid of the Holy Spirit, our pews will begin to be filled with young adults.

    And I think there are several keys to this:

    (1) A focus on youth. As ‘Hemorrhaging Faith’ has shown us, it is the gap between jr and sr youth that sees the most people leaving church communities. If we are focussed on authentic Jesus- and scripture-preaching ministries with youth, (some) of these youth will go on to be committed, invigorated young adult Christians.

    (2) Preach a life of discipleship. Being a Christian can be hard (but good!); be honest about this. And this comes from

    (3) Preaching Jesus. Let’s allow Jesus to be the stone over which young people stumble or upon which they build their foundations. Coffee, short term ‘mission trips’ (which really aren’t mission trips at all, since they do not involve a ‘laying down of ones life’ for the people whom they are serving), emotive worship will not retain, putting immature Christians into positions of leadership, will not help – they have not helped! (BTW I like coffee and emotive worship.)

    Just some thoughts as I read this.


  2. avatar
    Christina Davis
    November 22, 2012

    I must disagree with some of your points Robert. Jesus always met people where they were. Mature Christians understand ‘lay down your life.’ Those who are beginning the journey do not. ‘Short term’ and ‘one off’ experiences teach about serving. These also recognize the reality of a too busy culture. Meet people where they are – regardless of chronological age – and begin to walk with them as a disciple. Thank you for your comments Jeremy. Now if only my church would listen and act.

    • avatar
      November 27, 2012

      Perhaps the question we should ask is, “where does the journey begin?” Discipleship begins only after one has “counted the cost” and understand how Jesus “laid down his life.” Anything before this is evangelism, and therefore we cannot say that we are “walking with them as a DISCIPLE,” since discipleship is not yet the issue.

      Absolutely Jesus met (and continues to meet!) people where they are. But the step after that is calling them into His life.

      What I am saying is that any service should be a RESPONSE to the good news of Jesus’ salvation. ‘Short term’ and ‘one off’ experiences are not adequate articulations of Jesus’ love, because they are not lasting. If we want young people to last in church, then we have to teach them a lasting gospel; if we want people committed to the love of God and his Church, then we have to model a life with that commitment. Unfortunately ‘short term’ things do not do this.

      And the ‘immaturity’ to which I was referring is not age-related: it is faith-related! I know many youth who are committed to spreading the love of Jesus in their lives, and many adults who are not.


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