Reaching Twentysomethings

Several days ago a friend of mine, Dean Inserra tweeted this thought:

This is an incredibly important point that comes from a leader who is pastoring a church that is actually seeing 20somethings attend at a high level. Just some background, Dean is pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida. About six years ago, Dean started his church with 24 people and it has grown, primarily by reaching college and 20somethings, to one of the largest and strongest churches in Tallahassee. Dean is a great pastor who understands the essentials of ministry.

Dean also understands that one of the great challenges facing all of our churches is a generational drain that is seeing lower amounts of young adults attending churches. Now this isn’t to say they aren’t attending church…it just isn’t the one they grew up in and it isn’t those using traditional methodologies.

For a while we’ve been hearing about the diaspora of young evangelicals when they go to college and then how they aren’t returning. This data is probably reflecting a number of issues (that I’m not going to attempt to discuss here) but it is highlighting several trends we should note:

  • Young adults are not attending church at the same rates as their generational predecessors. For many once or twice a month to a service (not deeper¬†attendance: service, groups, etc) is sufficient for them to consider themselves “connected.”
  • Young adults are attending churches, but it isn’t the ones they a) grew up in, b) are using older methodologies, and c) usually smaller.
  • Young adults, who attend church, are going to ones that utilize progressive worship, have younger pastors, and are often larger.
  • Young adults who are committed Christians understand their spiritual journey as primary and church involvement secondary.


So, where does that leave us? Well, for starters, it should be reinforced by Dean’s point. If your church is expecting that young adults are going to come back to the church of their youth (or their parents) this is a mistaken strategy. The ministry method here is: let’s hire a young guy to lead the area, expect them to attract these young adults by presence alone, and we’ve always had a strong youth ministry and that should translate to young adult ministry.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. If your church is seeing post-college 20somethings return at a rate of 25% you’re probably doing a very good job.¬†

Dean, and young leaders like him, have realized that in order to extend ministry to 20somethings they have to implement massively different methodologies than established and institutional churches are comfortable utilizing.

One of the greatest challenges is that we raise our children from preschool to high school in highly validated, highly inculturated, highly experiential children and student ministries and then expect them to shift to institutional models of adult ministry without careful guidance. We’ve also drastically underestimated spiritual devastation sexual liberation and experimentation has done to millennials. However, there is still hope.

A couple of recommendations we can takeaway:

  • Talking to leaders, like Dean, about their successes is essential.
  • Be willing to change how we understand spirituality in 20somethings.
  • Creating highly validated, authentic events for 20somethings is important.
  • Allow your “Sunday morning only” paradigm to be questioned and pursue alternatives.
  • Realize that models of last century might not produce evaluative tools for the church of this century.
  • Check out leading thinkers who have published great content like Barna Studies, Gabe Lyons, Dave Kinnaman, Jonathan Merritt, and others.

What are you seeing? What is the rate of return of 20somethings at your church? How are you being successful with this segment? What challenges are we missing?