Building a Young Church: Part Two Validation

As we continue to talk through some of the essential building blocks for building a young church, or a church of young adults, we next turn to the key element of validation.

Validation is an organizational priority of authentic engagement. This is often accomplished by the investment of capital (monetary, leadership, and facilities) to give more specific attention and placement of an emphasis on the ministry for that group.

If a church desires to grow their young adult base, a key step in evaluating whether or not they are validating, or willing to validate, effective environments for young adults. This isn’t about creating plastic rooms that meet a specific ratio for hipster style low lighting, but it is about having appropriate textures and spaces that facilitate ministry connection for a young adult crowd. The same environments and methods used to reach and keep senior adults are not as effective for young adults.

For many young adults in their 20s and 30s, a key to workplace happiness is the intentional validation of their efforts and roles. While this certainly is a universal rule, it is often the case that this age group will work at jobs longer where they are given appropriate validation and recognition by their leadership. Articles which have mentioned this kind of managerial insight have appeared in business publications including Forbes Magazine. Now, if you’re knee-jerk reaction to that statement is to roll your eyes and gripe about entitlement then perhaps that is part of the problem.

This isn’t about some kind of psychologically programmed post-adolescent coddling, but it is instead the result of a desire to know where, in a world of hurts, harms, and hang-ups, that a person belongs and contributes. Validation for a young adult ministry isn’t about being the full time focus and effort of a church onto that group, but is, instead, about being mindful of their presence.

While an institutional building, metal folding chairs, bad coffee, and mint green walls are a non-issue for other generations, for young adults highly validated spaces for their group gatherings, fellowship times, and service represent a kind of mindfulness about their presence that they appreciate. For so many young adults the aesthetic of their experience is as important as the script of a video, the Bible passage being considered, and the conversation that takes place.

This means that churches which are appropriately providing validated young adult environments have a strong tendency to attract and keep young adults.

As a result, when we think strategically about these environments we should keep in mind that mixing in a reinforcement of the church culture will be as important to motivating young adults to service and missions as making an announcement.

Just like how a comfortable coffee shop makes a more conducive environment for conversation, reflection, and work, appropriately validated young adult ministries tend to allow for greater movement and growth (specifically relational and spiritual) for strategically minded churches.

Some key questions for evaluation might include:

  • In our current facility, how much space is specifically designed for young adults and their children?
  • When we talk about events or activities in our publications and on Sundays, what percent of space is given to young adult activities?
  • How often are young adults featured in roles of service and missions?
  • As it relates to our children’s spaces, are they conducive to easy check-in and provide a sense of security?
  • Are the sermons we preach using illustrations and examples from media in the 70s and 80s or from the last five years?
  • Is there a prioritized space for young adults to connect that isn’t a classroom?
  • How much of our programming dollars and hours go to creating events and activities that meet the priority needs of young adults in our church and community?
  • Do young adults have ways of providing feedback and generating new ministry ideas as much as established generations in our church?


This certainly isn’t a deal breaker for a community, but it is an important step. As we turn to our next part of this discussion let’s consider what it looks like to provide effective programming and ministry models for young adult ministries.


Building a Young Church: Part Two Some Data

The conversation about millennials and their spirituality continues to thrive, just as it has for the preceding generations. Over at Association of Religion Data Archives, they have posted a research backed study about some key characteristics of churches that reach young adults.

Here are the Seven Characteristics they’ve listed:

Young churches, young people: Congregations organized in the past decade were three times as likely to have a significant number of young adults as congregations organized before 1976. “One of the most effective ways to reach young adults is to launch new congregations,” Sahlin said.

The KISS principle: Keep it spiritual, stupid: Congregations reporting high levels of spiritual vitality were three times as likely to have significant numbers of young adults as congregations with low spiritual vitality. “What they are looking for is something that touches them,” Sahlin said of young adults. “They’re looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.”

Eat, pray, read the Bible: Congregations that reported a lot of emphasis on spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading were five times more likely than congregations that put no emphasis on such practices to have large numbers of young adults in the pews. “It appears that congregations that teach spiritual practices are much more attractive to young adults,” Sahlin and Roozen reported.

Keeping up with new technology: Congregations that reported multiples uses of technology such as social media and websites were twice as likely to have a significant percentage of young adults as those that reported marginal use.

Electric guitars rock: Congregations that used electric guitars and overhead projectors in their worship often or always were about twice as likely as congregations who never used them to have significant young adult participation.

Gender balance: While women outnumber men in most congregations, the study found the more men there were in a congregation the more likely it was to attract young adults.

Promoting young adult ministry: Congregations that placed a lot of emphasis on young adult activities and programs were more likely to attract young women and men.


This list isn’t surprising, in fact, it is what should be expected. There are a host of reasons that some churches reach young adults more effectively than others and this list is a good place to start.

As we talked about in part one of our series, after a church has answered some basic questions about whether they can, should, or desire to reach young adults (we call this confronting the brutal facts conversations) this list is a helpful second step.

How are you doing in reflecting the characteristics of this list? What does your community do to utilize these marks, and perhaps some others, to aid in reaching young adults and building a young church?

We’ll be exploring some of these categories more deeply in the coming weeks. There are some provoking points about, and not just the one about technology. How our churches example gender equality (even for the most complementarian of churches) can speak volumes for our approach and theological grounding.

So, what do you think of this list? Is it accurate? Is it helpful? What should be added?

Aug 2013



Quick Hits: Millennials Views on Work and Marriage

A new Pew Research study has recently released some data about work and marriage which details the established trend of dual-income homes in younger families.

Here’s a quick quote from the study:

Adults younger than 30 are most likely to favor a dual-income marriage model (72%), over the breadwinner husband-homemaker wife model (22%). This is even more true for young women, who are more likely than young men to prefer dual-income marriage (78% vs. 67%). Young adults are also more positive about the impact on families of increasing numbers of women entering the workforce.

As the millennial generation (those born from 1980-1996) continue to enter adulthood and start families, the model that they are embracing is one of two incomes by default. There are likely a number of factors which are contributing to this: the reality that they saw it in their own homes growing up, the burden of student loan debt that necessitates two incomes, lower incomes as a result of their stage of life, along with other factors.

One of the greatest challenges for the millennial generation (and younger Gen-Xers) is that they are leaving college with the highest student debt burdens in history.

With many millennials delaying (first) marriage into their late twenties and early thirties, it should be no surprise that when they do get married both spouses have an established work history and are likely in a particular vocational line. 

So what does this mean for young adult and young family ministries?

One of the first things is that it allows us to speak honestly about the need for career focus to not just one member of a household, but both.

When we are developing and plotting out studies, series, and sermons about work, we should remember that both men and women should be in frame of reference. It is a startling reality, but with women graduating with college at a higher rate than men, our entire “traditional” ministry model is about to be thrown out the window.

Also, that while it is great to have an active MOPs ministry and other specific women’s ministries, one reality is that a growing percentage of women will not be able to attend these groups because they are working.

Another challenge is that we have to realize that traditional, that is older, notions of the stay-at-home-mom will be entirely foreign or, in reality, unrealistic for many of the families in our pews and chairs on Sundays. This isn’t to say that our theology suddenly changes or there is a massive shift towards the egalitarian position, but we should remember that nowhere in Scripture does it only command women to stay at home. The increasing broadening of women’s roles in a, hopefully, free society is an opportunity to expand compassionate and understanding ministry that doesn’t create ill-conceived miscategorization. In other words: we need to continue to rethink the traditional ministries of “mens” and “womens” and how we deploy those ministries across our weeks. Maybe it isn’t best to think of women during the week and men on the weekends anymore.

Finally, it should be noted that this continues to put emphasis on how important it is for our families to have focused time together. With our people leading increasingly fragmented and dispersed lives, where church is no longer at the epicenter of their social networks, we need to mobilize out of our fixed structures to do ministry and life where they live, work, and play.

We need to be wise stewards of their time and provide equipping ministries that seek to connect with and value all families. Since non-traditional is the new normal, ministry models of the last two centuries are increasingly finding irrelevance in this century.

So how are you finding your way in a changing ministry culture? What has been working and what are you rethinking? Is there a changing paradigm for men’s and women’s ministry?

Jul 2013