Where have all the 20-something’s gone?
Former colleague Dave Magill has written up some thoughts on the question of 20 and 30 something’s leaving the church, which you can find here. He makes great points about the adjustments, and lack of preparation, for moving between youth group and the rest of church life. Here’s my thoughts as extended comment:
Today Gavin Calver from Youth for Christ posted this question on twitter @GavCalver: “Please help me! What do you think are the biggest reasons why people in their 20′s & 30′s might leave the Church &/or give up on God?”. Dave’s answer is in his blog post, but mine was this:
@GavCalver At moment, the single biggest direct cause I can see is being forced to move to find work, thus loosing connection.
Perhaps it’s obvious that my meaning was ‘move to London’, but I’d add to that the increasing numbers packing up and leaving Britain for continental Europe or further afield. For others, its just the levels of uncertainty in modern life. The investment of energy to integrate in a new church setting that Dave talks about makes less sense when you’re probably going to be moving again soon. Every single one of Dave’s issues can be a factor in ensuring ‘disconnection’ when moving on.
Furthermore, most 20-something’s feel expectation that they know they can’t fill. Few will marry before 30 and most won’t be having kids any time soon (I’ll return to this point). They also mostly don’t work regular hours, so weekly commitments are out of the question. Sunday trading has probably hit 20-something’s harder than any other group in terms of preventing church membership. If you’re a care worker doing 60+ hours of work each week, energy for church is likely to be low.
But the slower move to start families of their own hampers integration of 20 and 30-somethings even more directly. Where parents take their children to church, their children’s rapid integration into children’s groups can anchor the parents, too. Where a church has lots of families with children, being the generation that can’t afford kids sucks extra hard. I attend a church that could almost class as a 20’s, 70’s and 80’s ministry. We all have lack of dependent children in common.
Where I’m going to disagree more directly with Dave is this: its not true to say that the recent wave of 20-something’s ministries pass are followed up with no further generationally-specific ministries. This is where there’s a two-edged blow for 20-somethings, or where those are catered for, 30-somethings: too old for youth and 20’s ministry, too young for Mother’s Union or lunch club or whatever. Church volunteering projects often stop mid-20’s and don’t restart until retirement.
In the past, the generation ‘post-Uni’ did have a ministry directly aimed at them, cunningly named ‘children’s ministry’. Children’s Ministry meant parent’s could hand over their kids. Some ministries are amazing for kids, but a few have always been little more than baby-sitting operations for harassed parents.
My current church, for all its faults, is doing well with 20-somethings because we give them things to do. Admittedly, those are choir, server team and bell-ringing, followed by a million mundane chores. We probably ‘rope people in’ way too quick, but given the turnover, its probably no bad thing. But those activities probably won’t work for people if they manage to save up for a marriage and kids.
I’d also put a bit of an appeal for people to check the potential that a class-issue is opening up. The traditional middle-class family with a mortgage, car and two kids are a dying breed in most of the country. Churches that have geared themselves up to reach these people aren’t going to move seamlessly to catering for 20-somethings with no career prospects to speak of. Perhaps its not church for the 30 somethings that we need, but rather, church for the Emergent Service Worker class?