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Where did they go? 

Across the country, we’re seeing churches lose 50-88% of the kids who grew up in church after they graduate high school. In most American churches, the twenties are the most missing age group. And singles/unmarried in general often represent the largest, unchurched people group in many cities. 

Statistics aside, the lack of young adults in the church is a reality I’ve been sorely confronted with in the churches I’ve served in. During my first few years in ministry, I spent a lot of concentrated effort trying to reach college students with very limited fruit. 

And over the years I’ve spoken with dozens of pastors who’ve shared similar experiences of spinning their wheels and not getting much traction trying to reach young singles in their churches. 

If you’re seeing a lack of young singles in your church, I want you to know there is hope! This trend can be flipped upside down. 

With the Lord’s help, there can be a future where your church is full of young adults energizing your local body and even leading your church in mission. 

I’ve seen it happen before and I’m seeing it happen again. I write with the hope you can see this in your church too! In over a decade of trying to reach young singles and fully integrate them into the church, I’ve learned a lot from research, other ministries, my own mistakes, and of course the leading of the Spirit and God’s word. 

The advice I am giving in this short blog post is the condensed version of my strategy to reach and keep young singles in the church, and I pray it is helpful for you too. 

I believe churches will see young singles fully commit if they believe three things about your church: 

  1. “I am needed here.” 

One of the biggest offenders driving young people out of churches is consumer culture. Young adults are already entertained to death. They are drowning in advertisements trying to sell them happiness, comfort, and success.  

The good news for you is that the church isn’t meant to be a show or a consumer product. The church is the body of Christ where every member has a function and even the weaker vessels are indispensable (1 Cor. 12:22). 

The mission of the church invites young people to join the ranks of the greatest movement in the universe—the expansion of the Kingdom of God. This is ultimately something they want. They want to do something meaningful with their lives and make a difference. 

And the good news is they can find that meaning in the gospel, in the great commission, and through your local church. Over the years I’ve seen students excited to be a part of otherwise ordinary churches simply because they were needed. 

One young man I discipled acted like he hit the jackpot when he found out there was a need for a guitarist. I’ve seen young men and women stay happily committed to church because they were needed on the audio/visual team. I’ve seen young adults who seemed like they were slipping away suddenly reengage when they found out they could serve in a way that made a difference. 

Consider answering these questions with your leadership team: 

  • How can we start giving young singles real responsibilities
  • How can we convince young singles that they are essential and that their presence and service are needed in our church? 
  1. “I will grow here.” 

Here’s perhaps one of the saddest realities of young adults who grew up in church: They are bored of the Bible. 

Let’s be clear. The Bible is not boring. But what they are bored of is the kind of teaching many grew up with. So much of the Bible teaching they grew up with didn’t go deeper than basic Bible story outlines used to teach moralism. They are simply tired of hearing the same old things in the same old ways. 

The good news for churches committed to the Bible is that you have all the tools you need in the Bible itself. The solution to boring Bible teaching isn’t to pull away from the Bible but to go deeper into the Bible. The Bible won’t be boring if we stop censoring it. 

In my experience, young singles have been highly engaged with the gruesomeness of Judges, the graphic condemnations of Hosea, and seeing how these books connect to the gospel and their lives. 

If we’re going to convince young singles that they will grow at your church, they need to see that the Bible goes deeper than they realize and that it understands the real world they are living in. 

The Bible recognizes their fears and dreams. The Bible knows what their idols are and knows how to tear them down. The Bible inspires them to find their place in God’s grand story. Ultimately, it gives them real hope through the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

We will convince young singles that they will grow at our church when we take them into Biblical depths previously unmined and more insightfully apply the riches of scripture. 

Consider answering these questions with your leadership team: 

  • How can we take young singles deeper into the scriptures in a fresh, new way? 
  • How can we get better at applying the scriptures to the real fears, temptations, and desires young singles are experiencing? 
  1. “I have friends here.” 

Of the three beliefs that will give us our best shot at reaching and keeping young singles, this one is probably the most challenging. 

Convincing young singles that they have friends here is difficult for most churches because most churches don’t have many young singles to begin with. Most churches have at least one token single but that doesn’t mean they are ready or desiring to be the welcoming center of singles outreach in your church. So, what can your church do? 

Here are two suggestions: 

First, offer the kinds of friendship you can genuinely offer. If you don’t have a lot of young singles to offer peer-to-peer friendships, that’s just how it is for now and that can be okay.  

What you do need is older adults willing to offer genuine friendship. They don’t need to be cool or youthful. They just need to genuinely offer the hand of friendship and be who they are. They can be the older mentor kind of friend. They can be the big brother or sister in the next stage of life kind of friend. They can be the adoptive family kind of friends who become their home away from home. 

The beauty of the gospel is that it breaks down normal dividing lines like age and stage of life which means God can use the kinds of people already in your church to reach the young singles not currently at your church. 

Second, learn how to fellowship outside of the church building. Different generations fellowship differently. 

In general, older generations find great fellowship in the church building but younger generations do not. While older generations love fellowshipping in the church building, most families find the best fellowship in their homes. Young singles likewise don’t find their best fellowship in the church building. They might like fellowshipping in your home, but they often don’t have a home where they can invite others into themselves. 

That’s why young singles often find their best fellowship going out and doing the things they are interested in. When the young single leaves their small apartment, it’s usually to do something they are interested in. They might play sports, chill at the beach, go for a hike, eat at a new restaurant, peruse the art fair, or attend a concert. 

I don’t share this to burden you with more event ideas but to make your job easier. Rather than investing tons of energy into a singles fiesta night at your church or putting on a college talent show in your auditorium (in fact, just throw those ideas in the trash can), just go out and meet them in the places they are already going. 

Do the easier, more natural thing. Invite them to play ultimate frisbee at the park and grab a bite afterward. Host a bonfire in your backyard with s’mores and hot dogs. Meet up at the game and form your own cheering section. Do the things they are already doing. 

Consider answering these questions with your leadership team: 

  • Who are the people in our church who would be a genuine friend to young singles? 
  • What are simple ways we can cultivate fellowship for young singles outside of the church building? 

I am needed here. I will grow here. I have friends here. 

I believe a church can reach and keep young singles when they can convince them of these three beliefs. My team regularly refers to these and considers how we can improve in each area. And while change takes time, it doesn’t take forever.  

It is my prayer that churches around the country will start reaching and keeping young singles again and that it will start with your church and mine

At the time of writing, Tim Arndt serves as the College and Career Reach Pastor at First Baptist Church Jacksonville and is the Florida Area Director for Ratio Christi, an apologetics and evangelism campus ministry.

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