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Missions work, ‘family feel’ draw young singles to churchcomment (0)

September 7, 2006

By Grace Thornton

If church leaders think their Sunday services will be the main point of entry for singles in their 20s and early 30s, they’re wrong.
More and more, it’s not their services but their service, according to Jim Johnston, director of young adult ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources.
“This age group sometimes gets the bad rap of not wanting to do anything, but even people outside the church at this age have the hole in their heart that they want to make a difference in the world,” he said.
Those in this age bracket — churched and unchurched alike — have a strong commitment to social action and meeting the needs of the world’s people, Johnston explained. “They don’t want to be spectators, and they don’t want to be in a church that’s not doing anything.”
It’s one of the characteristics of this generation that some churches are using to tap into a large number of young singles struggling to find their place in church, he said.
To learn about the needs of young adults, Johnston and a team of LifeWay leaders embarked on an eight-month research project in late 2005, interviewing churches across the nation to find out what’s working and nonchurchgoers of this age group to see what’s not.
The result is new study materials set for release in early 2007 that will help churches better reach young adults and engage them where they are.
“Churches want to know how to reach singles this age, and they are confounded on what to do with those who are waiting longer to get married,” Johnston said. And all the while, the crowd is growing — 74 million fall in the 18–34 age group.
In 1980, 100,260 people between the ages of 18 and 29 were baptized in Southern Baptist churches, but in 2005, that number had dropped to 60,362 in the same age bracket, Johnston said.
“It’s a big clarion call for action — we’re falling behind,” he said. “The Bible is always relevant — churches are just seeking new ways to use the same truth to reach this group.”
One example of changing strategies to engage young singles is using that apparent bent toward service to attract them to the church through missions work.
“There’s one church we found that routinely takes unsaved people with them on missions trips. Almost always, after working closely with Christians for a week or so, they come back saved,” Johnston said.
He pointed out how this turns missions strategy on its ear for many churches that require those who represent the church on missions trips to be Christians already.
“It’s redefining missions and it’s certainly messy,” Johnston said. “But if they are finding Christ in the middle of that service, it’s worth considering the method.”
Other characteristics of young singles that churches have the opportunity to target are:
• A desire for authenticity. “They want something different in a Bible study than the older generation does — they want more of a discussion on life and to see others be willing to open up and say, ‘I don’t have all this figured out. I’m making mistakes,’” Johnston said.
• A hunger for community. “This is an incredibly lonely and disconnected generation — families are broken and these young adults have moved to other parts of the country alone to start new jobs,” he noted.
If they long for community, then who better to provide that than the church, said Eileen Wright, an associate in the office of discipleship and family ministries for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“The needs are unique, since they deal with issues that married couples have their spouse to help them shoulder,” she said. “Singles become family to each other.”
• A longing to be invested in by the older generations.
“People in their 20s very much hunger to learn from people who are older than them, not only in Bible study but also in doing budgets or figuring out how to change oil,” Johnston said. “The opportunities are there. We’ve got to be intentional about reaching this age group or the church isn’t going to have a future.”
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