How Do We Keep Young Adults in the Church?

Sometimes you don’t realize you’re drifting away from your faith until you look up and find yourself suddenly far from home. Sometimes you know and you let yourself drift anyway. I think I did a little of both. 

Transitioning young Christians from kids-at-church to adults-at-church is a crucial step. This post-college but pre-family period is often without a blueprint for active participation in the family of Christ, and young believers find themselves no longer under the direct supervision of what many in my generation jokingly refer to as “adultier adults.”  

In entering the secular world, young Christians are often hit with a wide variety of challenges to their faith. Some are obvious attacks, others are masked, such as potential romantic relationships with non-believers, or exciting job opportunities that will exhaust time and energy that should be put into Sunday worship or Christian fellowship and discipleship. 

Sometimes, there’s just doubt.

I could have used help navigating through my early and mid-twenties, but as I showed no signs of distress, I slipped through a lot of fingers. I think many young Christians do. They fade away quietly rather than face the uncomfortable conversations that require us to challenge our doubts, desires, and priorities, especially when those in our churches meet questions of doubt or confessions of sin with pity or condemnation instead of grace. And when the “adultier adults” aren’t paying attention, fading away is easy to do.

Here are a few suggestions to keep young adults from drifting away: 

What Young People Need to Know: Be Aware of the Drift.

Maybe you feel too old to go to your church’s youth group, or your job increased your hours and you don’t have the time to go. Maybe none of your friends go to Sunday service anymore, and you don’t know the older members of your church well. Perhaps no one has pulled you into the Wednesday night adult devotional or the Men’s or Women’s Prayer Breakfast on Saturday mornings yet. 

Don’t let yourself be pulled away! If you feel like you don’t have a place in your home church anymore, make one. Reach out to your pastor, elders, or leading women in the church and ask what ministries need an extra set of hands. Maybe you have a special skill set which can be used to edify the body of Christ. Perhaps you can simply help set up chairs or clean countertops. Service is a blessing, no matter what form, and getting involved in your church in practical ways is also a form of fellowship. You’re an adult now! Come meet the other adults working hard for the kingdom.

The new converts in Acts devoted themselves to prayer and fellowship with other believers (Acts 2:41-42). We should do the same.

But remember also that you may still have moments where you feel like you’re faking. You’ll show up for midweek Bible study and help with various ministries on Sunday, but inside you’re struggling with doubt or wrestling with sin. I know you do because I do too. 

Faith isn’t easy. It’s confidence in a hope we cannot see (Heb. 11:1). If you’re doubting your faith, you’re in company with Jesus’ own disciples, with the church fathers, and even with the people sitting in the pew next to you. Everyone doubts. Everyone struggles with sin, shame, and fear. You’re not alone. God gave us this great body of believers so that we might encourage each other (see 1 Thess. 5:11-12).

It won’t be an easy conversation, but if you’re struggling, seek out an “adultier adult” in your church family and ask for help.

What Older Saints Need to Know: Reach Out.

I’ve been blessed by the friendship and discipleship of a woman some fifteen years my senior. It’s important to note that she found me. She followed the model Paul set out for us in Titus 2 where the older men and women reach out and teach the younger ones. The responsibility of initiative is on the older saints.

During the season I drifted from my faith, I reached out to this woman because she’d already poured into me years’ worth of encouragement, support, and gentle admonishment when needed. She invited me to her Bible studies and checked in on me during my college years and when I lived abroad. She welcomed me into her home and her life and let me see the difficult parts. So when I needed someone to take my shame and secrets to, I took them to her. She led me back to Christ. 

How do we expect our young believers to join us in worship, in ministry, and in lives of faith if we don’t walk alongside them and show them how? How is the next generation of Christians to know what it looks like to wrestle with their faith and–by the grace of God–to overcome if no one allows them to witness the struggle? Walking side-by-side in the faith with those younger than us is an awesome opportunity for the church to cross generational gaps and be mutually edified in fellowship. Our mindful discipleship is a means God can use to keep young believers close to himself. 

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Mary York

Mary York is a journalist, writer and junior high teacher. She is currently working on her M.A. in Theological Studies at Westminster Seminary California and pursuing certification in biblical counselling. A San Diego native, she is one of seven siblings and currently in a close race to be the world's OKest aunt. Come talk to her about practical theology and comma placements on Twitter at @agirlnamedmary.

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