Almost without fail, one of the top three priorities for congregations we work with is a commitment to “make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church.” The priority is an interesting one because it is not just that the congregation wants to attract this demographic, but they are stating a willingness to make necessary changes to do so. The question then becomes what are those necessary changes? In order to answer that question we need to look at the priorities for this younger age set.
When we examine the data from the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)* there are, at times, some stark differences between the 35 and under demographic and the other age demographics when it comes to where they want to go in the future as a congregation. Out of the 17 priorities in the CAT there are 6 that resonant with the younger demographic at a much higher level then they do with the other age demographics.
The priorities that are much higher for this demographic are:
- Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships (for example, small groups, nurtured friendships, shared meals, etc) – benchmarking in the 74.4% as compared to other groups.
- Expand outreach ministries that provide direct services to those living on the margins of society. (i.e. homeless, immigrant, transient persons) – benchmarking in the 71% as compared to other groups.
- Adapt the opportunities provided by the church making them more accessible given the pace and schedule of my life. (i.e. online education, early morning classes, lunch classes, lunch discussions) – benchmarking in the 80.7% compared to other groups.
- Expand the international mission of the church with both financial resources and personal involvement – in the 88.7% in benchmarking compared to other groups.
It is clearly important for congregations to note that the 35 and under demographic are highly interested in building relationships with other members of the congregation. But there is also a significantly high response from this age group for congregations to be externally focused through specific ministry opportunities. They need opportunities for education and ministry offered through venues that fit their lifestyles.
This age group is also distinguishable by what is not as important to them. Out of the 17 priorities in the CAT there are 4 that are less resonant with the younger demographic than with the other age demographics.
The priorities that are lower or much lower are:
- Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the church – benchmarking in the 37.5% as compared to other groups.
- Develop the spiritual generosity of the people to financially support the ministry of the church – benchmarking in the 29.6% as compared to other groups.
- Strengthen the management and support of persons in various ministries so that they are able to do what they do best in work that is meaningful and celebrated – benchmarking in the 38% as compared to other groups.
- Strengthen the pastoral response of the church in serving people with special need- benchmarking in the 27.2% as compared to other groups.
It is perhaps not surprising that the younger demographic is not as concerned about tithing while the 65 and older demographic quite frequently include it in one of the top priorities. However, in some ways these lower priorities see to conflict with the higher priorities but if we take a closer look there are some explanations.
While this under 35 group does not rate the general growth of the church the same as other groups, they do rank the priority of “make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church” as important as the other age demographics. This seems to indicate that they want to seem more people in the church who are their age, not just general growth.
According to the data, this age demographic is more interested in the hands on approach to ministry and not necessarily interested in leaving it to the pastor to do this work. They instead want the specific opportunities we see in their top priorities and aren’t as concerned with being reminded that the work is meaningful. They seem to already know that it is.
Through our research, Holy Cow! Consulting has discovered that congregations that are building solid relationships with each other and who are externally focused are often the healthiest and the most vital congregations. It is interesting and telling that the 35 and younger demographic find those relationships and external focus compelling as well.
President of Holy Cow! Consulting