Insightful Report from Faith Communities Today Newsletter
Most churches, synagogues, mosques and congregations have relatively few young adults who participate regularly. Many religious leaders are gravely concerned that the next generation of adults is checking out of congregational life.
What characterizes those congregations that attract an exceptional number of young adults? The multi-faith group of researchers that make up the Faith Communities Today collaboration took a first look at this question at its annual meeting. These researchers presented a profile of the 16 percent of congregations in which more than a fifth of the participants are young adults.
These congregations are nearly twice as likely to be located in suburbs or urban neighborhoods as in small towns and rural areas.
There is also a strong correlation between ethnic diversity and engagement with young adults. The congregations with exceptional numbers of young adults are nearly twice as likely to have a minority majority or no ethnic majority.
They are also somewhat more likely to be located in the west, although regional differences are much less than those related to urbanization and ethnicity.
New congregations formed recently are much more likely to attract significant numbers of young adults. Those groups organized in 2000 or later are more than three times as likely to have an above-average number of young adults as those organized before 1976.
There is also a clear correlation between use of technology by congregations and engaging with young adults. Nearly one in four of the congregations that make major use of new technology have exceptional numbers of young adults, while less than one in ten of those who make marginal use of new technology have a high percentage of young adults.
There is a similar correlation with the number of programs that a congregation reports. Those with many programs are twice as likely to have an exceptional percentage of young adults as are those with few programs. It is also true that congregations with more men among the active participants are more likely to have an exceptional percentage of young adults.
In addition, there is a strong correlation between contemporary worship and engagement with young adults. Congregations with an above-average percentage of young adults are twice as likely to report that they usually include guitars and drums as part of their worship music. The use of an electric guitar or bass and projection equipment also correlate with the presence of young adults, but not as strongly.
Clergy staffing is also related to young adult participation. A solo full-time clergy leader is significantly less likely than two or more full-time clergy or no full-time clergy. The traditional American pattern of pastoral staffing in many denominations may not work in the congregations attracting above-average numbers of young adults.
Researchers have not figured out exactly how congregational growth and size relate to exceptional numbers of young adults, though there does seem to be a slight relationship between the presence of young adults and larger congregations. Congregations with above-average numbers of young adults are more likely to be among those with the most rapid growth rates, but they are also more likely to be found among those congregations with rapid decline.