Blog - 4 Surefire Ways to Attract Young Adults to Church

4 Surefire Ways to Attract Young Adults to Church

Author: Emily Rowell Brown Category: Clergy, Parish Warden

Posted November 12, 2014

Spoiler alert: the post title is actually a misnomer. I will not tell you the secret to tripling your young adult membership overnight or provide the magic bullet for getting young adults into Episcopal church pews.

But I can tell you about what I notice as a millennial who works in the church, where I think faith communities fall short, and why it’s worth changing some of our institutional practice to accommodate millennials--instead of attempting to change millennials to fit our institutions.

I know that millennials get a lot of grief: we’re entitled and flaky and addicted to technology. We’re too forthcoming with sex and we don’t really know how to work and we rely too much on our parents. This all may be true, but we bring some of our own gifts to the table, too.

Above all, my generation craves depth and meaning. Part of the reason why we don’t want to pin ourselves down to traditional jobs and institutions like the church is because we want the freedom to follow what feeds us. Faith communities that fulfill us--and do not simply check off a box on our “to do” lists--are what we want. Denominational label has little to do with where we will place our allegiance. We want to find a church home that has substance and truth rather than rules and dogma. For us, it’s not so much about believing the right things as doing the right things--like serving the neighborhood and being kind instead of passing judgment. Churches that are places of acceptance and love and hospitality are much more inviting than churches that are about boundary-drawing and orthodoxy and rigidity.

This past weekend, I attended Commonplace, a diocesan-wide gathering for young adults. If any consensus emerged from our weekend together, it was that, what mattered above anything else, was relationship. This has a way of sounding absurdly obvious, but it is easy to forget. Jesus’ ministry was grounded in relationship, God Godself is a community of three persons, God brings forth creation so that God is not alone. Our faith is thoroughly relational.

All of this is to say, we should prioritize people over programs. Programs, after all, are means to an end--relationship building--not ends in themselves. Church is not about how many splashy events we put on or even how many bodies are in the pews on Sunday mornings but about engaging in God’s work of building a better creation, bringing the kingdom to earth. What I think may be useful, then, is to think more of guiding principles for doing ministry with young adults--indeed, these insights could apply to all age groups--than of one-size-fits-all answers.

The work is hard and nuanced and complex, but it’s worth it. After all, we’re not selling religious goods and services but inviting everyone into relationship with Jesus, which means that for every person, for every place, for every community, faith lived out will look different.

4 Guiding Principles for Young Adult Ministry

  1. Relationship: “Doing church” is more about forming community than the putting on and partaking in special events or programs.
  2. Authenticity: People and faith communities who are real and messy are preferable to those who are perfect.
  3. Connectedness: You feel connected and that you matter. When you are present, you add something to the community. When you aren’t present, you are missed.
  4. Outward focus: The faith community understands that faith extends beyond itself and embodies this conviction through serving the larger community and helping its members to discern and articulate how God is at work in the entirety of their lives

Tell me: Does this ring true to your experience? What did I miss?


Emily Rowell Brown enjoys black coffee, reading, and discussing personality types and dislikes sweet tea and attempting to summarize herself in one-sentence bios. She serves as Assistant to the Rector for Christian Formation at St. John’s, Georgetown and Episcopal Campus Minister at Georgetown University.

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