Young people are notoriously difficult to fathom. Many come hard-wired with a rebellious, non-conformist streak and a knee jerk dislike of anything too organized, bossy or prescriptive. Add to that anything their parents may vaguely approve of, and the ever-narrowing window of opportunity in which to engage the youth audience becomes momentarily clearer before moving out of reach again.
Ah yes, the youth audience. That fickle, hard to please bunch of youngsters for whom the church represents many differing opinions, some good, some bad, some right and wrong. Many organizations have faltered on the rocky road to youthful acceptance, and the church is no different. But appealing to the young is essential if we are to survive and grow as church communities.
The whole deal about churchgoing for young people, is that is just seems irrelevant, random and totally un-relatable. For young people today, the key word that resonates with many is 'authenticity.' If it doesn't feel right and is difficult for them to relate to, it will fail the authenticity test. As our congregations have aged, moods have shifted. Practicing the Christian faith always used to be discussed in terms of responsibility and duty, these days it's more likely to be perceived in terms of being true to yourself whilst still striving to do your best for others. Being able to be who you are, accepted in the eyes of the Lord, this is the level at which connecting with the youth audience is going to be most successful.Engaging with the youth audience is not an easy task for any organization, least of all the church. Successfully managing to 'interface' with anyone in the under thirty age group will mean prizing them away from screen-time first – no easy task. When was the last time a teenager was heard to say to their friends: 'Hey dudes, I'm not gaming tonight – I got a sermon I'd like to catch'?
So how do we go about winning back the interest of the youngsters in our community? For a start, we make church a fun and happy place to be. Focusing on the social side of church is something that will tempt young people into the fold. More than anything, teenagers and young people like to hang out together – so making church a cool, non-judgmental place to meet up with other youngsters is the first step to getting them interested. Organizing trips out to gigs, festivals, sporting events, exhibitions or adventure parks shows kids that church can be fun, inclusive and even a little cool at times. In the Philly area there's so much to see and do that can stretch and feed young minds, check out Philadelphia ticket information for inspiration and ask for feedback and canvas opinion from the young congregants on where they might like to go.
In the eyes of the young, the Church has a serious image problem. Whether it gets a total overhaul or a minor makeover, its image won't improve at all if power and money are the only messages young people pick up on. A preoccupation with politics, rules and interfering in the lives of others, is something that young people naturally kick against – of course not all religious organizations are guilty of this, but we all know of places that don't help in dismantling this common view.
Church communities that are less judgmental and more liberal in their thinking will be more appealing to the youth audience. Pre-teens and teens are often confused and sensitive about things such as sexuality, and churches with intolerant attitudes towards homosexual marriage for example and gay issues in general, will be alienating large numbers of young people, both gay and straight. Many young people will instantly dismiss a Church that discounts people on the basis of their sexual orientation as a place that marginalizes and mistreats, not somewhere that accepts people for who they are. Ultimately, religious communities who fail to adapt to such changes in modern life will find themselves sidelined and viewed as irrelevant.
Reaching out to the youth audience in ways they understand is very important. Churches that invest time and effort in engaging the congregation on social media may find more luck in communicating their message to youngsters. The secret is to go where the young people are, and increasingly, that's online. A website, Facebook page and Twitter feed for the church community are the basic social media requirements, but if there are young worshipers interested in developing this side of the church's outreach message, it is an effective way of keeping them engaged, feeling valued and stimulated.
No young people want to spend time in boring, empty spaces with no vibe or atmosphere. They want to be where the action is – and if the church building is only used on a Sunday, left idle for the rest of the week, it's not going to be very appealing. Religious communities that arrange lots of activities for the locals during the week, whether it's a badminton class, adult seniors’ coffee sessions, mother and toddler groups, teen band practice or AA meetings, if the church is rooted in the community in a way that holds some relevance to young people, then it will attract their attention.
The church has long been at the heart of the community and in order for it to keep its place, it needs to adapt to a changing world. All church organizations want and need younger people to fill up the pews as the older members of the congregation move onwards and upwards. To achieve this, local community churches must welcome young people through the doors with open arms, offering them not only understanding, love and acceptance but the tools for making a difference in their community on a local level. Involving young people in church initiatives that have tangible impact and results within their community helps underpin the message that the church can still be relevant today. So that when they ask the question:' What is the church good for?' they have hard evidence good and ready...