What are young adults looking for when they go to church?

1. “The need to believe that life is meaningful and has a purpose. During a time when sociologists observe a self-obsessive sense of person in America, most young Americans nevertheless believe is ‘very important’ that life be meaningful and have a purpose. Yet a high percentage of these same people believe that ‘most churches and synagogues today are not effective in helping people find meaning in life.’ Here is a basic need apparently being only partially met. The fact is, significant numbers of teens find churches to be irrelevant, unfulfilling and boring.”

2. “The need for a sense of community and deeper relationships. Many factors conspire to create separateness in our society-high mobility, divorce and the breakup of families, and other factors. The world is becoming increasingly impersonal with the growth of megacities. ‘Radical individualism’ has taken hold in the religious lives of Americans-the large majority of Americans, for example, believe that one can be a good Christian or Jew without attending church or synagogue.”

“One of the poignant consequences to this separateness is loneliness. We discover from surveys that American are among the loneliest people in the entire world. As many as three persons in 10 say they have been lonely ‘for a long period of time’ in their lives, with half of these people saying that this experience has affect their thoughts ‘a great deal.’”

“Our churches, synagogues and other faith communities need to deal frontally with the separateness and acute loneliness in our society by encouraging corporate worship, as well as participation in small groups. A growing number of people, it would appear, are coming to the conclusion that small groups, rooted in prayer and Bible study, many be the best hope for a renewed church in the next century.”

3. “The need to be appreciated and loved. This is certainly a basic and fundamental need, yet as many as one-third of the American people have a low sense of self-worth or self-esteem, arising in considerable measure from not being loved or appreciated. Low self-esteem brings with a host of social problems, including alcohol and drug abuse, child and spouse abuse, lawlessness and crime, and many other problems.” (p. 101)

“Significantly, we have discovered that the closer people feel to God, the better they feel about themselves. They are also satisfied with their lives more than are others; they are more altruistic; they enjoy better health and have a happier outlook. We also discovered that experiencing the closeness of God is a key factor in the ability of people to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive others.”

4. “The need to be listened to—to be heard. The main theme of a book I wrote with Jim Castelli, entitled ‘The People’s Religion,’ is that religion in the future is more likely to be shaped from the bottom up and the top down-from the people in the pews rather than by the hierarchy. In a special survey we conducted for ‘The People’s Religion,’ we discovered that Americans overwhelmingly think that the future of the church will be shaped to a greater extent by the laity than by the clergy. This is also what the laity would like to see happen.”

“Those in the survey most eager to play a stronger leadership role in the church are young adults, and the well-educated, two groups of potential leaders churches can ill afford to lose or alienate.”

“In specific terms this means, for example, that the laity should play a great leadership role in the administrative function of churches, freeing up the clergy to perform what the laity expects of them-to listen to people’s religious needs and to provide spiritual counseling. When the unchurched in one survey were asked what would most likely draw them back into the community of active worshippers, the lead reason given was ‘if I could find a pastor, priest or rabbi with whom I could share my religious needs and doubts.’”

“The clergy need to listen more carefully to what the laity are saying, both in one-on-one discussions, as well as in group discussions. Incidentally, one way to enhance the listening process, I believe, is for churches to undertake carefully designed surveys of church members, as well as those who are now unchurched.”

5. “The need to feel that one is growing in faith. People want to deepen their faith, and the fact is we go through passages in our faith lives, just as we do in our secular lives. Seven persons in 10 say they have experienced a change in faith during their lifetimes.”

“Churches need to pay close attention to the passages people experience in their faith lives, and to religions experiences which often change the course of one’s life. People need to help in understanding the significance of these experiences and building upon them.” (p. 102)

“It would appear that, basically, people aspire to the good life. Significant numbers of people have given thought to living a worthwhile life, to their relationship to God, to the basic meaning and value of their lives, and to developing their faith.”

6. “The need for practical help in developing a mature faith. I believe that it is fair to say that clergy often tend to make assumptions about the depth of religious commitment in the lives of members of their churches. They assume that their members’ prayer life is more developed, and that people have a higher level of knowledge about their faith and the traditions of their denomination than actually is the case. Clergy therefore can find themselves in the unfortunate situation of trying to win support for programs and causes from a laity that is sometimes spiritually listless. We pray and believe in the power of prayer, but our prayer life sometimes tends to be a hit-or-miss affair. We believe the Ten Commandments to be valid rules of life, but we are unable to name them. We would be hard pressed to defend our faith-we are uncertain about what we believe and why.”

7. “Ungrounded in biblical faith, many Americans of all are vulnerable and are drawn to a wide variety of bizarre spiritual movements. Through inattention on the part of churches, and lethargy on the part of the laity, the churches of our nations have permitted a huge spiritual vacuum to develop, one which is drawing in millions of unwitting and unsuspecting Americans.” (p. 103)

(George H. Gallup, Jr. “The Spiritual Life of Young Americans: Approaching the Year 2,000.” The George Gallup International Institute. Princeton, New Jersey.)

Research taken from http://www.josh.org.

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