Caption: Eighty-two percent of Protestant pastors agree (55 percent strongly) with the statement, “I am concerned that the emerging generation of children, teens and young adults is not embracing the Christian faith to the same degree as their parents.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn., — An October 2010 study conducted by Lifeway Research reveals that Protestant pastors have some concerns when it comes to the emerging generation of young adults and their commitment to the Christian faith.
Eighty-two percent of Protestant pastors agree (55 percent strongly) with the statement, “I am concerned that the emerging generation of children, teens and young adults is not embracing the Christian faith to the same degree as their parents.”
In addition, many pastors – 65 percent according to a November 2009 study by Lifeway Research – admit they are concerned about the future of churches with the Millennial generation in leadership.
The November 2009 study also showed that while more than three-quarters of pastors admit concern about the faith of the young adult generation, less than half of pastors agree strongly or somewhat agree that their churches have an intentional strategy for reaching 20-somethings. In addition, two-thirds of pastors (65 percent) agree strongly or somewhat agree that their churches have “difficulty keeping 20-somethings.”
“There is nothing embarrassing about struggling to reach the next generation,” said Lifeway President Thom Rainer, coauthor of the book “The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.”
“The shame is among those churches that don’t intend to try,” he said.
Rainer’s latest book, coauthored with his 20-something son, Jess, gives insight into the generation born between 1980 and 2000, numerically the largest generation in American history.
Perhaps not surprisingly, younger pastors, those ages 18-44, are slightly less likely, at 60 percent, to agree (strongly or somewhat) that their churches have difficulty keeping 20-somethings – 69 percent of those ages 45-54 agree their church has difficulty.
It isn’t that Millennials are utterly unreachable, Rainer pointed out, it’s that churches must find ways to approach them that appeal to the character traits of the generation. Discovering their character traits is not a difficult endeavor as they appear to be a bold and outspoken generation.
For instance, members of this generation are “eager” to attend churches that are “ready to make a difference and radically get into the community and radically reach the nations,” Rainer explained during a podcast about “The Millennials.”
In addition, the November 2009 Lifeway Research study revealed that pastors have noticed 20-somethings’ responsiveness to in-depth Bible teaching. In fact, 68 percent agree (36 percent strongly) with the statement: “It seems that the 20-somethings in our church respond well to deep biblical preaching and teaching.”
Pastors who are themselves between the ages of 18 and 44 are more likely to agree strongly or somewhat (at 75 percent) that 20-somethings respond to “deep biblical preaching and teaching,” as compared to 64 percent of pastors aged 45-54, and 68 percent of those who are 55-64.
Some other demographic factors also reveal differences in response: Generally, pastors who consider themselves to be evangelical (as opposed to mainline) are more likely to be concerned about the faith of the emerging generation, but they are also more likely to agree that their churches have intentional strategies for reaching young adults.
Even so, self-identified evangelical pastors are also more likely – at 73 percent compared to 53 percent of mainline pastors – to agree strongly or somewhat that they are concerned about the future of the nation with the Millennial generation in leadership.
“The sheer size of the Millennials, of course, is sufficient reason to know as much about this generation as possible,” wrote Rainer. He went on to state that some see the generation as the spoiled generation and others as the “panacea for most of our nation’s ills.” But whatever is made of the Millennial generation, the church is being called to reach them as it has been called to reach every generation before.
Methodology: The Lifeway Research telephone surveys were conducted among 1,002 Protestant pastors Nov. 5-12, 2009, and among 1,000 Protestant pastors Oct. 7-14, 2010. Churches were selected randomly and each interview was conducted with the church’s senior pastor, minister or priest. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. In both studies the sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent for the total sample. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.