By Aaron Earls
Pastors and church leaders face a litany of issues and problems within their congregations and outside the church. But what are the top concerns of the average pastor?
In their State of the Church 2020 project Barna gave pastors a list of possible challenges and asked them which are a concern for them and if it is one of their three greatest worries.
- Nine of them were listed as a concern by at least 1 in 5 pastors.
- Reaching a younger audience.
- Declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism.
- Stagnating spiritual growth.
- Declining attendance.
- Biblical illiteracy.
- Declining or unpredictable giving patterns.
- Lack of leadership training and development.
- Not reflecting the demographic of the community.
Topping the list, half of pastors say “reaching a younger audience” (51%) and “declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism” (50%) are areas of concern.
A third (34%) say reaching out to younger individuals is among the top three concerns for them and 12% say it is the top concern.
Two in 5 pastors (40%) point to outreach and evangelism as one of their top three concerns, with 14% saying it is highest concern they have.
Around a third of pastors point to declining or inconsistent volunteering (36%), stagnating spiritual growth (34%), and declining attendance (33%) as current challenges.
Fewer than 3 in 10 highlight biblical literacy (29%) and declining or unpredictable giving patterns (28%) as worries in their leadership roles.
Close to a quarter of pastors say they’re concerned about a lack of leadership training and development (23%) and not reflecting the demographic of the community (21%).
Some of those results match the recent Facts & Trends‘ Future of the Church survey from Lifeway Research.
In that survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors 40% said their top concern was reaching the next generation.
That far outpaced other concerns among pastors, including a lack of discipleship (16%), declining interest in matters of faith (11%), lack of member commitment (9%), changing community demographics (6%), finances of the church (5%), public distrust of Christian churches (3%), and hostility toward Christian beliefs (2%).
Younger pastors who attempt to reach their generation have found new ministry approaches are often needed.
Jordan Rice, lead pastor at Renaissance Church in New York City, begins with what he calls “pre-discipleship”—instilling the idea of truth and authority where many lack even the basic concepts.
He says many older methods of discipleship aren’t as effective today because young adults “have significantly less trust in the authority of Scripture and less firm belief in truth.”
But young adults need to move into discipleship and these four steps can help churches reach the next generation and keep them in their congregation.
1. Don’t shy away from hard teaching. You may think avoiding issues of sin and hell would give you a better hearing with young adults, but the research shows baby boomers are more likely to be turned away by those doctrines—not millennials and Generation Z.
Younger Americans also prize authenticity. Attempting to hide what you believe are troublesome doctrines only causes them to doubt you more.
2. Challenge them to read Scripture. Many believe science disproves the Bible and others think their own personal religious convictions trump what Scripture teaches. That might be because they haven’t taken the time to actually read and study the Bible for themselves.
As you’re talking to a non-Christian or a new Christian, ask them to go to Scripture with their questions. Read what it has to say before they react off of what they think the Bible says.
Lifeway Research found Bible reading to be the most effective habit at producing spiritual maturity in the life of a believer.
3. Encourage their evangelistic passion. Once a young adult becomes a Christian, the research indicates more of them will have a drive to share the gospel.
This is a strategy for reaching more young adults: Send out their fellow millennials and Gen Zers to share the gospel with them.
4. Give them someone to follow. Relationships carry significant weight with younger generations. Keep young adults integrated with the entire congregation.
Despite being in church his entire life and as a young pastor now, Joe Martin says, “I can count on one hand the number of spiritual mentors I have in the faith.”
Don’t let another generation go through church without having older believers pouring into their lives and cheering them on as they run the race.
Having an excited younger generation and an invested older generation in your church can make it the best of times for your congregation for a long time.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.