By Randall Curtis, Ministry Developer for Young Adults and Youth
Churches I visit are always looking for new programs or new curricula that will draw in young adults. I have heard ideas ranging from burning more incense to using television screens to entice the young crowd. But I firmly believe that no matter how melodic your chanting or how amazing your PowerPoint slideshow … that is not what attracts young adults.
Actually the hard work of bringing young adults—any age person, for that matter—is about relationships. How do we care for the person who walks in the door? How do we show him that he is valued and cared for?
As Episcopalians, we know that actions can transform us. We kneel or bow during liturgy, not because it gets us physically closer to God, but because the very action transforms our individual attitudes at that moment. Simple actions can also how a community sees itself and how it is seen by others.
When trying to attract young adults and families, here are three easy things you can do to transform how your congregation sees and is seen by young adults.
1. Improve your Coffee Hour
Many churches have a social hour after their main service, a time to enjoy coffee or snacks. But are the coffee and snacks any good?
There are many ways to make coffee hour better. St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Maumelle, Ark., set up a schedule for people to bring in homemade sweets each week, thus ensuring consistently good snacks. Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs, Ark., bought a professional-grade cappuccino machine and then trained parishioners on how to make the perfect cup of coffee.
Make sure there an options for non-coffee drinkers. Find ways to include children in the social time. And if the weather is nice, why not move it outside for the whole neighborhood to see?
Coffee hour is the perfect time for visitors and parishioners, young and old, to mix and build new relationships. Make it nice. Make it be a place people want to be.
2. Repaint Your Nursery
Many young adults who visit a church have young children, and they are looking for a nice, safe, clean nursery and children’s area. One easy action you can take is to repaint.
The pastor of a fast-growing Methodist church in Kansas City told me they repainted their nursery every year. He said that it was a clear sign to young families and those older parishioners that they valued children.
Those long-time parishioners may even be inspired to invite other families with children. Actions transform us.
This is also a great time to ask that family with young children who has visited once or twice if they have any ideas for your nursery. Get them involved. And make sure that all toys, blankets, and furniture are nice and clean. If something is not nice enough for your own child or grandchild, then it is not nice enough for the stranger who visits your church nursery.
3. Show Them What You Are About and What You Are Doing
Churches are doing great things. When I visit churches, I am amazed to hear about all of the community projects and initiatives in which they are involved—soup kitchens, community day shelters, prison ministries, youth advocacy groups. Then I look around their fellowship hall and can’t find a picture or display showing evidence of any of these projects.
Of course we don’t do those things to show off, but it is time to let people know what we are about and how we are involved in the community. Young adults in particular want to know that the congregation is about more than itself, and they want to know how they can get involved.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: There should be more living people pictured on your walls than dead people. Your church is full of smiling people active in their communities. Take pictures and put together a nice display with ways for the visiting young adult to get involved, including contact information for the various ministries.
Actions transform us. These are three simple and inexpensive ways for your congregation to transform how it value young adults and how young adults see the congregation.
First delivered by Randall Curtis at the Bishop’s Day of Formation for the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, on May 19, 2012.