It seems like churches are constantly asking, "How can we attract more young people?" While this opens a larger conversation, one starting point is to consider how your congregation welcomes (or would welcome) young adults when they walk through your door.
While many churches have created welcoming environments and ways to greet visitors, these policies can be updated to better welcome the millennial population. So what are people in their 20s (or 30s) thinking about as they come to church? Here are some hopes and fears, and ways to address them:
"I feel like an outsider"
Sometimes a church's best intentions can actually become barriers. One example is name tags. On a recent Sunday a close friend of mine attended a church in Houston. Upon entering the church she immediately noticed that everyone was wearing a name tag. In a way, this was helpful. The problem? No one offered her a name tag. She felt like an outsider, as if she was not a part of the congregation.
When young adults visit a church, they are often looking for a community to become their new home. It is important that they not feel separate from the moment they walk in.
Solution (this one is obvious): Offer temporary name tags for visitors - not just at coffee hour, but at the first point of entry.
"There's no one here like me"
People in their 20s are not naive - they know that they are likely to be one of the younger faces in church; and for the most part, they're ok with that. However, it is extremely comforting for young adults to see at least one other person in their demographic. (In fact, this is true for people of all demographics).
If there are currently youngish members of your congregation, empower them to be greeters. Or, on the other hand, make sure that your ushers and greeters know who these young parishioners are. Ushers can locate and ask them to greet a 20s or 30s visitor during or after the service. This person can also invite them to an upcoming church events.
You don't want to overwhelm a young visitor with a crowd as he or she is trying to leave church; but you don't want to ignore that visitor either. So place this responsibility in the hands of a young member of your parish. This makes for a welcoming that is more intimate and authentic.
"Do not treat me like a kid"
Many young adults will not stay for coffee hour the first time they come to your church, they may not for quite a while. Once they do stay for coffee hour, make sure to keep your questions positive and light. Never assume that a young adult is in school or college. Instead, ask your guest what he or she does for work.
I remember when I was looking for a parish home, coffee hour was located in the back of the church. As I was walking past I was approached by a group of older ladies who insisted on saying I was cute and asking why I didn’t have a wife. This was... to put it lightly... overwhelming.
Keep things light and let certain people handle the welcoming. Ask questions such as:
- How did you enjoy the worship?
- Are you interested in outreach opportunities?
(Many young adults are specifically drawn to outreach ministries.)
- If you run out of questions, just tell them why you love your church.
There are many more things I could discuss, but for now we have a place to start. I hope that this can be helpful to some churches and that this might open a conversation on better ways to welcome young adults into our wonderful churches!
Daniel Ledo is the leader of @OurTable a dinner church for young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. He is a founding member and has been the co-leader of the Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of South East Florida for 4 years and serves on the Vestry at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove, FL. For the past 5 years Daniel has been strongly involved in growing the Episcopal Church specifically working with young adults and creating sacred space for this community to feel welcomed and cherished.
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