A couple of weeks back, I received an unexpected blessing. As a part of my volunteer work for Operation Christmas Child—Samaritan’s Purse’s great ministry to the world’s children—I made pickups of shoeboxes in the Mount Juliet, Tenn., area where I live.
The central collection center where I took the shoeboxes was Mount Olivet Baptist Church, a church I had never visited. The church was established in 1801, on the same grounds where it meets now, on the old stagecoach road that once ran between Lebanon and Nashville. This church is steeped in unbelievable history and has a huge heart for missions. I read through the church’s records and saw reports about its ministry through the War of 1812, the Civil War, countless disease outbreaks, the Great Depression, and scores of tough times.
I was warmly greeted at the door by Pastor George McCaleb, a wonderful and committed man of God who stayed late at the church to help me unload OCC shoeboxes.
We started talking about the future of the church, which attracts between 90 and 110 people to its Sunday morning Bible studies and worship service, and Pastor George made it clear one of the goals he wanted to achieve.
“We have to be more intentional about bringing young people to our church,” he said. “We’ve been around for 200 years, and we have a responsibility to make sure we’re still doing the Lord’s work 200 years from now if that’s His will.”
Most of the evangelical churches in our country are much like Mount Olivet. More than 27,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have less than 150 members. They are the bedrock of the community where they minister. They are led by caring men and women. And they have the same problem most churches of any size in our country have.
They have very few—if any—young adults in their 20s and 30s in their church.
Will they start a midweek young adult gathering to attract young adults? Not likely.
Will they be able to put a line item in their budget to hire a young adult pastor or establish a handful of new programs for young adults? Not likely.
Can they effectively reach the Millennial generation? Absolutely.
Here are four practical ideas to reach young adults in the smaller church:
Start a Bible study group specifically for this age group.
Whether your small church does Sunday School or small groups, make sure you have a group or groups specifically dedicated to this age group. Start looking for a leader who has a passion for this generation and start training this person as a leader of this Bible study group. This person could be a younger member of a family who has grown up in your church or it might just be an older person who God is calling to start reaching this generation in your church. LifeMatters is a great, inexpensive Bible study resource you could use to start this group.
Use what you have to reach young adults.
Do you have a traditional Wednesday night supper for your members? Great. Start inviting young adults in the community to come as your guest for a free home-cooked meal. For a generation raised on fast-food, this is a huge draw. For a generation filled with single parents, this is a God-send. You might have to adjust your menu a bit (no boiled okra, please).
Whatever your church does well, use that intentionally to attract this generation. Make sure all of the young adults in your community know they are welcome and wanted in your church.
Play the relational card.
The biggest detriment to medium-sized, large, and mega churches reaching young adults is the sheer numbers of people who pass through the doors of the church buildings. There are some people who don’t mind being largely invisible in a church. They’re content to attend Bible study, attend worship services, and be on the fringes of church membership. Most young adults don’t fit into that category. They are looking for deep friendships, guidance, and help you can’t get through superficial relationships. If you’re on the Threads Web site often and are familiar with the research we have done on young adults, you know that many people in this generation have never seen what a real family should look like. A small, tight-knit, loving church has a great opportunity to show today’s young adults what genuine, warm Christian fellowship is all about. Know these people by name. Love them. Guide them. Help them. You will have a thriving young adult group before you know it.
Make your church’s heart for missions known.
My guess is that Pastor George and the congregation at Mount Olivet are going to be effective at reaching young adults because of their heart for missions. When they took a step of faith to become a collection center for Operation Christmas Child, they let everyone in the area know the love they have for the world’s children. That kind of love and mission is incredibly attractive to today’s young adults who have a burning desire to do more than just earn a paycheck. They want to make a difference. They want to leave the world a better place. They just need to know the Author of real change in the world. His name is Jesus Christ. Introduce them to Him.