Participating Project Thrive congregations are moving towards their Future Conversations and will soon create their Initiative Proposals in the fall. The concern of age gaps between congregations and surrounding communities was heard in multiple Present Conversations across the congregations – particularly the existing gap of young adults.

The absence of young adults in churches is felt nationally, and it is a growing phenomenon studied in the past decade.

We gathered resources* that discuss the age gaps that exist in churches around the nation and explore innovative ideas on how congregations are tackling this concern in their community.

As you read, notice how churches may display one or more of the Project Thrive – 7 Traits of Thriving Congregations to address the age gap.

The 7 Traits of Thriving:
hopefulness, collaboration, faithful engagement, hopefulness, innovation, missional fervor, missional focus, and non-traditional leadership

This list is not exhaustive of the possible ways to address the gap, and meant to serve as a launching pad for creative imagination for participating congregations seeking to bridge the age gap. In addition, any examples listed below are not held as models for ministry or with a star of perfection. Rather, we hope this list is engaging and helps our participating congregations’ creative process as they move towards imagining a future and creating their own initiative goals.

Take a glance at the resources below and click on any of the titles that pique your interest to read more:

1. How to Attract Young People to Church (2014) 
Naomi Riley authored Got Religion, in which Riley compiles her research on seven models of successful strategies to attract the under-30 crowd to come back to churches, mosques, and synagogues. In this interview, she touches on important topics including: the ineffectiveness of technology, effective community-based approaches, the under-30 crowd as producers or consumers of religion, tension between conservative and progressive theology in younger generations, and young leaders in churches. Finally, Riley shares the Do’s and Don’ts of attracting young people to church found in her research.

2. Gateway to Church for Young Adults (2014)
A ministry in Charlotte, NC brings together young adults with the intention to lose them. The ministry, Charlotte/One, meets in a Gothic-style sanctuary in the heart of its downtown where young professionals in the area have access to their Tuesday night gatherings. Charlotte/One values surrounding churches and builds allyship across denominational lines with the intention to connect young adults to local churches. Rev. Ross Chapman now launches similar collaborative ministries across the nation modeled by the Charlotte/One. In addition, Chapman shares insight to the struggles of churches reaching young adults and discusses effective environments for young adults.

3. Holy Listening (2018)
A research initiative from the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary asks young adults from churches to engage in ethnographic interviews with men and women across the Chicago region in ordinary spaces: coffee shops, living rooms, and parks. The interview process values empathy, young adults as experts of their own lives, and spaces to share and hear the truths of lives. The stories harvested from the data construct a counternarrative of the oft-told narrative of young adults and organized religion. The Holy Listening phase provides a ground to support church ministries in the next phase of the initiative: Holy Partnerships – aimed at young adult flourishing in churches. For more information specific to this Young Adult Initiative, visit here.

4. The Kuhnekt Initiative (2017)
In North Carolina, The Grove Presbyterian Church won the Traditioned Innovation Award for adapting to the community. This congregation prioritizes relationship building in the church, with the hope to build stronger relationships beyond the church. The Kuhnekt Initiative, a yearlong project of envisioning, propelled the church to launch a host of community-focused initiatives and made dramatic changes to their church. At a time when Charlotte is divided by race, class, culture, and politics – this congregation now has an age and ethnically diverse makeup that reflects the neighborhood well.

5. Passing Down the Faith in the New Immigrant Church (2015)
Researchers at City Seminary of New York worked on the Next Generation Project. They share key lessons and practices from thriving immigrant churches in New York. These four lessons take into consideration the engagement and empowerment of young people, intergenerational communities, and how language and culture play an important role in immigrant churches. The City Seminary of New York centers these lessons in light of passing on and receiving faith intergenerationally.

6. How to Reach Young Adults (2012)
Anthony Robinson, author and United Church of Christ minister, shares eight suggestions for congregations that want to be more hospitable to young adults. Robinson challenges congregations to reflect on their own attitude of or enthusiasm for their own church, and to focus on the development of faith. 

7. Connecting the Generations (2002)
Drew Zahn discusses over 10 practical ways of bridging the age gap in churches through the intergenerational ministry paradigm. Zahn shares tips to introduce this ministry approach to a congregation and possible obstacles faced in an intergenerational ministry. He ends by expanding on the main principles of bridging the age gap in churches: age integration, generational understanding, integration of households, and parental responsibility. 

We’re happy to hear from you! Feel free to leave comments below on your thoughts of how the ideas above identify with the 7 Thriving Traits, or your reflections on how these examples of churches are addressing the age gap. And, of course, you can choose to respond to someone else’s reflection below.

*Most of these resources are sourced from our parent-partner: Leadership Education at Duke University, a learning resource for Christian leaders and their institutions.