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Church Army: attracting young adults ‘not as difficult’ as churches think

19 January 2018


The Harbour Church, in Portsmouth, where many of the congregation are under the age of 35

The Harbour Church, in Portsmouth, where many of the congregation are under the age of 35

DESPITE dwindling church attendance among young adults, attracting and retaining this age group may not be as difficult as churches think, research from the Church Army suggests.

The research, Not as Difficult as You Think: Mission with young adults, published on Wednesday, was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council in response to recent mission statistics that suggest that just 0.5 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK currently attend church.

The research is based on 11 selected case-studies of established mission projects for 18 to 30-year-olds, conducted over nine months from January last year. This includes church plants, such as the Hub, in Hilton, and the Harbour Church, in Portsmouth, as well as other youth-focused missions, communities, and chaplaincies.

Of the 489 people who took part in the survey, 212 attended the Harbour Church, compared with the smallest sample of 11 members of the DNA Football Church, in Essex, who meet for “fellowship and breakfast” before playing seven-a-side matches.

One per cent of the respondents identified as non-Christian; two per cent said that “it was complicated”; and six per cent said that they were still “exploring” faith. Of all Christians surveyed, 14 per cent (60 people) said that they had come to faith at their church, and a further 11 per cent (48 people) said that they had returned to a “lost faith” at their church.

Common reasons given for their return included being invited to the church by friends, particularly when feeling lonely or isolated; having felt “loved, valued, and accepted” by churchgoers; attending an Alpha course; following churches on social media; and being impressed by a sense of community and social action.

The report concludes: “The experience of our case study churches suggests that, though mission with young adults clearly has its challenges, reaching 18-30-year-olds may not be as difficult as you think. Or as the leader of DNA Football Church put it, ‘What we do here isn’t rocket science.’ The young adults case studies clearly reach their intended target age group: 70 per cent of attenders are aged between 18 and 34.”

The survey also showed that 85 per cent of those at church were white British, and that there was a balance of male and female churchgoers (44 per cent and 56 per cent).

The 12th case study listed in the research was a Church Army project — “Things that were tried and died” — on young adult fresh expressions of Church (fxC) that failed. It found that the main reasons for this, given by fxC leaders, were lack of finances; the “seasonal” and “fragile” nature of fxC; and the “hindrance” of being part of a wider institution.

The survey of the 11 case-study churches was compared with the fxC report Who’s there? to show that most respondents of both surveys were existing churchgoers (78 per cent and 80 per cent respectively). More than a quarter (28 per cent) of case-study respondents also attended another church or churches, compared with 42 per cent of fxC respondents. www.churcharmy.org

Teans write modern-day version of Martin Luther’s 95 theses. A GROUP of teenagers have come up with their own version of Luther’s 95 theses calling for change in the Church, which it plans to pin to the doors of Lambeth Palace.

Among the 95 theses were requests for the Church to be more equal, and demands for 50 per cent of bishops to be women, and the Church to be more accepting of diversity, with equality for all, regardless of their sexuality.

There were also calls for the Church to put less pressure on young people who attend worship: one quoted an example of being told, “You have to sustain our traditions as you are the future of the Church.” Other suggestions included being more open to change, bringing children and adults together for services rather than separating them, and having a wider variety of ways for people to express their faith in church services.

The 95 ideas have been compiled by teenagers who are members of Stage Fright theatre groups in and around Wokingham, as well as young people who attended a theatre-skills residential course last summer, run by the Church Pastoral Aid Society.

Those compiling the list were asked to base their suggestions on what they would tell the Archbishop of Canterbury needed changing in the Church, in the 500th
anniversary year of the Reformation.

Stage Fright was set up by the Revd Michael Johnson, who is a creative-mission enabler for the diocese of Oxford and artistic director of Stage Fright. He said: “The young people who contributed to this ranged in age from 12 to 17 years old, several churched, several not, but also quite a lot of them who say they don’t find church engaging in any way, and that it doesn’t help them to engage with faith.

“We’ve been aware of this for years, through our work, which is one reason why we saw Luther’s theses as an opportunity for them to say specifically what they would like to see change.” He said that he was impressed by the breadth and range of the issues which came up in the list of 95 changes. In the top five the young people covered ecumenism, sexuality, identity, corruption, poverty, politics, reflection and engagement with scripture, and a request that the Church value and respect others’ opinions.

“I can’t think of many times a group of adult church members has covered a better or more important list of issues in one exercise,” he said. “It’s notable how many times issues like ‘sexuality’ and ‘equality’ come up. We have a very strong sense that the vast majority of young people have a common understanding on those issues, and see the Church as rather backward, which can be very off-putting.”

Mr Johnson contacted Lambeth Palace to ask if the young people could hand over the theses; he is awaiting a reply. “We are contemplating a trip to Lambeth Palace with a hammer and a nail,” he said.


Features: What I wish the Church knew about young people

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