I posted a summary of Heath Rada’s report to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. I appreciated how he followed each observation with a question. In that spirit, I’d like to follow up on his first observation with some questions of my own.
He says that young adults are coming back to the church.
the PC(USA) is seeing young adults returning to our membership. Let me give you three examples. My own church, Grace Covenant in Asheville, N.C., announced last year that for the first time in our history we have more members, from our 900 memberships, who are under the age of 45 than older. Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, the fourth-largest church in our denomination, with over 5,000 members, says that their rapid growth is being impacted particularly by the 21- to 31-year-olds—the largest demographic of growth in their congregation. White Memorial Church in Raleigh, with over 4,000 members now, says that of the almost 400 new members in their congregation in the past four years, the vast majority are young parents—at least 75 percent of them.
I liked the metrics he used. Church councils might ask themselves these questions:
- Where is the age-demographic midpoint of your congregation?
- Of the people joining your church, which age-group buckets do they belong to?
- What percent of your congregation are young parents? (Under 40, say.) The answer will inform decisions about programming, e.g., Sunday School, Youth Group, etc.
- By what percentage has your membership increased over the past 4 years? What do you project the growth to be over the next 4 years?
Beyond those questions, though, I have some specific questions about the apparent trend of young adults joining the church.
- What is the Presbyterian Research Service telling him? Are these examples typical or exceptional in some way? Actually, he acknowledges this is an urban phenomenon. That makes sense; rural areas are losing young people, so it would be truly exceptional if those churches were gaining them.
- The three examples he lists are in the south, in North Carolina. Where else is this trend visible?
- The churches he mentions are all big. The smallest has 900 members, in a denomination whose average church membership is 175, and the others are megachurches. He says “statistics indicate” that young people “are leaving evangelical megachurches.” Maybe they’re only switching what type of megachurch they attend. What is he seeing in churches with average membership levels?