How to engage emerging adults in church Book Review

The other day I wrote some thoughts in response to an article by Rebecca Glover on the missing generation of 18-25s in the church.  Rebecca’s article was part biographical and part an introduction to the short book I’m now reviewing.  The book is part of aa Grove Youth series and is short at 28 pages long (including endnotes).

The book begins with the same story from Rebecca’s experience as a 19 year old student and includes further stories and case studies.  There’s Jacob who as an eighteen year old joined a church at University where there were very few people his own age.  He struggled to settle in with key themes being sermons that focused on Bible study without application, few songs but most of all simply finding that he didn’t get to know people. [1] Jess tells the story of her work as a curate with young adults and what has been helpful.[2] Ben tells his positive story of life ina multi-generational church.[3]

Chapter 2 gives us some facts and figures about Christian witness and belief among this agegroup.  Rebecca makes the point that

“A small number of young adults in Britain would identify as Christians. Therefore, when doing fresher’s events or promoting posts on social media, it is likely that you will not be inviting believers to church but atheists, agnostics or those of other faiths.  This helpfully reminds us that whilst different people reading the book may have slightly different theological takes and may not end up on the same page as Rebecca in terms of what church should be like, we are on the same side if our concern is the kingdom.  This subject is not primarily a consumer one about how to keep our own kids happy and at church (though a desire to see our own children knowing and going on with the Lord matters too) but about the work of the Gospel.  If I were to encourage one tweek at this point it would be to reduce the emphasis on atheism and even agnosticism here as I’m not convinced this is so much the presenting issue as is what has bene described as “the rise of the nones.”  Therefore further studies into the actual spirituality of young people would be helpful.

Chapter 3 talks about attraction and “attractional churches.”  Rebecca takes the view that it is a positive thing for churches to be attractive.  I agree and would suggest that we make a distinction between attractional church -a  particular philosophy about how we do mission by drawing people to events and being attractive churches which we all should be.  Rebecca is also careful to emphasise that being attractive doesn’t mean conforming to particular mega church images of successful and trendy church. This chapter includes three case studies of how different churches have sought to engage merging adults.  These would have benefited from further evaluation and discussion. 

Chapter 4 argues for the importance of creating community through small groups and serving. This is an important point and indeed I’d like to push at this further.  To wht extent do we need to move from thinking of church as the event we go to with some community forming activities attached and to what extent do we need to re-orientate our thinking to see church as community with some linked events.

Chapter 5 talks about he importance of building critical mass.  We like to find people who are a bit like us.  The stories show that it is possible to still engage an agegroup even whilst there are few of them coming.  However, I agree that there is benefit in building up the critical mass. It is not just about those coming seeing people like them as it is about the church getting used to people so that they are not seen as strange novelties.  Too often, I’ve seen the 21 year old joining a small to medium sized church  pounced upon to be asked if they are a musician or would like to help in Sunday school. 

Finally, Rebecca emphasises the importance of intentionality. This is both about looking outwards and not to become introverted. It’s about welcoming newcomers, both Christians moving home and non-Christians seeking to engage.  It’s also about being intentional about preparing young adults for moving away to University or for work.

I would personally have liked to have seen more on witnessing to a secular generation, especially given the point made early on about where the majority of emerging adults are at.  Perhaps that’s for a follow up publication? 

Overall, the book offers some helpful conversation starters to get you and your church thinking about how you engage with this missing generation.  There’s also plenty of practical advice from someone with recent experience. 

[1] Glover, How to engage emerging adults, 7.

[2] Glover, How to engage emerging adults, 17.

[3] Glover, How to engage emerging adults,19.

How to Engage Emerging Adults in Church by Rebecca Glover is published by Grove Books Limited and costs £3.95

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