Questions and response to: “what young people want in a church?”

Finally – someone has bothered to do some actual research!

The Fuller Institute have just published some initial findings from a 4 year study into what goes on in churches that young people, young adults, like to go to, and which ones have engaged them.

I have copied the whole summary from the webpage, as it is isnt long- as it is worth reading in full, I’ve also copied the link at the bottom of this article:

In our recent posts we’ve shared the bad news about young people and the church and introduced you to some churches young people love. You might be wondering, “So what’s the secret of churches that are bucking the trend and engaging young people well?”

We wondered the same thing, which is what kicked off this four-year study in the first place. Like us, you might be surprised not only by what these churches do, but even more by what they don’t do.

The myths about what young people want

Surely churches that draw young people today must have a super-cool vibe, young pastor with skinny jeans, a laser light kit in a new multimillion-dollar facility, or some other hype. Right?


Yes, we discovered some churches that are flashy and hip, and as a result they draw lots of young people. But this was certainly not the case for all of the congregations in our study—not even most.

One thriving church actually prided itself on not being hip.

The pastor wanted to drive the point home and emphasized to our team, “Our church is nothing flashy; just a great healthy place.” Tweet that

After conducting nearly 1,500 hour-long interviews and analyzing over 10,000 pages of research data, we’ve discovered that much of what we often think we need to engage teenagers and young adults perhaps isn’t so essential after all.

In our latest book Growing Young, we counter several of these myths with the reality of what we’ve learned helps young people discover and love their churches. But there’s one BIG myth we want to do away with right now.

Myth: Young people want a shallow or watered-down teaching style.

You’ve likely heard plenty of discouraging news about young people’s faith habits, such as reading the Bible less, praying less, volunteering less, and attending church less than older Christians. Given some of the teenagers and young adults you know, maybe you’ve concluded that they just want feel-good messages that are easy, uncontroversial, and don’t require anything of them.

This means that if we want young people to show up to our churches, we should make the messages shallow and easy to swallow, right?

That’s not what we found. Engaging today’s young people doesn’t mean we refrain from talking about Jesus too much, or the very real cost of following him.

What young people say they want

Don’t just take our word for it. Reflecting on the “secret” to his church’s success, one young person explained, “Yeah, I think the goal for our church is not really effectiveness with young people but serving and following Jesus. And young people like me are attracted to churches that want to do that.

During the Growing Young project’s interviews, 40 percent of young people specifically mentioned “challenge” when they talked about why their church is so effective with their age group. They appreciate challenging teaching in their churches, even when it makes them feel uncomfortable and invites them to make changes based on scriptural principals.

40 percent of young people specifically mention wanting to be challenged by their church. Tweet that

Contrary to popular thinking that young people today want it easy, many told us they love their churches because their churches inspire them to act. This inspiration flows from leaders who model authenticity and humility and extend the challenge of following Jesus not from a place of superiority or power, but out of an invitation to pursue the way of Jesus together.

In short, teenagers and emerging adults in churches growing young aren’t running from a gospel that requires hard things of them. They are running toward it.

Still not convinced?

We get it – the myth that young people want a church that is shallow and easy runs deep. But our team kept hearing from young people who convinced us otherwise.

One twenty-something explained it this way: “I think many churches have fallen into a consumer mindset as a default mode. Churches have tried to appeal to people’s desire to feel good. But the problem is, if you’re just trying to make people feel good, church isn’t going to measure up to that.”

Another college student made it clear: “There is never a time, even in just catching a meal with someone from our church, that the gospel doesn’t come into the conversation. The quality of the conversation with people from my church is consistently Christ-centered. The gospel comes up everywhere.”

Let’s go deeper together

These shifts toward deeper teaching and ministry that appropriately challenge young people require time, and they are anything but easy. Additionally, there’s always the chance that some young people won’t like it. We want to equip you for this journey with all the information and strategy you’ll need, and you’ll discover a great starting point in our new book that is now available.

For now, we hope you’re encouraged that in churches growing young, it is the authentic teaching of Jesus’ message that meets young people’s desire for life-giving direction. Proclaiming Jesus as the centerpiece of the story of God, and seeking to live out his instruction in everyday relationships, the churches we’ve studied are reclaiming the very heart of the good news.

Your church can too.

Don’t buy in to the myths about what young people want in a church. Join us and we will journey together toward deeper, truer, more faithful ministry that engages young people and all generations well.


So – what do you think? – is this applicable to the UK context and the young people and adults you know in a church?

From the article – what are the headlines?

  1. Young people can identify a healthy place – thats where they learn, ask questions and survive risk taking.
  2. Young people dont want watered down, ‘relevantised’ or ‘simplifyed’ – they can do that themselves. Give them theology raw, deep and spirituality a challenge.
  3. Yes, a Challenge. Make it difficult and meaningful.
  4. They desire authenticity. (I think this has been on every ‘how to do effective youth ministry’ manual since 1980)
  5. They hope for community and space connected with the church not separate, all generations together.

There is much to think on.

a) What are the alternative assumptions that UK youth ministry has promoted since well, 1980?  – relevancy, simplicity and attraction, over challenge, changing cultures and authenticity?

b) No one is asking, aside from Peter Scuzzero, what an emotionally, spiritually, mentally, socially or even physically healthy church might look like. The task of youth ministry from now on is not to help disciple young people, but help clergy and faith communities create cultures of discipleship. A youth worker cannot do it alone.

c) The context is important, im assuming the research was done with american students in churches. What about young people in the UK who are no where near a church- what kind of culture, challenge and deep faith is an attractive thing for them. The watered down high energy youth event has been dead as an evangelism to discipleship method for a long time. Albeit not for any young people involved in it. Itll make them better leaders than any attender a future disciple. However, whats the alternative. Deep faith in conversations and relationship, improvising from the context, exploring faith in the margins and building church from the edges.

But in context – what would ‘church going’ young people in the UK – say they wanted and what kind of church engages them?  A small church where they are welcomed, encouraged and given responsibility might ‘win’ over a large church where they have a fight for a place. Might. not always.

What kind of church will keep young people? is still one where the culture of it is far more important than any new personnel like a youth worker. What kind of church do young people ‘want’ is still somewhat of a misleading question. Though it promotes a materialism – I can hear a few people say, it’s not what they want that’s important, its what God wants’ and theres a truth in that – but ‘what God wants’ isnt young people to be mistreated, ignored, belittled or infantilised by the church, in the way that no one should be. So – if a church is willing to improvise and accept the offers of suggestions from young people, develop deep learning and challenge, create culture of health and of respect then it might continue to engage young people, after all, research is now beginning to prove what youthworkers have thought for a while.

To click the link and find the article yourself- and the further resources you can do so here:

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