Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Figuring out the reasons

I've been pondering the church's teaching programme on off over the past few months (as regular readers will know). I've completed the first draft of a feedback form for sermons which I will distribute to interested parties for comment this weekend.

But as we veer towards the end of our series on Nehemiah, I have been asking myself whether some books of the Bible lend themselves to Sunday ministry better than others.

I've made no secret of my struggles with Nehemiah as we journeyed through his memoir and I think I'd have to say that I'm not alone. this series has seen attendance at our later service drop off quite significantly.

And most noticeable among those who aren't attending are our young adults. This is a major disappointment. Clearly what we're offering is not seen as essential or even worth checking out.

In this we are not alone. Earlier this morning I read a series of papers posted on the EA website (here) examining why churches struggle to attract and hold onto 20s and 30s. The stats have been available since Peter Brierley published The English Church Census in 2005. They tell us that while 12.84% of 65-74s are in church on Sunday, only 3.5% of 20s and 4.5% of 30s attend regularly. I gather the figures for Scotland are if anything worse.

Only 7% of the average congregation of an English church is aged between 20 and 29. You don't need to be a genius to work out the implications of this for the future of the church. As David Voas, consistently the most interesting and challenging commentator on the sociology of church life in the UK points out: 'on average people experience little change in their beliefs and practices once they reach their early 20s.'

He draws a wider lesson from this with implications for church thinking across the board: What secularization does is to change the environment in which children are raised and the likelihood of an effective religious upbringing.'

Those looking across the pond for answers on this will find only questions. Barna tells us that six out of ten teenagers who are active in church will drop out in their twenties and Pew Forum figures suggest that only 17% of the members of evangelical churches in the US are aged 18-29.

I'll reflect further on the implications for us in due course. This is one of the challenges facing the new leadership our church is choosing at the moment. My prayer is that we'll be up for it.


Darrell Jackson said...

Hmmm, no easy issues here - and no easy answers. However, Voas doesn't necessarily allow for the phenomenon of the elderly finding faith later in life (at the end of a largely secular life) although I suspect it's probably a lot less likely than if they've had an earlier exposure to Christian faith/practice.
If preaching Nehemiah isn't doing it for young people, can they 'do' Nehemiah in any other ways? Is it the subject material or the presentation style? Too easy to beat up on the preacher and pretty tall order to subvert the (sub)culture(s) shaping young people.
How can we make sure that the Jesus narratives don't suffer the same apathetic treatment in future? There's a sobering thought - need to go and lie down now that I've sunk into melancholia! I might try praying...

simon said...

I think Voas would argue that the older people coming back to church after a largely secular life did begin their lives in moderately or even very committed religious households.

We did Nehemiah interactively and via different media at our Later service but I still think there is something inherently opaque about the material.

We did not find the same thing happening when we worked through Mark last year. I suspect the gospels are more accessible and a lot more people think they are essential to their development as disciples than Nehemiah is.

Glad to have driven you to prayer - I knew saomething eventually would!!!