The Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi recently published a special report for Faith Communities Today (FACT) titled, American Congregations 2015: Engaging Young Adults. Rev. Lizardy-Hajbi looked specifically at young adult (ages 18-34) engagement (or lack thereof) in U.S congregational life and attempts to identify the characteristics of congregations that have thriving young adult participation. Kristina is the first current UCC researcher to be selected to write a FACT report, which you can access in full here.
Some of the key findings of the report:
- Congregations believe that their own lack of desire/passion to reach out to young adults, as well as a lack of interest on the part of young adults themselves, most impedes their ministry with this population.
- Specific dedication of people and time around young adult engagement is the key to enhancing this ministry within congregations
- Congregations in which one or more leader(s) of young adult ministries are young adults themselves are more likely to have increased or maintained their young adult presence over the past three years.
- The majority of young adult participants come from families who are already present within the congregation
- Young adults are more likely to participate in larger, more urban congregations in growing population areas
- Both prioritizing young adult ministry and creating a specific strategy for engaging young adults are necessary for a thriving young adult congregation
- Attending worship is the most frequent way that young adults participate in faith communities, but thriving young adult congregations tend to be those in which all of the members are involved more in activities beyond worship
Perhaps the most interesting observation is the polarity between young adults and congregations today. Young adults are crucial to congregational growth yet, are less religiously affiliated than ever before. On the other hand, congregations acknowledge their own lack of desire/passion to place more emphasis toward young adult outreach. For the UCC specifically, “one in ten (10.1%) congregations has a thriving or solid ministry specifically for young adults; and two in ten (21.2%) have made progress in this ministry area. The majority of UCC churches struggle with starting a ministry with young adults.” To see more UCC specific results visit the Center for Analytics, Research and Data website to view the FACTs On Young Adult Ministry: Findings from the United Church of Christ 2015 Faith Communities Today (FACT) Survey of Congregations and other topics in the “FACTs On” series.
Even though young adults are more likely to attend larger, urban churches, prioritizing and having an intentional strategy of engagement, results in higher percentages of young adults within churches regardless of the size of the church and its location.
“Context truly matters when it comes to young adult engagement, and knowing the demographics surrounding one’s congregations can make a significant difference in strategy and programming.” (Lizardy-Hajbi, p. 8)
The Center for Analytics Research and Data (CARD) provides a demographic tool as a resource to UCC Conferences and churches through MissionInsite, to help churches understand their surrounding communities in order to develop strategies for outreach. The importance of demographic research is at an all-time high with increasingly limited resources and declining membership. By assessing the surrounding community, churches will be more equipped to develop the most effective ministries that attract potential congregants. We will have resources and training materials available on best practices in the coming weeks here. Stay tuned.
MissionInsite can assist congregations in identifying the following:
- Local socio-economic trends
- Breakdown of ethnic/cultural inhabitants
- The number of households and household size
- The growth rate of the population
- Average age(s) in surrounding communities
- The proximity of other congregations
Overall, demographics can help illuminate the people you wish to reach and assist in strategic development to do so. Demography should be a tool every church utilizes to assess the distance between their mission and current realities. Currently, 18 UCC Conferences are utilizing MissionInsite and are encouraged to share the resource with their congregations.
Taylor Billings, is the Research Specialist for the UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data. She has served in the national setting of the denomination for 15 years.