Newsletter #521 – Connecting with Young Adults

Magazines help me understand and keep connected with individuals and groups with perspectives that are different from Relevant March 2013mine. Relevant magazine, for example, keeps me in better touch with twentysomething people, at least with those who are Christian, Caucasian and American. This month (March, 2013) the magazine celebrates its tenth anniversary, including a look at “things that defined the last decade, people who rose in influence, and emerging challenges” that face a younger generation.

  • Influential trends include: a new involvement in social justice, a redefinition of “pro-life” to include concerns about millions who die from hunger and wars, a new willingness to be comfortable with doubt, the increasing numbers of young people who see no need for denominations, a growing belief that there is no difference between the sacred and what is secular, a disinterest in political parties and their self-centered squabbling, and a move from “me-centered Christianity (including megachurch comfort and feel-good music) to missional living” that focuses less on getting people into church and reaches to people outside the church.
  • Influential people mostly highlights authors who impact younger Christians. This is a diverse group except they are all white and mostly male. They include Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Jon Foreman, Donald Miller, Michael Gungor, Bono and Lauren Winner.
  • Challenges facing the next generation include figuring out why the local church matters and how it can be more relevant (without losing its core theology and purpose), putting a plug on cynicism, reversing prevailing views of marriage (44% of 18-29 year-olds believe marriage is becoming obsolete), developing a faith-perspective on immigration, and finding ways to connect with the “nones” – the growing number of people who check “none” when asked to identify a religious preference.

Why care about this?  Lists like these keep changing. Question different groups and the results will be different. Survey summaries rarely apply well to individuals so why bother? The answer is that knowing trends can help us communicate and relate better to twentysomethings and other groups. When you don’t know your audience or target groups your impact is lessened.

Please comment with your reaction. Why did you read this to the end?


  1. The study is very interesting and gives some directions how to work with nowadays youth. Please enlighten me with the sample size and study method of this study. Would be good to compare non Christians with Christians youth views towards the world around them..


    1. Grace, you raise VERY GOOD QUESTIONS. The information that I posted came from a respectable magazine but it is not a research publication. Regarding the trends, for example, in some but not all of the conclusins we read statements like these: “according to LifeWay Research…as a Barna [Research Group]study reports… according to a ‘Religion $ Ethics Newsweekly’ poll…a study of young evangelicals by the Pew Research Center…” among others. So the Relevant magazine authors are giving summaries of research. In terms of the leaders the magazine says “we asked our readers what leaders impacted them.” Who were the readers? How many? What were the demographics? In other words because this is a popular magazine there is no scientific data here except what comes from other researchers at least some of which might be scientifically credible.

      But these results also could be biased. That is why, in my newsletter I did not say that these conclusions are true of all young evangelicals or non-believers. My African-American students see Relevant as a magazine that is mostly white. From my perspective it is written and geared toward an audience that mostly is educated and definitely American. This is not bad as a broad statement about trends but it does not have much reputable empirical validity. Magazines seek to be accurate but they are not dry academic research reports.

      As an aside, I have read the Barna stuff and, as I recall, they have not found any statistically significant differences between the young people in church and those outside. Remember the oft-cited research that overall, young people in churches have no difference in sexual promiscuity from those who are not believers or non church goers? Diddo the divorce rates among Christian couoles. If my memory is accurate divorces are more common in Bible belt states than in other states. All of this reinforces you implication that we need more solid research than a lot of studies (or newsletters like mine) report.


  2. Thank you Gary for once again leading me to thinking about an issue from a different perspective. I believe that is our calling in the “counseling” field. This is a topic I have heard mentioned before and it fell on the teflon part of my mind. You have renewed an awareness about a topic that is screaming for attention in the church I attend, and many more across the world.


    1. Dan, what a great comment. And thanks to you (and to the others) who appreciate my desire to point out things that others don’t always have occasion to see. I hope this continues. As I write these words I am thinking that I also might try to stretch thinking in the newsletter that follows (# 522).


  3. I have been watching these changes unfold in the last decade. They are real and, for those of us who are 40-something and older, difficult to acclimate our thinking to. Notice I say difficult NOT impossible. I find myself in a relearning process, a reorienting process that looks beyond the traditional church of my childhood to the young people who have been raised many times without any exposure to the Bible stories and Bible songs and without any knowledge of who God is having been shown to them by their parents. It is a huge shift in our mission field and requires our curiosity and willingness to hear so that we can meet this generation in a relevant way with God’s message of love and redemption through Jesus Christ. My concern is those who cannot “see” this and do not desire to engage this generation to help and guide them as it causes discomfort and change.


    1. Kelly, this is a well stated, insightful, response to my post. I hope everyone who goes to the replies reads what you have written.

      I too am sad about those of us who are older but unwilling to engage the changing generations behind. But I am equally sad about those twentysomethings (not everybody, of course) who dismiss the older generations and refuse to engage those who came before, When this happens both sides lose. I am guessing that you would agree.


  4. Great connection, Gary. I am going to look up this magazine as I am beginning to migrate my calling into the 18-30 year old demo so this magazine will be very helpful. Cheers from Sherbrooke, Quebec.


    1. Chris, it is wonderful to hear from you. We have such fond memories of our time with you in Sherbrooke when the aurumn leaves were at their glory in the province of Quebec and the New England states to the south/. I was glad to hear of your new direction. Shoot me an email sometime and give me a fuller update.


  5. As a parent of three offspring who fall into the age demographic of those who consider marriage to be irrelevant, I am thankful that two of them have taken that step. However, over recent years I have also questioned the conventional ideas of a wedding. Is it biblical? So much money is spent on dress, food, band, flowers, photos, etc., etc. I have wondered how pleasing all that excess is to the Lord–could we not celebrate a wedding with a lot less financial extravagance and still have it be a meaningful celebration of two families joining together? I can understand a generation of people who are more concerned about social issues looking at this (in some cases) hideous expense and say they’d rather put their money to better use…and say that they can be committed to each other for the rest of their lives without having to spend so much money. And yes, I’m aware of weddings in biblical times that took days…

    Thank you for stimulating our thought processes once again, Gary.


  6. Thanks for your comments, Rachel. One of my daughters did not want a big wedding so we went to the apartment that they were about to live in — seven people: bride, groom, preacher, and four parents. We all wore casual clothes and concluded with coffee and a cake from the grocery store. A few days later about twenty friends gathered in a restaurant for a meal together. It was not your typical wedding.

    But I think the Relevant article reports on a different phenomenon. It is not about saving money. Couples think that sex apart from marriage is easy, legal ties are difficult to unravel if they decide to separate, so let’s just “commit to each other, live as a married couple, call ourselves married but skip the legalities.” There is a determination to commit to each other at the start so they come together until something or somebody comes along and “change of mind (not death) do us part.” Check it out and see if this is prevalent where you live. That seems convenient but not very stable, it seems to me. It is a relationship without the bother of a big wedding or a public and legal commitment. I wonder how common this is or is becoming?


  7. Hi, Gary: I read your post to the end because I find myself consistently “scratching my head” trying to understand how our society has morphed into what it has. Mega-churches attract people – but the methodology is so “canned” and much of it feels like it is designed to help people feel good rather than challenge them. The last election was a disaster; however, I don’t believe the candidates were of stellar quality – in terms of truly leading society. I observe hundreds of people on the street every day who are clearly much more engaged with their technology than they are with people. It feels like a low-hanging “cloud” of gloom, pessimism and hopelessness hanging over our nation – yet the citizens continue to re-elect the same boneheads who truly refuse to offer viable solutions. That people don’t aspire to be better in our society – to look out for those less fortunate and to engage with humanity is puzzling and alarming.


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