When looking out upon a sea of faces, you can see the individual souls behind each pair of eyes; the ones with bright eyes and smiles, the one’s with closed eyes and moving lips, the ones with sullen expressions and crossed arms. Each one has endured another week full of experiences that has delivered him or her to your church for another Sunday. Perhaps it was a week of strength, or a week of fragility. Maybe it was all they could do to drag themselves to your service with a hangover.
When you give your sermon, who do you speak to? Who do you encourage? Do you cast a wide net and aim for the middle ground of religious knowledge or preach narrowly, speaking of ideals only Bible scholars understand? If we’re being honest, I think we’d all preach to the middle of religious knowledge, and attempt to make our message fit every man and woman. That’s the safe delivery, isn’t it? That’s the most effective reach for our hour or two on the stage, right? Talk to the middle, nothing too high brow, nothing too elementary school with a message for all. This is a livelihood after all. If someone wants to gain more, they can join us for Bible study or youth group.
As I look out over the gathered congregation, I see less and less young people. Those I know to be devout Christians disappear from services until they consider marriage or have children. They are not going to other churches, nor looking for answers in other religions. They are simply checking out. So, I looked for the hole in the Church’s marketing. Where was this gap that the young adults were falling through?
The hole is customization. Church is a business. If you don’t have revenue coming in, you go broke and close down. If your CEO isn’t working out, you fire him. The only thing that separates us from a consumer business is our end goal. So, how do big businesses successfully market to 18 – 30 year olds. Nike iD, Scion Cars, Apple iPods all leverage the ability to customize their product. Every innovative product that comes out now has a feature that allows the consumer to customize the color, feature-sets or inscriptions. These marketers have learned that in order to sell to the younger generation, you have to allow them to make a personal connection with the product and add their own bit of flair. If you look at your church today, what single young people do you see at service? The ones in the church band, the choir, youth group. It’s the young adults that have found a place in the church to make their mark or make a personal connection that return week after week.
I attend church, not because I connect with every message, but because I know my pastor. I know him personally as a great man and as a friend. We smoke cigars together (It’s astounding how many pastors smoke cigars. I love it.) But my religious experience at my church has been “customized”. I am able to speak to him about my own personal problems and make religion my own because I have an authority that I can connect with and seek personal, specific advice from. I was able to personally connect and identify with the church. Yes, his sermons hit the middle every Sunday, but I know if I have a specific problem, he’s my guy.
Meeting my pastor had a huge effect on my willingness to attend service every Sunday. I know he’ll remember seeing my face. I know if I’m struggling and missing service he’ll hold me accountable. As a pastor, connect with your young adults for a one-on-one sit down, or just speak with them over coffee in the gathering space. There are two reasons for this. One, it automatically makes the member more comfortable with you and allows a personal bond to start growing. Secondly, many churches have visitor greeters who are too advanced in years or their relationship with Christ to effectively make a solid relationship. As a pastor, you are truly the best one suited to reading a new person and meeting them at the level they need to be addressed at.
What happens when customers have a great experience? They become repeat customers and better yet, tell their friends all about it. I know we’re all busy. But it doesn’t have to be a long sit down. It doesn’t even have to be an en masse attack on meeting everyone. Just begin to do it. Like that young man or woman you see every week and haven’t met yet.
You won’t be able to tailor every message for them, but if you can give them a custom, personal experience and begin to develop that personal bond, you can retain your young adult members. Getting them in the door? That’s a whole other story.
- with love, The Ambassador