How Can Churches Engage 20-Somethings?

How Can Churches Engage 20-Somethings?

September 8, 2014 by

Why are the 20-somethings leaving the church? What’s scaring them away? It’s one of the hot-button topics in the church today. It’s the question everyone is asking. But is the answer to that question really going to solve anything?

Take the first question a step further and you get somewhere helpful. What is working to get the 20-somethings involved?

We took a 10-week road trip to 37 churches across the country to find what is reaching the 20-somethings. We headed out with the goal of encouraging the church that our generation can be reached. We found that not only can they be reached, but they are being reached all across the country.

What’s the key in churches that are finding success? Value.

We found that 20-somethings want to be valued in the church. While that’s all well and good, it’s a little vague. Here are four themes we saw time and time again across the country that made the 20-somethings feel valued in the church.

Young Leaders

20-somethings don’t want to just be greeters or door holders or coffee pourers. They want to own the ministry. John “JP” Podluka, the young adult pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, talked about shifting to a place where 20-somethings are empowered to own the ministry.

“We stopped doing ministry to people and started doing ministry through people,” he said. “We don’t need ushers and greeters. We need pastors and evangelists.”

When new 20-somethings come to your ministry and see people their age being trusted as campus pastors, volunteer team leaders or in any leadership role, they will see that young people are not pushed aside but that their opinions are valued.


Our entire lives, we (the 20-somethings) have been advertised to through social media, television and Google ads. We’re bombarded with people telling us what to do and what to believe.

We know when things aren’t genuine, and that goes for the church, too. Pastor Joby Martin from Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, Fla., says, “20 somethings are over consumerism. They just want the real deal.”

We want to hear from people who are genuine. Pastors who admit their faults. Communities that share their struggles. If you give us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we’ll appreciate that we’re not being lied to.

We feel valued when we’re treated like the adults that we are. Just be straight with us. Don’t feed us a line.


It’s not a secret that people need community, but what does that look like? We saw many different ways this was approached. In the end, we discovered that there is no one way to do community “right.”

For churches like Watermark it means having a night set aside specifically for young adults. For churches like Elevation in Charlotte, N.C., it means Sundays are the only ministry for 20-somethings.

Young adults need opportunities to be with people in their own life stages. But they also need the chance to be influenced by older generations who have already been where they are. There’s no wrong way to do community as long as it fits with the culture of the church.


Everyone is messed up. All of us have issues, even if we don’t want to admit it. 20-somethings want a place where they can come with all of their junk and feel accepted.

Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn., has a phrase that embraces this idea: “Everyone’s welcome because nobody’s perfect and anything’s possible.”

We found that when churches learn to love people where they are instead of where they should be, 20-somethings flock to them and are all the more willing to work with them to clear out some of that junk in their lives.

The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

Photo by Joel Bedford.
Post By:

Taylor Snodgrass and Heather Stevens

Taylor Snodgrass and Heather Stevens are two 20-somethings passionate about bringing their generation back to the church. From June to August 2014, they visited nearly 40 churches across the country to discover how 20-somethings are being reached and shared what they learned online.
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6 Responses to “How Can Churches Engage 20-Somethings?”

  • Andrew Fallows
    September 8, 2014

    A big piece of this that I’ve seen lately has to do with how the conversation happens about engaging us (I’m 20-something, too).

    Recently, I attended a church conference, including a workshop on worship for “millennials” (a word I’m growing to dislike.

    I was one of two 20-somethings in a room of about 16 people – the rest were 40+. The whole workshop quickly took on a very “How Do We Solve a Problem Like Maria?” tone, with a whole lot of well-intended but inaccurate generalizations about what “they” like and what “they” want out of church.

    As a “them” sitting in the midst of the conversation, I felt like a commodity. I’m not ROI for your church’s investment; I’m your brother in Christ.

    I relate strongly to what you’ve identified as wishes and needs – I crave multi-generational leadership, I crave authenticity, and I crave a faith community. Above all else, I crave the truth.

    If a church wants to know what 20-somethings need, the surest way to find out is to ask us. We want you to ask us. We want to tell you.

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    • Nate
      September 9, 2014

      This comment over and over

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    • Bill Giovannetti
      September 19, 2014

      “I’m not ROI for your church’s investment; I’m your brother in Christ.”

      One of the most poignant and powerful statements I’ve heard on this topic. You words will stick with me for a very long time. Thanks.

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  • Laura
    September 10, 2014

    The hard part about engaging these 20-somethings seems to actually stem from those who have been attending church all their lives. If they’ve grown to always go to Youth Group events, while Mom and Dad go to the ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ ministries separately, it can be hard to engage them to join the church where it is at when they are so used to this set-up. As they (or we…I suppose I’m a ‘they’ as well :) ) graduate high school and enter the work force and/or college, it takes a little self-realization to understand that we don’t have to attend events and volunteer opportunities that are meant for the ‘young-folk’ only. We must realize the great importance that lies in learning not just from our peers, but also from older adults who have been Christians far longer than we have, and understand so much more.

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  • Kelli Campbell
    September 11, 2014

    The 20’s are a difficult decade for everyone, even the “churched”. I remember being 20 something and thinking, ” I got this”. My body was strong, my mind was clear (so I thought); I was full of life and strength. Granted, I was still living in my parents house with no bills, no real responsibilities other than going to school, working a “not so challenging” job and paying my car note. As I started to experience difficult times, as a result of poor decisions from frivolous living, I came to the realization that I needed GOD! The church has to be ready to address the 20 something issues with patience and love! Great article!

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  • Jim Thompson
    February 16, 2015

    These all seem like great ways to attract 20-somethings that may already be involved in some type of organized religious activities.

    Do you have any advice or tips on how to engage with 20- or 30-somethings that are not currently affiliated with any religious organizations? People or families that may be turned off by the idea of traditional church, and may not realize that “alternative” worship is an option.


    Jim Thompson

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