Monday, July 28, 2014

And Out the Door They Go

I stood I the foyer as kids and parents walked through the main entrance of the church. The kids stopped off the VBS check-in table where they answered a few questions and then made their way into the auditorium. The parents stood in the foyer with me for a short time, watching to see that their kids got to where they needed to be. They talked with a few of the other people in the foyer. But then, they turned, walked back through the crowd gathered around the check-in table and out the door. They would return a couple hours later to collect their kids.

Missed Opportunities

Time and time again I saw this scene repeated with family after family. This is the age group that we’re not reaching. When you look at our church attendance and when you look at the professions of faith in our church, you see a gap between the young and the old. It isn’t that we don’t people in this age group, but the numbers are down in comparison to other age groups.

Some people say that young adults just aren’t interested in church. That’s one way to look at it, but I saw these people bringing in bags of clothes and canned goods to donate to Texas Baptist Home for Children. These people gave their kids money to give for the cause. That doesn’t seem like “lack of interest,” but they turned around and walked out the door.

What I find disturbing is that we got these people through our front door and they didn’t stay. Let me repeat that. We got these people through our front door. But where are they now? We talk about people who wouldn’t darken a church door. These aren’t them. We got them inside, but couldn’t keep them.

Baby Sitters and Social Clubs

Realistically, many of the people who came and left attend other churches on Sunday. They brought their kids to VBS because we invited them. But to me, it highlights a problem. We want to reach kids and teens, so we have programs for them. We have this idea that we might reach their parents by reaching the kids. The problem is that these parents don’t see it that way. These parents see value in these kids programs because it teaches their kids about God, or because it is a free babysitter. While we’re teaching their kids about God, they may be at Wal-mart doing the weekly shopping.

On the other end of the scale, we have the old folks. While we do have a few programs for them, they get something else out of church. I’ve often heard older folks say things like, “even if a song wasn’t sung, or a sermon preached, I would come to church just to be with God’s people.” That sounds more like a social club. And it makes sense, because when people get older their kids have moved away, they may have lost a spouse, and they’ve retired, so they don’t go to work every day. Going to church staves off the silence.

Something More

There is great value in kids programs. There is value in giving parents an opportunity to have time away from their kids. There is value in providing empty nesters with opportunities to around other people. But if we want to reach young adults, we need to do something more. If we aren’t preaching to these people, how can we hope to see them saved? And if the longest time they stay in our church building is during VBS wrap-up, Awana closing ceremony, and when their kids are in a Christmas program, we’re not doing much preaching to them. We need to do something more.

We can’t bribe young adults with candy and pizza like we can with kids and teens. Young adults have jobs and can buy more candy and pizza than they need. And we can’t get them by being a social club, because their jobs put them around people all day, and if they have kids they are around people at night as well. If we don’t find something for young adults to stay for, we’ll continue to see them walk in but head right back out the door.

Why I Stay

I can’t speak for all young adults, but I’m pushing the upper edge of young adulthood, so I’ve had lots of experience as a young adult. So, why do I stay? Why don’t I turn around and walk back out the door?

Honestly, I’ve considered it a few times. Come to think of it, I’ve done it a few times. Never when there was preaching, but I’ve skipped some services when it was just going to be a movie, or a concert. And I have a real hard time attending Wednesday night services during the summer. It isn’t that the lessons aren’t great, but after I’ve spent all day at work, I don’t have the mental fortitude to listen to all the prayer requests for people who are going through health problems and then to listen to a lecture.

But when Awana is going on, it is totally different. With kids running around and things to do, it is invigorating. I much prefer to be doing something. And when I look at the young adults who come through our doors and stay, they are the ones who are doing stuff. I remember when I first joined our church that it was a struggle for me because I wanted to be much more involved than I felt like I had the opportunity to be.

So, if I had to guess what it would take to keep young adults from walking out the door, I would say we need to invite them to do stuff with us. Of course, we have to be careful about what we ask them to do. Some tasks should be reserved from church members. And they may really need the time to run to Wal-mart without their kids. But if there was a project they could work on instead of driving back home and turning on the TV for an hour before driving back to church to pick up the kids, they just might stay, even if they won’t stay to listen to a lecture.