What will the American church be like in 2050? That question is explored in a 127-page research project funded by the Pinetops Foundation (https://www.greatopportunity.org). Their conclusion was shocking. If present trends continue, over 40 million young people raised in Christian homes may walk away from the church by 2050. This represents the largest loss of believing souls in history. Casual observers are already noting the graying of our churches. Surprisingly, the report isn’t pessimistic. It calls the church to action suggesting that engaging youth at a rate similar to a couple decades ago will yield 20 million persons rescued from a life without Christ. As the report states, 20 million is more than every major revival in American history—combined!
Here are 5 investments “The Great Opportunity” offers to retain our youth:
INVESTMENT 1: Starting New Churches (and Revitalizing Existing Churches)
Given the present rate of churches closing in North America and our increasing population, it is essential that 275,000 churches be planted by 2050. New church plants are nimbler and attract youth in higher numbers. Church planting should have an urban focus. Revitalizing churches is part of this strategy.
INVESTMENT 2: Mission for Youth
The report notes that past models for discipling youth are proving ineffective in today’s environment. The report claims that youth aren’t leaving for lack of faith, they are leaving because they find the life of those inside the church uninteresting. The church must find new ways of being church to retain our youth.
INVESTMENT 3: Digitally Reaching New Audiences
The average young person spends nine hours a day on technology platforms. Previously the church has embraced new technologies for mission. In the digital age the church has lagged behind. The report suggests finding new talent, developing digital strategies and utilizing youth to drive on-line mission.
INVESTMENT 4: Caring for the Poor
The report states, “The American church should be famous for its radical care for the poor, and in so doing, point people to God’s sacrificial love.” Youth are very interested in meeting real needs and establishing a just society. Youth are attracted to difference-making churches.
INVESTMENT 5: Building Long Term Witness
Traditionally, the church has prepared the great thinkers and leaders in Western society. That passion has waned. Today less than 5% of tenured professors at leading universities identify as Jesus followers. The church must attend to the life of the mind by engaging theology, research, science & conversation.
This report should be considered alongside other helpful conversations about ways to retain and win youth including research done by Fuller Youth Institute (read Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church). The loss of youth is the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity the church faces today. Ignoring this challenge will lead to the loss of a vibrant North American church.
The report includes this quote from Richard Nieuhaus, “We have not the right to despair because despair is a sin, and finally we have not the reason to despair quite simply because Christ is risen.”