Recently my wife asked our twenty-something daughter in law what young people want in church. The very articulate response is below
I thought a lot about your question re: young people and the church. It’s a really big question, so I can only paint a picture with really broad strokes.
Young people generally come to church looking for the same things as everyone else. They want to know, in one form or another, who they are, where they came from, why they’re here, and what will happen to them when they die. They want the answer to the longing for God that He has planted in their hearts. They want community, comfort, and to be freed from guilt over their sins. They want to be apart of something bigger than themselves, something that matters.
The biggest differences between what young adults and older adults want in church, I think, exist because the mainline churches by and large think that young people either 1. shouldn’t be interested in church or 2. are incapable of understanding the Gospel. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of people between 25 and 35 being told to go out and live a little and come back to the church when they’re older. It’s pretty much become an unspoken rule that most parishes won’t send anyone under 40 to seminary. Those churches that do want to involve young people tend to be patronizing or obsessed with making the church be as close to “youth culture” as possible. Of course, the Church isn’t in the business of creating culture. It’s in the business of preaching the Gospel, and when it tries to create an alternate Christian culture (with its own music, fashion, and movies) it tends to do it badly.
These two tendencies lead to young people needing extra things that they probably wouldn’t need if they were just treated like adults: They need to be taken seriously and allowed to get involved, and they need to be given the doctrine and dogma of the church without “relevant” filler material.
This, of course, mostly applies to “churched” young people. There are many people in their 20s, who have never walked into a church and know nothing about the Gospel but stereotypes, steeples, and what they see on South Park. In my experience, young people like that want three things from the Church: 1. They want a Bible that just has the Bible in it–no pictures or cute little text boxes cluttering up the text. 2. They want to know what the Church teaches, what Christians believe, and what would be expected of them if they were to convert. 3. They want the space to think about the decision for as long as they need without having to make a committment and someone who will answer their questions honestly without sugar-coating the truth, judging them for having doubts, or being condescending.
Of course, this is all general. “Young people” are as diverse a demographic as any other, and it is difficult to say anything meaningful without having to turn around and say the opposite. I think that many of these problems would be solved by parishes having things for all adults to get involved in and preaching the Gospel on Sundays–things parishes should be doing, anyway.
Hope that helps!