Thinking Out Loud

July 3, 2015

Teens, Twenty-Somethings Looking for More than Church Services, Bible Studies

My oldest son made a comment that has been haunting me now for about a week.

I had asked him on Sunday night if he wanted to join me at the last night of a video seminary we’ve been doing with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. I also asked him Monday night if he was going to a Young Adults Bible study thing that was part of a ministry initiative we had been campaigning for locally.

young adult ministryHe said basically, “Do Christians not ever do anything that isn’t a Church service or a Bible study?”

Well, the answer is yes and no. We live in a small town. In a larger urban center, I am sure there are other places and other contexts (i.e. service projects) for social contact with other Christians. But showing a great lack in creativity, even in large cities things often default to the two aforementioned options: (a) Things resembling a “lets sit in rows” church service, sometimes complete with an offering being taken, and (b) The “lets sit in a circle” Bible study model.

I totally agree with him. There must be something more. Christian concerts bypass our little corner of the world and have gotten pretty danged expensive lately. You need a talent pool to do the coffee-house model. You need lots of people to pull off a good sports night, not to mention a decent gym. Heck, you even need a bigger shopping mall than we have to stage a good scavenger hunt.

At an earlier stage of trying to get interest in this, I did come up with a few possibilities. We have a laboratory of sorts here that tests video games. I thought it would be interesting to open that up for a night to somewhat non-gaming people, and was in talks with the owner. We also have a restaurant that is only open for breakfast and lunch. I got the owner of that one to agree to doing a private, set-price buffet kind of thing, with a limit of 30 people. I was working on some other options as well, but remember that I am not a twenty-something or even thirty-something. Not remotely close. I was trying to get some ideas going for an event that I would, by design, not attend.

But instead, they went with a series of worship nights and Bible studies. Sigh!

I know running this on a Friday (a slow day on the blog, especially on a holiday weekend) may not generate comments, but I’d be open to any ideas you could toss out.

The other option we discussed tonight would involve people simply taking the individual initiative to volunteer for some service projects on their own with existing clubs and charities. That has great ‘salt and light’ potential, though it lacks the direct benefits of social contact with other Christians.

I have to agree with him. We do get offered a lot of services and study events, but as he also said so well, “Don’t Christians ever do anything just for fun?”



  1. I am not 21 either, Paul – but I do have a 21 year old son. He totally gets what your son is saying. I think that local churches are like the old garrison troops in a fort in India in the 1800s. Nobody gets into the fort and nobody goes out. And then there are those guys like the Bengal Lancers who ride out of forts and they go looking for adventure (for Christ) to take on whatever shows up and needs to be done – like Bible translation. They look for some forgotten bit of God’s vast real estate in a country with a name that can’t be pronounced or spelled – they paddle up a river or camp on a mountain ridge somewhere, and begin working with local people to record Bible stories in languages (4000 of them) that have never been recorded. That’s right – there are 4000 languages and dialects that still need to be translated so people know that Jesus died for them.

    Those Bengal Lancer-types travel to the ends of the world on short and long term mission trips Why? They know what it is to be lost – and then found – and saved from destruction, And they want to go forward telling others about Jesus and his forgiveness to as many as they can. I am going to see if I can find a short teem missions trip for my son to go on – hopefully with Bible story tellers or translators – so he can see the passion these people have for getting out of the house – out of their town – off the grid – and on the journey, for Jesus sake.

    These young people start churches with local people who are passionate about telling others – and they produce/mentor other emerging Bengal Lancers. Let’s get our sons hooked up with men who are passionate about Christ and who want to travel to some place that actually wants to hear the good news. And oh yeah – every Bible translator and Bible story tellers (young like your son and old like you and me) who go on mission trips are a fun lot. What could be more fun for a guy than being a spiritual Bengal Lancer!? Galloping forth to adventure with the Saviour. And yeah – even Jesus rides a horse – read about it in Revelation and see! Have fun while exploring and impacting new worlds and cultures for Christ. That is as fun as it gets!

    Comment by Bruce Allen — July 3, 2015 @ 6:47 am

  2. I worked as a YA leader at a large church in Winnipeg for a few years, and am in my mid-thirties, and while that doesn’t make me an expert by any means I do have some suggestions regarding fun events:

    It sounds like you had some great ideas. I’m curious why YA who are not necessarily interested in doing worship/Bible study nights would go to another church, just because it was putting them on. Would the leadership there be open to meeting with you to brainstorm ideas?

    One thing to do is find out what your son likes to do (though I’m sure you know already), and see if he’d want to organize an event around that. I know one YA who’s into Ultimate Frisbee, so he organizes it weekly. We had sporadic board game and video game and movie nights (with discussion on the movie afterward) with the YA at the church. One guy really liked geocaching, so that’s what he’d invite people to. My wife does cardmaking, and YA would come to her cardmaking nights too.

    For me, Bible studies and prayer nights are fun, and is also what appealed to a few of the YA at the church I worked for too. We had some YA who were musicians and one who wants to be a pastor, and so worship nights were a monthly event for us too. Realistically, you never appeal to everyone regardless with what you do.

    For others, we had community service nights (like going to a homeless drop-in), which appealed to some but not others (the majority, even). In a small town I understand that’s harder, but research & brainstorming could be done (preferably by a YA, or group of them, who wants to make a difference) about what the needs in your town or a nearby community are, and what they can do to be a part of the solution.

    I wonder if part of the problem is that it sounds like you’re trying to plan everything for them. While it’s nice to provide these events, these are not youth anymore and should be involved themselves. Why not gather a bunch of them together and brainstorm as a group? And then put on the activity as a group, delegating tasks. For me, a large part of the YA leader’s role is to guide the YA to think about things they aren’t thinking about themselves but should. I also emphasized being an inclusive, invitational community a lot. Who’s being left out (even within the group)? How can we include them?

    Anyway, I hope that’s helpful!

    Comment by joshgaudreau — July 3, 2015 @ 8:53 am

    • Until they actually embraced the idea for themselves, I wasn’t actually planning anything; simply looking into some options that were available — and still are — to stimulate some creative thinking.

      Events like we’re describing here ideally should happen organically not from the top down. Sometimes however you’re dealing with a group of people who need a ‘nudge’ to get it going.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 4, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

  3. I’m a 30-something associate pastor, so that’s the perspective I come from. I hesitate to schedule anything other than Bible studies for younger adults because getting them to come to anything besides Sunday morning (and that’s not always consistent) is tough, and if they’re going to go to something during the week I’d rather they go to something that will grow their faith. Not that community and fellowship isn’t important, but unless the foundation is in a Bible study so the people showing up are also taking their faith seriously, it’s not going to be life-transforming. Plus, people are so busy these days that their is the need to make them feel that spending their time at something is actually important – and they schedule their own social events on the weekend anyway. When I was a campus minister I would schedule activities for the college kids, but that’s a different dynamic than young adults who are past college age.

    Comment by Liz — July 3, 2015 @ 9:12 am

    • I see what you mean. If you’ve only got one shot at it during the week, you want it to have a spiritual focus. I totally get that. I wonder though if it wouldn’t be so ‘tough’ if the secondary option involved something fun that would have a good percentage of them buy in? Yes, some are busy, but maybe not all.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 4, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

  4. Hey, I’m 24, and I’ve found myself saying the same thing before. However, what I and your son are actually looking for as an alternative may be completely different. What I mean when I say that is, why does it seem like church events are “legitimate” when they were blessed by the pastor, announced at the gathering, and administered by the staff? In past situations for my wife and me, simply spending time with fellow believers in our church wasn’t enough. You have to sign up for something, or you aren’t really considered involved in the church. A few examples for us- my wife and I raise a lot of our own food, so we provide some people in our church with really nutritious food, we trade food, we barter work (I’ve traded my mechanical skills for someone’s electrical skills), we go hiking/camping together, we purposefully try to not to google everything so we can learn from others in our community, and making disciples for us looks like grabbing some of the college students in our town and letting them learn, ask questions, and essentially follow us. In other words, our community depends on each other, and this takes up most of our free time. We don’t suffer from boredom, and don’t require the church staff to give us spiritual activities to fill our time. Does that make sense? Please tell me if I’m missing the point of your post, I wouldn’t put it past me!

    Comment by j — July 4, 2015 @ 11:51 am

    • No, your comment is helpful; it also raises another issue, that of church-sanctioned events vs. things people do spontaneously. I’ve often encouraged people to start a small group in their home — admittedly now we are talking about Bible study — and they are absolutely horrified by the idea of doing something on their own that the church hasn’t authorized.

      It sounds like you’re finding ways to move past the problem, and for that you are to be congratulated.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 4, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

    • j – You are the Church. The book of Acts is people following the Lord Jesus together in the life that they lead. We are the Church. Good for you!

      Comment by angie — July 4, 2015 @ 7:06 pm

  5. I wouldn’t want to attend most of the Bible studies that are out there today. Either they are packaged and lame. Or they are shallow and a waste of time. Maybe it’s not the actual idea of Bible study that is so non-appealing but maybe it’s the content. Do you think a bunch of 20 somethings would be interested in attending a Friday night Bible study taught by Bruxy, for example? (You mention him here on your blog occasionally.) In our small church, we have a growing number of young adults that come to (in their words) “really deep, hard core” Bible studies. One person mentioned that, although he attends many young adult gatherings all over the city, he has never found anything like our Sunday night studies. I agree that we should do other things as well, but I also think that deep theological studies done gifted teachers would also be a draw for the younger crowd.

    Comment by Joel — July 6, 2015 @ 10:43 am

    • Good point. Often the leaders simply buy a study outline for a particular book of the Bible, and then just read the questions out loud. It doesn’t really originate with them and so lacks a lot of passion. Sometimes the DVD studies help generate better discussion (Philip Yancey, John Ortberg, etc.).

      You’re right, a small group taught by Bruxy Cavey would quickly stop being small!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 6, 2015 @ 10:49 am

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