Christian Piatt on Building a New Church Community in a Culture That Has Forgotten How

Image by Gerd Altmann/Creative Commons

Christian Piatt is the author, most recently, of the Surviving the Bible series and a co-creator and cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast podcast. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.


There’s a running joke in church that the term “young adult” is kind of like the phrase “middle class”: it conveniently includes whoever is using it at the time.

The joke may have been on my wife, the Rev. Amy Piatt, and me when we showed up to the church we serve last summer to find ourselves charged a few months later with starting a “New Thing” to meet the needs of young adults and their families.

At 45 and 47 years of age, respectively, Amy and I are indeed among the youngest members of the church: The previous young adult ministry had finally disbanded when all of its constituents had aged out.

This is just one example of how out of step the church as a whole has become with the rest of the country. The research firm Barna Group reports that more Americans still identify as “Christian” than other religious identities, but less than a third of us who identify that way actually attend any sort of church community on a regular basis. And the average age of those who do is, well, old.

For younger people, the very notion of “church” is an increasingly foreign, almost quaint, concept. So-called “nones” — people claiming no religious affiliation — constitute a larger cross-section (23.1%) of the population than either evangelicals (22.5%) or Catholics (23%), according to the General Social Survey by the non-partisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Among those nones, the fastest growing demographic is younger adults.

What the church has in common with the culture, however, is that people still long for deeper connection in their lives. This is evident in the apps intent on bringing people together: Cliq, MeetUp, Friender, VizEat, Bumble and even Meet My Dog (like Tinder for dog owners), to mention just a few.

When we started chatting with singles or couples in our new congregation at the beginning of this year about what shape our new venture would take, they understood this connection culture — most of them were joiners by nature — but they also recognized the modern resistance to going to church. There is just too much baggage in the idea of walking through the doors of a church.

We took a page from a support group at the church whose organizers recently moved their meetings off-site and found that dozens more people started to come. The concept of this kind of ministry is less a “come and see” model and more of a “go and do” practice.

One couple we met a few months ago that runs a property management company offered a space just off of the town square that had come available recently. There was a restaurant in the same building, and it had a third space in the back that was still unfinished and wide open.

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Source: Religion News Service