Originally published on The Gospel Coalition.
Two-thirds of young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 leave the church for at least a year, many never returning. Church dropout percentages climb as members of Gen Z reach their 20s and enter the world of college and career, with only one-third attending church regularly.
The statistics are staggering and quite clear. My generation, Gen Z, is abandoning the church. Our culture allures us with the lie of self-sufficiency. It tells us we can live life on our own. It feeds us the myth that satisfaction can be found outside of God and his people.
As Gen Z gradually leaves the church and apathy invades, we’re forced to ask some crucial questions. Do we need more appealing church services, an updated building, or new programs? Does the church need to compromise on core doctrines to draw younger generations? Should churches be more tolerant and accepting?
No, at the root of the church dropout rate is an unbiblical view of the church and God’s people. Instead, Gen Z needs a right understanding of the church, its purpose, and our desperate need for the body of Christ.
What Is the Church?
When we think of the church, a stereotypical picture of a church with a steeple and a large cross protruding from the roof most likely forms in our minds. Perhaps we think of folks with fancy clothes who sit in pews and sing along with an organ and a church choir. Or maybe we think of the more modern view of church, singing songs we’ve heard on the radio and wearing trendy jeans.
But these views don’t get at the core of what a church is. Look around at your fellow believers. Think of your brothers and sisters around the globe and throughout history. No, the church is not defined by a building or style of dress. The church is made up of those whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ and who are united together with him as his Bride.
As a family of believers, the church is a “pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Pillars and buttresses are used to uphold and reinforce the weight of buildings so they don’t crumble to pieces. In a similar way, the church upholds and reinforces the truth of God’s Word, standing firm in each generation, built upon Christ Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).
Why Gen Z Needs the Church
“You do you,” “find your truth,” and “follow your heart” are the mantras that have shaped the individualistic culture Gen Z has grown up in. Scoffing at authority and law isn’t only common but expected and celebrated. We don’t want accountability or others telling us what to do in a world that feeds us the lie we can be whoever we want and do whatever we want.
But Gen Z desperately needs the church. Hebrews 10:24–25 tells us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We’re commanded to meet together, to encourage and build one another up in our walk with Christ on the way to eternity.
In The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander write, “While our individual walks are crucial, we are impoverished in our personal pursuit of God if we do not avail ourselves of the help that is available through mutually edifying relationships in our covenant church family.” We deceive ourselves by believing we can be independent in our Christian walk.
Throughout the Bible, there are many “one another” commands: “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16), “love one another” (Rom. 12:10), and “live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16), among many others. How are we to obey these commands if we’re not in fellowship with other believers in the local church?
What Will Draw Gen Z to Church?
With good intentions, many church leaders go to great lengths to get Gen Z in the door. But Gen Z will only stay in church if our desires transcend that of this world. Trying to attract us by making services cool, programs exciting, and social opportunities abundant can miscommunicate the purpose of the church. The purpose isn’t to draw those who are so attracted to the world that they want their local church to reflect it but to invite those who desire to be different to be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s helpful to consider how to engage Gen Z, but ultimately, the church will only be appealing to Gen Z when we embrace the things that God embraces. We will love the local church when we love what God loves and value what he values.
So what keeps me coming back to the church? I go out of joyful obedience to God but also in an attitude of humble service. Church membership isn’t merely listening to a sermon and walking away as a stranger. Rather, we have the privilege of being members of a family. We partake in church fellowship by using our God-given gifts to build up the congregation of believers (Rom. 12:3–8). Dever and Alexander go on to say, “Cultivating the priority of the local congregation in the lives of individual members will help curb our selfish individualism and create an atmosphere of humble servanthood.”
It’s tempting to view the church as another chore to complete or as a place to avoid. But what would happen if Gen Z began to walk into the church asking how we can encourage fellow brothers and sisters? What if we began to share our sins with other believers, praying with one another and keeping each other accountable? What if we used our God-given gifts to serve our church for God’s glory?
Show up in humility. Show up desiring to worship God. Show up eager to serve. Offer your gifts to pour out for the sake of the gospel.
You need the church, Gen Z. And the church needs you.