- (Photo: UMNS / Center for Youth Ministry Training)
Listening to young adults to help direct the church and its evangelistic efforts is a must for Pastor Dan Kimball.
But he finds that many churches are not giving 20-somethings any voice.
"So many churches only have older leaders in the core areas of leadership. They may have a younger youth pastor or perhaps music leader. But for the bigger decisions in a church, are younger voices getting to give input?" he posed.
Kimball, 48, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., has worked with youth and young adults for two decades now. And he's finding that as he grows older, he needs to be more and more sensitive to outside voices and younger voices when it comes to evangelism and mission.
"Often they may have good ideas, but their churches don’t have systems in place to hear their ideas and they get ignored," he told The Christian Post. "They are allowed to give voice to shape the youth ministry or young adult ministry, but not the church at large."
The consequence – they leave to plant new churches or leave the church altogether because of it, Kimball noted.
Many churches are aging and dying out. Their children have left the church and either dropped out or now attend a younger church they can resonate with, Kimball observed.
Over the past 10 years, overall church attendance has remained stable with a slight decline, according to David T. Olson, author of The American Church in Crisis, but the U.S. population has grown by 51 million people. People living longer may account for the stability but some anticipate a massive drop in church attendance as the older churchgoers die.
And these churches aren't bringing in younger voices to help continue the mission of the church. Kimball believes they're so busy and consumed with day-to-day ministry that they are not looking for new ideas from younger people. They're uncomfortable, he says, with change or of being stretched in new directions.
The Santa Cruz pastor, who's known for his rockabilly high pompadour, largely draws 20-somethings to his church. In his passion to reach the unchurched and connect with the emerging culture, Kimball constantly seeks input from his congregation and a few key young adults.
He sends out e-mails to his Vintage Faith members asking what their struggles and question are. Though Kimball himself grew up outside the church and remembers the many questions he had about God and Christianity when he was a college student, he says he can't assume that the questions he had then would be the same questions young adults are pondering today.
From the responses he receives, he plans out an entire year of teaching topics. He then brings in someone in their 30s and another in their 20s to help him plan out the teaching series.
"I need them in my life for ideas, their creativ[ity] and perspective," Kimball said.
Vintage Faith's current teaching series, titled "XX&XY," is on sex, marriage and relationships through a biblical lens. The title came from the 20-something on his team, and the series includes an open forum and a question box – ideas that spawned from the understanding that today's generation desires dialogue.
For Kimball, listening to 20-somethings is an obvious move. He points to Mark Zuckerberg, who was 20 years old when he founded Facebook; Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google at age 25; Bill Gates, who was 21 years old when he founded Microsoft; Steve Jobs who was 21 when he co-founded Apple; John Calvin who wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion at age 27; Charles Spurgeon who was 20 years old when New Park Street Church in London exploded in growth; and Bill Hybels and Rick Warren who were both in their 20s when they launched Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church, respectively.
"There is a lot of innovation and creativity that happens while people are in their 20s," he highlighted. "They are very in touch and at the cusp of our fast-changing culture."
Moreover, much of the culture – including music, entertainment, etc. – is driven by youth.
Church culture, Kimball stressed, should be driven by Jesus, the Scriptures and the Spirit. "But as we are on mission, we should be paying attention to the culture that the people we are on mission to are living in," he said.
And it isn't just about getting any younger voice just for the sake of having younger people. Rather, Kimball encourages bringing in young adults who are passionate about the mission of Jesus and may have new ideas on how to do things for the church.
Of course, by doing this, both sides can benefit, the Vintage pastor pointed out. Those who are aging would learn creativity and gain perspective on today's culture for the benefit of the church's mission. At the same time, those in their 20s would gain a mentor, receiving wisdom that could only come from age and life experience.