Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors

A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Image: Leandro Crespi / Stocksy

An enthusiastic group of 20-somethings from Immanuel Church of the Nazarene in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, recently gathered to share what they love about their congregation. One noted the modern worship music and relevant messages at Sunday morning services. Another said the spiritual depth of the community challenges her to follow Jesus. Still another mentioned the friendships built during a mission trip.

When one 22-year-old offered her two-word answer, every head nodded. It wasn’t the name of a program, but a person: Bill Wallace.

Whether he’s attending their Bible study, showing up to a basketball game, or simply saying “hello” in the hallway, Wallace has made it his mission to ensure that young people know they matter.

Wallace is 76 years old.

Remembering a childhood when adults failed to show up for his important events, Wallace resolved that no young person at Immanuel would experience the same on his watch. Now Wallace and a cadre of senior adults keep showing up—not only at church, but all over town—to cheer on young people and remind them that they have a family at Immanuel. He’s even written a passionate manifesto to recruit other seniors to join his cause.

Our team of researchers at the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary had the chance to meet Wallace and other Immanuel members as part of our four-year study of US congregations that are effectively engaging 15- to 29-year-olds. The 250 evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches we studied represent more than 20 denominations, in nearly 40 states, ranging from new plants to churches more than a century old. Half of the congregations were predominantly white, while one-third were multiracial. The rest were ...

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Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
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September 2016

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