Christian churches in America are struggling to attract and retain young adults. Considering that appealing to these individuals is essential if houses of worship hope to develop and progress, diverse denominations are beginning to team up rather than competing against one another for congregants. Take, for example, Charlotte ONE, a collaborative organization of around 40 churches that have come together in an attempt to attract 20 and 30 somethings in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley covered this intriguing project as well as the many questions that denominations are faced with when it comes to courting young people in contemporary society. As Riley notes, the Barna Group has done a great deal of research on what causes young people to abandon Christian houses of worship, as church engagement has been found to fall by as much as 43 percent among individuals who fall between the ages of 18 and 29.
In fact, young adults are abandoning the church at a rate that is five or six times more prevalent than it has been historically. And twenty-five percent of young people in the 18 to 29 demographic would select “none” if asked for their religious affiliation. With these metrics in mind, it’s clear that many churches are failing America’s young adult population.
Thus, the goal of Charlotte ONE is for denominations to come together in an effort to attract and hold young adults’ attention. While mainline and evangelical Protestant churches from various denominations would typically be trying to outdo one another to bring adherents into individual church doors, as Riley writes, “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
The group’s web site perfectly illustrates its goals:
CharlotteONE is a collaborative outreach service of over 40 local churches to reach 20-30 somethings for Christ and connect them to a local faith community. On Tuesday nights throughout the year, over 500 young professionals from across the metro area gather together as ONE to worship God in the heart of Uptown.
In her piece, Riley describes how the program works, while delving into the reasons why competition may be hampering the churches’ ability to attack young followers:
The organizers say they are happy to see the free market at work in other arenas, but they worry that “shopping for God,” as one book title recently had it, is not an appropriate way to view faith.
So a group of evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders here decided to create one young adult ministry that would provide all of the bells and whistles required, without replacing church. Charlotte ONE does not perform baptisms, weddings, funerals or offer communion. It doesn’t meet on Sundays or have a single pastor in charge. Sermons are “bible-based” and generally evangelical in their outlook, but the leaders try to steer clear of controversial issues (religious and political) that might divide their sponsoring churches.
Charlotte ONE’s organizers see it as a kind of “funnel,” taking in a wide swath of people and trying to pour them out in the right direction. The group takes its motivation from Jesus’ words in John 17:23: “Let them be one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as much as you have loved me.”
While some detractors would claim that competition — even among churches — is healthy, the Charlotte ONE model is the polar opposite of such a paradigm, as it seeks to fill in the gaps to attract younger individuals. Already, the results may be paying off. One survey of participants purportedly showed that 98 percent of respondents believe the organization has assisted their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” More than four in 10 also claim that it has helped them to connect with local churches.
The Charlotte-based group is only one of two initiatives launched so far (PhoenixONE recently commenced operations). It is a part of a larger, national group called the CityONE Network. The non-profit organization’s web site provides a more general definition of it’s overall goals: “…to empower local churches to reach 20-30somethings together in cities across the nation.”
It seems this unique pattern could be making its way to other cities across America. For those looking for a solution to bringing youths back into the faith fold, the CityONE program could provide essential assistance.
(H/T: Wall Street Journal)