Number of Youth and Young People in Faith Formation Activities Increasing

NASHVILLE, TN — Popular rhetoric may claim youth and young people are disappearing from the church, but actual numbers reported by United Methodist congregations show participation by those age groups in ongoing faith formation activities is increasing.

More people in both age groups – 12-18 for youth and 19-30 for young adults – participated in Christian formation groups and other small group ministries each year since collection of the specific data began in 2009, said Michael Ratliff, head of Young People’s Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).

“One of the things we hear is that young people are walking out the doors of the church, and while that could be true in an aggregate sense, there are more young people showing up in ongoing faith development or faith formation groups in the United Methodist Church,” Ratliff said. “I think that is a point of hope because every statistic that I see related to young people who continue to be involved in the church talks about the importance of a deeper faith experience, rather than just fun and games that some say they experience in youth ministry.

“So the fact that we have more young people who are participating in faith formation and ongoing groups says to me that there are young people who are hungry to grow spiritually and that the church is providing at least some opportunities for that to happen,” he said.

The data, which comes from the membership and participation reports that local churches submit each year to their annual conferences, says the number of youth participating in Christian formation groups and other small group ministries totaled 420,907 in 2009, and then increased by 3.4 percent to 435,377 in 2010, and by 1.2 percent to 440,584 in 2011.

The growth for young adults was similar: 188,151 in 2009, increasing by 2.5 percent to 192,936 in 2010, and by 1.9 percent to 196,589 in 2011.

“I’d like to think that they are more involved because more opportunities for ongoing faith formation activities are available to them – that many of our churches have moved beyond the entertainment mode to be more intentional about spiritual growth with both youth and young adults,” Ratliff said. “It’s beyond the pizza night – come get free pizza with your friends and play games. But it’s more about having a place where they can develop this part of their lives.”

This data has only been available from United Methodist congregations since 2009, when specific categories for youth and young adults participating in Christian formation groups and other small group ministries were first added to the annual church reports.

In the most recent survey results available, almost one-third of the 32,000 reporting churches in 2011 identified no youth involvement, and Ratliff said he was unsure why. “That’s part of the challenge with those statistics, but they are the only statistics we have,” he said.

Possible reasons could be that many United Methodist congregations are aging, or churches might not recognize that they have youth ministry, if they do not have a traditional youth group, Ratliff said.

“Many churches identify success in youth ministry as having what they perceive as a successful youth group, and for many churches, a successful youth group means lots of activity with lots of youth involved,” he said. “So there may be churches in the group that didn’t report who have young people in their congregation who are much more integrated into their faith community … and yet the churches don’t recognize that they have ministries with youth.”

Youth and young adults in a congregation with no organized youth group may be involved in Sunday morning worship, for example. “Maybe there are only eight people in the choir, and yet one or two of them are youth-age or young adult-age people. That may be a place where they are growing spiritually,” Ratliff said.

“I would assume that an increase in young people who are in ongoing – and I think ongoing is important – faith formation settings probably means a Bible study or a small group,” he said. “It could mean Sunday school. Part of it would depend on how people classify groupings in their local church.”

Editor’s Note: This story was provided by the Communications Office of the General Board of Discipleship

Leave a Reply

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
Notify of
%d bloggers like this: