Mira voce: how to get more young adults at church

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

This weekend at a church synod/region event, my husband and I learned about stewardship. As per usual, we were in the 5% of attendees at a church function under the age of 35 – which I’m becoming eerily numb to after being on staff at a church for a year and after being a Lutheran for 26 years. Under the age of 35, a woman, 1/4 asian, from Washington state, tweeting my questions and comments about stewardship as I was inspired throughout the morning. I’m a little different, but I choose not to dwell on it, because that’s just awkward for everyone. And it wasn’t that awkward, until the closing comments when we were all asked to bring a young adult with us to the next year’s stewardship learning event.

This is not a unique request. You might have heard it before at your church or faith-based organization:

“How do we get more young adults here?”

I found myself sinking lower and lower into my chair. Elephant in the room. The demographic they wanted everyone to chaparone to the next stewardship event was sitting in the room – 10 people full, but we were still there. We were there.

We are leaders in your churches. We took the initiative to steward our time on a Saturday morning and learn more about stewardship. We were there.

“How do we get more [insert your favorite age/race/culture/group demographic here] people here?”

You see how this gets degrading, right?

This tale-as-old-as-time request tells me that my value is placed in my ability, with my one voice, to accurately represent people I’m similar to; thus, I am not as valued for my uniqueness, my strengths, my gifts, my leadership, vocations, passions, and my identity as Allison, a saint-and-sinner child of God.

It’s like it’s assumed we all had a meeting. All young people had a meeting and we came to a consensus of what we think and value. The last item on the agenda was to select a handful of hopefuls that best represent young people’s one passion, one contribution, own voice.

My gut tells me that we’re all afraid to talk to the young people already in our lives, so instead we elect each other to go out into the world and find lost young people and bring them to our churches. My gut tells me that our fear of connection and intimacy with those closest to us does not negate our ability to authentically connect with young people already in our lives – your daughter, your son, your niece, your grandkid, the young woman who bags your groceries every Saturday, the shy young woman who comes with her new extroverted husband to church, the young woman who comes to church because she just really likes to sing in the choir, the young person who likes your post on Facebook.

We’re already here.

As a church, we’re missing the point.


“How do we get young adults here?” does not get to the heart of what you’re trying to ask. The underlying assumption in this question is a fear of not growing and a fear of the unknown. Questions about Christianity’s future can’t come from a place of scarcity and fear because Jesus did not serve out of scarcity and fear. Jesus served out of empathy, connection, authenticity and abundance. The very gospel we proclaim turns this question on it’s head to:

“Of the young person in your life, what does she/he value?” Spoiler alert: please, sweet Jesus, do not make a survey. Do not, do not, do not put this on a survey. Instead, get coffee. Show up. Email them about what you loved and what cultural references were confused about on the TV show “The Mindy Project” last Tuesday. Text them how pleasantly surprised you are on how well the Twins are doing. Ask them what they would do if money and student debt were not an issue. Take Discourse together, a class for 15- to 103-year-olds. (I would not be promoting this project unless I thought it changes people’s lives, so seriously, let’s talk.) Yes, you’ll have to tell the truth. But your sneaking suspicion is correct: if you ask a young person to be vulnerable and share what they think about life and God, you will too. That’s how connection works, thank you, Brene Brown.

It’s the people closest to us that are the hardest to exist with. I know I’m one of those “young people” who, to those closest to me, is hard-headed, stubborn, sarcastic, and anxious. But I also have dreams. They might be in-the-clouds dreams, but they’re tangible, strategically planned dreams that I will fight to make reality, just like my grandma fought for the right to vote and my mom fought to provide for her kids a brighter childhood than her’s. Dreams matter. Young people in your life want to tell you about their dreams. They’re not a group to seek out as a part of your mission committee. They are here. Your daughters, your sons, your nieces, your grandkids.

We’re already here.

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.


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