"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Understanding Generations X and Y

What Do Students Look for in a Church?

Steve Miller

What Do Students Look for in a Church?

A group of 10,000 students, ages 12 to 19, were recently asked to rate the importance of 10 factors that influence their commitment to church. They were asked, "If you were choosing a church, how important would the following things be?" Following is the percentage of kids who rated each of these items as "very important"

#1 - A welcoming atmosphere where you can be yourself - 73%

#2 - Quality relationships with teenagers - 70%

#3 - A senior pastor who understands and loves teenagers - 59%

#4 - Interesting preaching that tackles key questions - 53%

#5 - Spiritual growth experiences that actively involve you - 51%

#6 - Fun activities - 51%

#7 - Engaging music and worship - 50%

#8 - Quality relationships with adults - 36%

#9 - Multiple opportunities to lead, teach, and serve - 35%

#10 - A fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach - 21%

Additionally, Group Magazine reports that "More than a third (34%) of the kids we surveyed said their church is as cool as can be (a five on a scale from one to five), and two-thirds (67%) rated their church a four or five on the cool continuum."

Reflections on the Report

This invaluable survey should cause all of us to re-evaluate our ministries. There's a lot to reflect on here. Some of my thoughts:

1) My overwhelming thought is the critical importance of teens feeling accepted by teens and being able to connect with quality relationships with other teens. Contrast this supreme importance of peer relationships to the rather dismal vote for "a fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach." Yet, what percentage of time does the average youth minister devote to developing the latter as opposed to the former?

My action point from this is to think through how I can more intentionally train my students in friendliness and acceptance skills. I don't mean simply addressing these issues periodically in our teaching times. Youth tend to be dysfunctional in these areas. Many have little motivation and even less skill in the fine art of being nice to fellow students (e.g., 1 - Make eye contact with peers, say "Hi!" in a friendly manner and ask how they are doing. 2 - Enter the youth meeting looking for students who are sitting alone to sit with them. 3 - Memorize great discussion starters to use when meeting a new person. 4 - Invite a new or marginal student to an activity during the week.) What percentage of our youth come into a youth meeting thinking, "what students can find who are not fitting in so that I can make them feel accepted and help them connect with other students?" If we want to keep the students that we bring in, we must address, and re-address, and re-address this issue.

This survey implies that even if we teach with passion, develop an incredible worship team, and develop all our programs with excellence, most youth won't return if they don't connect with other youth or feel welcome and secure. Contrast youth's priority on relational issues versus their lack of enthusiasm for "a fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry." In other words, "the greatest of these is love."

2) Since the respondents were committed enough to attend a work camp, we must take into account that some of the answers may have differed in a survey that represented the full spectrum of youth group attendees. In my mind, this observation makes the prominence of items #1 and #2 are even more dramatic. You would expect that nominal church attendees would say that relationships are primary. But here we see that even among the committed, relationships reign supreme. Since this is a more committed sampling, I must wonder how the less committed would have rated "fun activities" (#6) and "a fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach" (#10)

3) I wonder if youth answered the questions while thinking of their church as a whole, or solely thinking of their youth groups. For example, those students who attend more traditional churches and are not involved with a contemporary format youth ministry may have no context to understand the music question. If they have not been exposed to meaningful worship in styles understood by their culture, they may have rated this as a low priority. How many youth groups in general, and how many youth groups represented by the surveyed youth in particular, have experienced meaningful praise and worship in a local ministry in a style that they enjoy and understand? Without answering that question, we have no idea what each meant by his or her response. Yet, with 5,000 of the students (50%) rating this "very important," I'd say take this as a vote for the importance of this aspect of ministry.

4) A good pastor who can teach well is more important than some have made him out to be. I'd like to see how the pastors rated when their ratings of "four" were added into the ratings of "five." It would seem that youth workers who serve under a pastor who both understands youth and communicates well are at a great advantage over those youth workers who work under a mediocre communicator who doesn't relate well with teens.


This survey was of 10,000 students, 12 to 19 years of age, representing every area of the country and many denominational backgrounds. These kids were involved Group's work camps. Reflections written by Steve Miller. 


The survey was published in Group Magazine, 05/06/01, reprinted by permission, Group magazine, copyright 2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO  80539. Check out their site at www.youthministry.com . Their magazine, "Group," is designed to "empower youth leaders for real-life ministry" and is published six times per year. Call them at 1-800-447-1070.