The latest issue of Leadership Journal has a fascinating article on ministry to twentysomethings. It tells the story of “Axis,” the young adult ministry of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, one of the nation’s first true megachurches. Axis started in 2001 with 2,000 young adults gathering on Sunday nights for alternative music and relevant teaching, but by 2006 attendance was down to 400.
When John Peacock tried to reorganize Axis in the Fall of 2006 he recognized that twentysomethings would no longer show up just because the church offered a combination of cool music and relevant teaching. “Media-savvy young adults could download all the great teaching and music they wanted for their iPods. Nothing seemed to impress them,” he said (p. 27).
And so Peacock decided he would equip twentysomethings to serve as missionaries in their own zip codes. He launched missional community hubs, where a core group of four to six young adults move into an apartment complex or condominium unit. Meeting three times per month there, the missional community hubs focus on prayer, Scripture and community. Keeping with Willow Creek’s mission, the small-group gatherings remain accessible to unbelivers.
And they’ve been successful.
“The model must be relational,” Peacock said. “If it is based on the big event with one person teaching, I just don’t think it’s going to work. We’ve learned to break these things down into smaller communities where people actually know each other. We didn’t come up with it, but our mantra is, ‘People belong before they believe before they behave.’ Many people in this generation are already coming in with distrust toward God and the church. The more relational environments we have, the more trust can be built and people will be more open to exploring Christianity” (p. 28).
A commitment to relationship rather than events also explains Peacock’s drive to partner Axis members with mentors. There are currently more than 30 people over the age of 50 attending Axis gatherings and actively mentoring younger believers.*
This is interesting input in the ongoing conversation about how we will be doing church fifty years from now. It sounds as if the younger generations, at least, are looking for something a little more substantive than cool music.
*Information gathered from “The X Factor” by Collin Hansen in the Summer 2009 issue of Leadership Journal.