The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), like most mainline protestant denominations here in the USA, does not have a large percentage of Young Adults present for worship on Sundays- and the numbers seem to be declining.
There is no simple answer to why this is, because there are probably a lot of reasons. One of the reasons might be because there seems to be a debate about how to do worship. Should we follow a traditional liturgy, which we have used for hundreds of years? (and even thousands- if you go back to the Roman Catholic church) Or, should we go with a more contemporary style? Some young people want to move to a more contemporary style of worship. But the question is what does this mean? For some, it means just playing the music on guitars and drums instead of an organ. Others would like to see a whole different liturgy used, perhaps by taking out the standardized, prepared prayers- that are usually printed out- with more spontaneous prayers.
Some also suggest fewer scripture readings, having only one or two instead of three scripture readings and a psalm. The reasoning behind this is that some say young people now get bored by following a traditional liturgy. Visitors and ‘unchurched’ young adults would get more out of a contemporary worship, and therefore would be more likely to come back or even join. It could be hard for young people to get a full feeling of worshipping God in a traditional style. On the other hand, it is my experience that many young adults that are currently going to church in the ELCA prefer following the traditional liturgy, even though they might prefer music with guitars. Many seem to value the link with other Christians all over the world, and throughout time, following the same liturgy. They also think that a service with more readings- and a sermon based on those readings- is more biblically based and therefore desired. Should we change our liturgy? If we think that there is some value in traditional liturgy, should we change just to attract new members? Some would say who are we to change what the church has been doing for millenniums? But others would point out that our mission is to share the good news- and that requires having people in the church to hear the gospel. I think the real reason that young adults are not in the church has less to do with worship style and more to do with the practices of the Church.
Granted, people- even church members!- are not perfect, and therefore the earthly Church will never be perfect. But, when young people enter a church and hear the good news, but then don’t see any actions to back that up, they get turned off. Imagine how ironic it must seem for a visitor to hear the parable of the Good Samaritan and then hear that the church isn’t engaged in any community or service work.We seem to hear more about abuse, arguments, money and power struggles in the church than about loving our neighbors.