Lifeway Research recently confirmed with statistics what we’ve all noticed in our churches. We’re losing the 20somethings. Break down the ages of most congregations, and you’ll see a startling absence of young people between 18 and 30.

I am currently teaching a Sunday School class that seeks to reach this elusive generation. I am a 20something who is ministering to other 20somethings. And while I don’t claim to be an expert on reaching my own generation, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

First up. Music does not bring people to church. People bring people to church. At this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, I was distressed at how many times I heard pastors mention “updating our music” as a way to reach my hard-to-reach generation.

Sorry to burst the bubble. But changing the music is completely irrelevant.

I talked to a handful of 20somethings who dropped out of church for a few years and are now back and engaged. When I asked them about the worship style of our church (we’re a mix between blended and traditional), the answers were all different. Most of them indicated that they would rather we sing less and get to the preaching quicker. “That’s what we’re there for,” said one. Others mentioned how much they loved the organ. A couple mentioned that the “hymns” could be hard sometimes, but that they wanted to learn them anyway, as they felt they were important.

My generation is musically fragmented. Some of my classmembers like Country music. Others like P.O.D. and Disciple. Some are into soft rock. One loves anything Classical. The majority like folksy rock, but there’s no consensus. The Iraq war veteran in our class (tattooed and tough) has a soft spot for the Carpenters, Celtic chants, and the crooners of the 40’s and 50’s. iTunes and iPods. We are a generation of many styles.

The idea that a “contemporary” music service is going to reach my generation just makes me laugh. No one in my class is there for the music. They are all there for the relationships and the Bible teaching. Not that the music is unimportant… it’s just not central.

Even funnier is the mindset among the Boomer generation that if we were to start using the organ and singing hymns again that all the young people would leave. The Boomer generation is making the same mistake that their parents did, thinking that what attracted them to church is what will attract their kids. Sorry. It isn’t happening. Furthermore, musical style isn’t much of a factor anyway.

For some reason, I have a feeling that most churches don’t really want to invest in the 20something crowd. It’s almost become an expectation that people will drop out of church between 18 and 30 and then return when they have kids and are ready to start “real life.” Meanwhile, the 20somethings are drinking their lives away, buying into the American dream of materialism, and starting off marriages on shaky foundations.

It’s easy to update musical style and think that this is the “sacrifice” it takes to reach the younger crowd. It’s much harder to actually invest in the relationships and serious Bible teaching that are actually more effective in reaching the 20somethings.

Let’s keep hoping in the 20somethings and stop cursing them with low expectations or old-fashioned ideas. ”Contemporary” worship is so old anyway. Let’s bring this generation back to the church with what they might have missed during their childhood and youth group experience: the gospel!

written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog

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46 thoughts on “Newsflash! The Key to the 20 Somethings is Not Musical Style”

  1. Jason says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I love this. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see someone express this, and with such awesome words. I love it, because I’ve been on a worship team, and now lead worship, and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I need people like you that are sending out helpful thinkings for people like me (i subscribe to worship leader magazine, and 95% of it is useless to me; they need stuff like this that is good for everyone). And I’ve obviously had those thoughts of “music will bring people”, when the focus needs to be on following the walk of Jesus and coming to God and connecting to people. Oh goodness. I’ve already sent this to two people. by the way, I found it through gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com. K, well, peace to you.

  2. trevinwax says:

    Thanks, Jason.

    I wish more of us would speak up about this. I know that this article just expresses what SO MANY young Christians are thinking and feeling.

    When we focus on worship style, we miss both worship and God. When we focus on God, we can’t help but worship.

  3. Jimmy Fine says:

    EXCELLENT POST!!!!!!!!!

    Jesus didn’t play on a pipe and sing songs when he called the disciples.

    Did Peter follow Jesus when he heard about the great music? Andrew brought him to Jesus.

    It’s all about the gospel. Worship is just an outward expression, but it is not the central focus. If worship becomes the central focus, it often becomes about us. Truth of the gospel should always be #1.

  4. i would say that this is pretty dead on. being “contemporary” is so uncontemporary, and following closely behind is the irrelevence of being “relevant”. The one drawing factor I see for 20 somethings in church is honesty, and a super produced contemporary service is not delivering that, at least in image. if we got rid of every dynamic media and production feature, i doubt we would lose anyone, save those who are there to be entertained, and we need their seat anyways. what we have been sold as “an enhancement to your worship experience” is most often the brainchild of some guy at a worship corporation designed to eek out a few more shekels from the faithful. if every hour spent strategizing on how to impress people with our churches was spent on our knees in prayer, revival would already be here. ouch. i better go pray now.

  5. matt says:

    i agree up to a point. i think the people that are wanting to sing less are possibly taking a jab at the music in a roundabout way. and i think that style doesn’t matter to 20 somethings in the church who’ve grown up in the church. for an unchurched person, most church music is considered boring and dated. an electric guitar is probaly far more asthetically appealing than an organ to someone who’s never set foot inside a church before. either way though, you’re completely right about when you focus on God, you can’t help but worship

  6. amyrapamplin says:


  7. Lodebar says:

    Fashions come and go, music changes but the basic need for God never changes. As a 50 something, I was drawn to the Lord when I was 20 something and it was not the music. It was the call from God and the realization of my need and sinfulness. Some things NEVER change. Good post

  8. Andy Atkins says:

    Amen, Trevin. I’m going to link to this post.

    All God’s best to you!

  9. Ken says:

    It appears I am the only reader that doesn’t agree with your post. I have no reason to doubt that your group of 20somethings gave low marks to the music “factor”…however, I’m not sure I can place much credence in your observations, in as much as they are based largely upon anecdotal evidence.
    For every one comment of music irrelevance you encountered, I’ll bet I have found two that indicated the music was, in fact, central to their return/rededication to the church. Sorry to burst your bubble, but, in my opinion, to state that changing the music is completely irrelevant, makes me laugh as well. And finally, how can you proclaim that musical style isn’t much of a factor? Are you saying that contemporary styles of music cannot help bring this generation back to the church of their childhood?
    Thanks You

  10. trevinwax says:

    I’m not saying that music isn’t at all a factor. I do think that a contemporary worship service might (and I emphasize might) communicate to younger people that they are welcome here and that the chuch is making overtures to reach them. In this case, it’s not the “contemporary” music style that is reaching them, but the overtures made by the church.

    Speaking from my own experience though, music just isn’t that important to this generation. Those who are coming to church are doing so for the teaching and the friendships. I stick by my original statement. “Music doesn’t bring people to church. PEOPLE bring people to church.”

  11. Becky says:

    The article seemed to focus on what worship music should not be. Here is what I think it should be:

    Worship should be a mutual connection with God and people. Seen this way a music time is VERY relationship focused as it encourages a community experience. A music time in church can be twenty times more powerful than the community experience you find at a concert. This translates to simplistic arrangements that are easy to sing with. This means it can’t be in too high of a key that intimidates, contains minimal harmonies, and a consistent beat so one can clap if they are uncomfortable singing. Done this way the focus is on community building not on music.

  12. Scott says:

    Thanks so much for an awesome post. I recently heard an interesting take on why many 20somethings disappear from church (and some return in their 30s). Churches are creating this rock n roll, high energy, small group, not many adults, setting in youth (middle school/high school). When the kids get out of high school, they can no longer relate to “Big Church”. So they feel like they have no where to go, and they leave. Although I have my own theory for how to fix this, I just wanted to share this without my solution.

    Again, great post. A blend of music is the way to go because, like you said, it doesn’t matter to 20somthings anyway.

  13. Randy says:

    Scott began to open the door as to the conditions the western church has created that allows for 18-30 year olds to find the church not necessary. It begins in preschool when Mom and Dad drop off the kids at “Sunday School” and then eighteen years later we are wondering “why don’t our young people want to come to church?” They don’t know how. They have just been isolated from church for many years; is it reasonable to expect them to make the transition?

    FAMILIES need to be together in church, crying babies, squirming seventh graders…the whole group. There isn’t community in church when we continue to adhere to a model of segregating our children from “big church” (what a term, eh?)

    I can hear the screams of protest already, but… maybe we need to scrap the entire model of “Sunday School”, and “Youth Group”. Maybe our seminaries need to scrap their models of preparing men and women for service in the church. Maybe a portion of seminary training needs to become that of teaching the importance of passing on the faith which I see as a job done primarily at home.

    I think in a large measure the church is practicing the insanity model…let’s do the same thing over and over and hope for a different result.

  14. Shawn Bashor says:

    Did you just get done reading Dan Kimball’s “They Like Jesus But Not The Church?” This question is not a put down but an honest question. This fits right in with what he was talking about with the up and coming generations.

  15. Trevin Wax says:

    Actually, I haven’t read that book yet… but I’ve heard some good things about it.

    I think we’re probably saying some of the same things because we’re both ministering to the same generation of people.

  16. Susan says:

    Trevin, you’ve nailed my generation! You are absolutely right that it’s nonsense to try to sell “contemporary music” as the inroad to a 20-something’s heart. That was only a relevant issue to me, when I was 20-something, because at that time there wasn’t any contemporary music being done in churches anywhere !!!!! My generation had something of a struggle on their hands to get it into church at all. Now that its there, to think that those who never knew any differently would care about this issue like we did is…well…. dumb.

  17. My comment on this subject is best expressed in the words of our Lord himself.

    Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. MT. 13:52 (NIV)

  18. Bill Rayborn says:

    Oh dear ones. It has been over 40 years since I was a 20something and my deep involvement with church music has spanned over 50 years.

    The truth is that some 20somethings will be attracted by the music and some will not. All these blanket statements disregard the diversity of mankind…or womankind for that matter.

    Here is a suggestion. Call Saddleback Church in California and ask about their worship services. Saddleback is one of the largest churches and I think the largest Southern Baptist church (yes, it is) west of Texas. Ask about their Hawiian service with hula dancers or their country western service or their traditional service or their headbanging (my term)service. You will find they have something for everyone….and yes, they are reaching 20somethings.

    Whatever your worship style, make it the very best you can and realize it will not appeal to everyone regardless of their age. Major on what will appeal to those to whom you minister and leave the rest to someone else…….including the blanket statements.

    =Bill Rayborn=

  19. Happy says:

    Well said, Bill – thank you.

    As a worship leader in a college/20somethings community, I totally understand the overall frustration of people ministering to our crowd with the way the American church as a whole seems to be okay with letting our generation slide through the cracks until we get married and have kids and come back. It can feel that way. And no, as many have here commented, music and entertainment are not the answers. But let’s not discount it altogether. There are many different ways that people learn – some of us have musical intelligence and the music WILL make all the difference to them. Some of us are intellectual and the sermon will be the highlight of the service for us. Some of us use other senses – touch, motion, smell – to remember things better. Hence incense, interactive worship stations, etc. in more emergent settings. I think if we want to make a blanket statement about anything, maybe what we need to say is that we need to know who it is we’re trying to reach and how best to reach them. In some settings, no, the music won’t matter a bit. I can worship just as freely in a traditional congregational church with an organ and a handbell choir as I can in a contemporary church setting – but that’s because God’s given me the grace to be able to do that. Not all of us have grown up in the faith enough to exercise what Stuart Briscoe calls “personal deference” (this isn’t worshipful for me, but look, that person over there is really worshiping, so thanks, God, for this part of the service). I like the way Trevin put it: “that’s not to say music is unimportant…it’s just not central.”

    Nothing should be central except the gospel. People are lost and broken. We need Jesus. And whether it’s the music someone hears as they walk past our church on a Sunday morning, or a friend who invites them to come – there are myriad ways in which God will draw us to himself. The key is listening, and as a local church body, determining and committing to that outreach to which God will call us. We all have different gifts to serve with – so let’s use them.

    And yes – pray. Oh, if only we prayed more often – what God could do with us!

    Good stuff, everyone.

    Chasing Jesus,

  20. Alan says:

    Its not music, its not the pastor, its not the youth pastor, children’s pastor, outreach team, me, or anything of man that brings people to church or to Christ. Its the Holy Spirit. Someones coming to church isn’t by accident. Whether we invite people, they come with a friend, or they pass by and see the church billboard everyday, they are brought there for a reason, saved or not. The Holy Spirit moved in you to invite that person, or in the friend that invited them, or in that person who has passed by that church hundreds/thousands of times, but now is the first time that person feels a pull to that church. The Holy Spirit is the instigator per say, for the lack of a better expression.

    It’s amazing how God works in our lives. I’m by no means perfect, but I have learned in my own walk that if we would take God out of the box that we all put Him in and allow Him to work in every aspect of our lives by being open and submissive to Him and His will, we would see the fullness of God poured out in our lives. Lives would be saved, the sick would be healed, familes restored, bondage broken in peoples lives. The miracles would be endless.

    The same goes for churches. Churches today also take God and try to tell Him what He can and can’t do in our churches. If God isn’t allowed to move in a church, He’ll leave. After that the church becomes dead and members leave. We would again see God’s fullness poured out on our churches if we would allow Him to operate in our churches. Lives would be saved, the sick would be healed, familes restored, bondage broken in peoples lives. The miracles would be endless. A great revival would sweep through our towns, cities, states, countries, and the world. But again churches instead put limits on God and have become complacient (I’m sure that’s not how you spell that).

    Its horribly sad that churches split, close down, or lose members everyday because they can’t agree on the type of music to play, what type of choir robes to get, what kind of flowers should be on display in the sanctuary, that person made me mad for some reason or another. Simple ridiculous stuff that doesn’t mean anything. Stuff that frankly God could care less about. I would think that He sits up in Heaven and shakes His head in disbelief and the worthless bickering that goes on in the church today.

    Instead, we need to put our own agenda aside. The church, I, we, need to spend more time following God’s will in our lives by doing what we as Christians, follows and disciples of Christ, are called to do. That’s to spread the Word of God. We need to be ministering to and caring for the lost, the sick, the hurt, the poor, or those struggling with different type of addictions. There are many many others than those listed.

    With all that said, while there is absolutely nothing that man can add or take away from God’s message that could make it any more or less perfect, I do believe that we can (and in a lot of ways have to) change how that message is packaged that makes it more appealing to a different generation. The way church was done back in the 1950s just doesn’t work now in 2007. But it all comes down to that if the vision of change isn’t shared by that particular body of believers, and more importantly, God isn’t on it, the vision will fail.

    Sorry for the long comment. I didn’t mean for it to sound preachy, but this is something that has been on my heart for quite some time now.


  21. sallysjourney says:

    Excellent post- you have confirmed what I have been saying to our church for years… as an older minister I apreciate your insights

  22. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I think the one thing no one has mentioned yet is that so-called “contemporary” music was largely written before today’s 20-somethings were born–a lot of it is 70s light rock/folk rock (at least in style, if not actual copyright date.) That’ll reach the 40-somethings now, people, not the 20-somethings…

    Of course this is entirely anecdotal, too, but the things around here that I see 20-somethings being attracted to in church are honesty, non-judgmental atmosphere, people they can form relationships with pretty easily (often but not always of the same generation), and the good news of the gospel (when presented truly as good news.) As for music, sure, it’s always fun to hear stuff that is familiar (don’t we all enjoy that?) but we can enjoy learning new stuff too. At 28 I’m slightly too old for the ipod-obsessed generation, but yeah, eclectic music is all good.

  23. Devin Hudson says:


    While I agree somewhat with the gist of your thoughts, I would say that the music style issue is an important one. You are right – people bring people. But I can also tell you that music style can definitely hinder a person from returning. My ministry context is definitely different than most who would read or post on this blog (entertainment-driven Las Vegas) and I can assure you that our music is a huge factor in who we reach. We are a church composed primarily of 20s-30s and our band members are primarily professional musicians. They bring it loud and hard and it definitely is a factor in helping our diverse crowd return. Also keep in mind that we attract a large group of nonbelievers who have some strange misconceptions about church. Our music engages their heart and mind long before I speak.

    Bottom line: music should both glorify God and engage the hearer. If one of these factors is missing, the music has lost its purpose. Music is not necessarily central in our cultural context but it is vital to our weekend environments and is definitely a piece of our puzzle in a post-Christian culture.

  24. It’s interesting that Baptists are pushing kids into the baptistery ever earlier only to abandon their development. Why would have to try to reach our 20-somethings if they are already truly Christian and have been properly discipled? Too many parents leave the spiritual development of their children up to the schools and the church and fail to be adequately involved in either.

    If our Christian 20-somethings have gone off to college, the college town churches should be full of them. They marry and settle somewhere. Wherever they settle, they go to the church that most appeals to them for any number of reasons. These may be good reasons or bad reasons. I imagine that most of the people that attend Joel Osteen’s church are there for the wrong reasons.

    We should make sure that people join the church for the right reasons. We should make sure that our younger children are properly discipled so that when they become 20-somethings they are well equipped to find a good church for the right reasons. If this happens, whatever worship music we end up will be chosen by spiritually healthy Christians and will most likely engender an appropriate offering of praise to our Lord from the congregation.

  25. trevinwax says:

    Hi Devin,

    Thanks for the feedback. This discussion is definitely the result of cultural contextualization. I don’t want to say that music doesn’t matter at all… it does, and it matters a great deal. But it is not the key element that brings people to church or keeps them in church.

    That said… if a church is completely unprofessional in its music and has no desire to change, that church has other issues that are manifesting itself in its musical style. Music matters to people… but the idea that one style of music is going to appeal to most all of us 20somethings is just wrong. We don’t expect that, and while we like contemporary worship, it’s not the magic bullet that’s going to bring us.

  26. Stephen says:

    as a church musician, all this conversation says to me:

    “Everyone is an “expert” on music, and most of them don’t know what they’re actually talking about.”

    Don’t point the finger at someone else. I’m talking to everyone.

    Also, I would hide this article the next time your church is looking for a music minister – killing his involvement in the mission is sure to be helpful.

  27. John says:

    I would disagree and agree to a point. I think the most successful church would have a similar trait. They all have dynamic and engaging pastors that provide a message that is applicable to every day life. Music styles do bring people in and turn those away. But I think the key is for whatever reason the unchurched come that first time is so wide and varied that its not just one thing or all things. Some may say the relaxed atmosphere, the coffee you serve, the welcoming attitude, the preaching, the music, so there is a wide variety of reasons why they do come. Do not make blanket statements because a few people prefer less music, ill find a hundred who will counter that. Its a complete package, and the point is that you have to find a way to get people into the church, then you have to find a way to keep them. When churches get stagnant, people leave no matter how good you think you do it..God Bless!

  28. John says:

    One more thing. Those that say that if those that are unchurched come because they like the music or something else that enables a worship experience other than strict adherence to biblical principles and to have GOD centerstage is intolerant and single minded. One poster on this blog stated the following:

    if we got rid of every dynamic media and production feature, i doubt we would lose anyone, save those who are there to be entertained, and we need their seat anyways. what we have been sold as “an enhancement to your worship experience” is most often the brainchild of some guy at a worship corporation designed to eek out a few more shekels from the faithful. if every hour spent strategizing on how to impress people with our churches was spent on our knees in prayer, revival would already be here. ouch. i better go pray now.

    Now, this is a typical rant from someone that has no desire to welcome those who may be struggling in their faith. He would require them to adhere to this one line of thinking, and that the only reason we do “contemporary worship” was that it was some corporate driven desire. Well not being a corporate entity, and enjoying christian music in both the car and the church, I would find that his single barrell approach to worship a main reason why those who are unchurched and wandering, remain in that state. Only membership is allowed in the club, or their seat as he put it, unless you are GOD centered at all times…seems that post was far from GOD centered…

  29. drew says:

    Wow! Great comments on a great subject. I am a 40 year old guy that leads an outreach music ministry to reach the age group that you address in this blog. I dropped out of church in high school and didn’t return until my 30’s. I have a special place in my heart for this age group, particularly since I was called to minister specifically to them. Our ministry plays cross-over R&R in an effort to reach those OUTSIDE the church.

    Now, that being said, I have a few brief comments to share about music and worship. I believe that music can attract people to church, as can numerous other things. And music (and other things) can retain people. However, the Holy Spirit is the only one that can truly bring people to Christ and keep people in church for the right reason. Like others have previously said, there are most assuredly people that go to church for the music but are pretending to be Christian. “I never knew you. Get away from me, you evildoers!” On the other hand, while it is of tantamount importance that we follow the Spirit’s guidance in ministry, I am reminded of Paul’s statement “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some of them.”

    Ultimately, it is all in God’s hands, but I believe that we should do everything in our power along the way. It is His pleasure that we are vehicles for leading others to Christ, and our love for Him drives us all to serve to the fullest.

  30. Chuck says:

    I agree that without an enviornment that connects to people. i.e. a church that is not only friendly but accepting as well. music has little longterm impact. My experience has been when surveying a local university campus the first question that I was asked by unchurched and the dechurched alike was “what kind of music did we have.” While music may not be what keeps 20somethings in church – it can be a stumbling block to getting them there.
    Music cannot replace “relationships” and it cannot replace “Truth”.
    What I have discovered is that 20somethings want to experience God not just learn about Him. They want to see that God is real and relevant to their lives, not simply learn about God.
    These are folks that desire to see God in action. When asked why many left church [the ones that had grown up in church] the response was that they learned about God, but saw little change in the lives of Christians. So why commit your life to a God that has such little if any impact on people lives? What is needed is the entire package. Powerful worship, God’s Word, Prayer, dynamic relationships.

  31. Sherri says:

    The Holy Spirit is a huge factor in this. Music…relevant or not…used in the way to prepare hearts of those already in Christ to worship Him. The Holy Spirit will move regardless of music or not, but more often than not he does move and prepare people through music…what style is irrelevant. I’ve found in my years of ministry that when our hearts (those who are in Christ) are tuned in to the Holy Spirit’s leading and the Word of God, hearts turn. How we get there…well, it’s many different ways…Paul said, “…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” I Cor. 9:22

  32. Bennie says:

    We do have to keep in mind that a lot of times the answer of a person leaving the church as to why they left is irrelavant. A lot of times they don’t really understand why they are leaving. I think most people quit going to church because the message they hear doesn’t jive with their lifestyle. A lot of folks that leave don’t even understand themselves why they are leaving and may not want to admit to it if they do understand.

    The music needs to prepare the hearts of the congregation for the preaching. Godly preaching is the key. For many in the world music has too big of a place in their hearts. Too many Christians have fallen right in line with the world as far as overemphasizing music both in the church and in their daily lives.

  33. Lee Cooper says:

    After having this same conversation with a group of pastors a few months back, I steered the discussion to one of the pastor’s sons who had joined us (an 20 year old), and asked why he thought his peers were leaving the church. Without even having to think he responded “because God is not there!”

    You hit the nail on the head, its not the music, or anything else for that matter, it’s a lack of God.

  34. Nolan says:

    I agree that the most important thing needed to bring others into the church is the gospel itself. Without the good news nothing else matters. However, when I left the Catholic church and tried out an evangelical church in my area the fact that they had contemporary worship music was a big draw for me at first. Ultimately I stayed for a variety of reasons (mainly that it’s a Bible believing/preaching church), but the music mattered. When I ask my friends why they don’t go to church many say it’s because they don’t like the music.

    I would suggest that just because your group of 20 somethings at Sunday School have a wide (dis)interest in music, it doesn’t mean that those OUTSIDE of the church don’t want contemporary music. Those people you’re teaching are already there – we’re looking to grow them, but also EXPAND the church by reaching others, right? Contemporary worship music shouldn’t be the main focus of discipleship, but if it can be used by God to bring new 20 somethings into a church (like it did for me) then why not use it?

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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