What’s wrong with young people today? We’ve all heard about the symptomatic things that may characterize today’s teenagers, such as lower church attendance. But what’s underneath these trends?

For many young people, it’s a suffocating sense of loneliness and isolation.

“This is the most lonely generation,” said Josh Packard, sociologist and author of Church Refugees. Packard is compiling results from a new study through Springtide Research Institute for Religion and Young People.

Packard’s research found that two-thirds of the young population are connected to a house of worship. So, anyone might assume that these lonely young people would naturally find relief from their isolation at church. That may be a faulty assumption. Packard says on this week’s Holy Soup podcast that young people’s connection to a church seems to have no impact on how lonely they feel. “Attendance alone is not a protective factor against social isolation,” he says.

How can this be? Part of the problem may exist within the dominant model employed at church and youth groups. It’s a presentational model. The communication flows predominantly from the person at the front with a microphone. The lonely individuals sit quietly while someone else does all the talking. Conversation is not emphasized.

Packard said that “nearly 40 percent of kids report that they have no one to talk to, and attending religious groups or gatherings does not have an effect, unless they have a relationship with an adult who cares.”

This new research should encourage all of us to rethink how we structure our ministries. Now, more than ever, it’s time to engage people in fully relational approaches to ministry. And it’s not only a matter of addressing loneliness. It’s a matter of mission and message. Packard said, “If you don’t have relationship, you can’t assume they believe anything you say.”

Hear more about the findings in the Holy Soup podcast here: