January 31, 2024

Taking our Pulse: Engaging Young Adults

This post draws from findings collected in The Episcopal Pulse Survey.Want to be a part of the Episcopal Pulse? Click here to join today!

You’ve probably heard the familiar grumble in your church or ministry setting “Where have all the young people gone?” Many of us are concerned about the declining interest in Christianity among young adults. In 2022, TryTank Experimental Laboratory and The FaithX Project partnered to test the Episcopal Pulse Pilot, a regular micro-survey. During that pilot, they learned that 8 in 10 Episcopalians surveyed said their congregation had anywhere between 1 and 20% of young adults (age 18-25) in their congregation, while 14% of Episcopalians surveyed said they had none at all.

Data from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (Parochial Report, 2022) supports the Pulse findings, reporting that on average, young adults only make up 9% of our Episcopal congregations (it’s also worth noting that the Parochial Report uses a wider range to define young adults: age 18-34). And when compared against US Census data (2022), one can’t help but notice the
disparity between our church demographics and our national benchmark. It becomes all too clear, if it were not already: our congregations are struggling to engage young adults.

Understanding the Gap in Engagement

In 2024, ECF partnered with FaithX to re-launch the Pulse as a monthly micro-survey, given its success as a weekly pilot test. Curious about the young adult findings of the Pulse pilot, the Episcopal Pulse team wanted to learn more about this gap in young adult engagement. In January 2024, we launched a survey among our growing panel of Episcopal Pulse members. We first wanted to understand what factors Episcopalians thought led to their congregation’s gap in engaging young adults (or whether they perceived a gap at all).

In fact, most Episcopalians surveyed suggested there was a gap in their engagement. Only 5% claimed they didn’t see any gaps in their congregation’s engagement with young adults. Among the rest, many cited a lack of young adult leadership in their congregation and little-to-no programming for young adults as factors contributing to their struggle to engage young adults.

These findings may not surprise us, but they affirm what we've been hearing for years now. In 2016, Montserrat Calvo Corella, coordinator of the Diocesan Youth Commission of the Costa Rican Episcopal Church, describes her experience as a young leader in her diocese: “Among the challenges I encountered during these years, I can highlight adult-centrism, the view that only adults are experts. Older people often doubt younger people due to their “lack of experience.”” (you can find the full article here)

Relatedly, programming geared toward young adults often suffers due to a lack of funding and prioritization (this is especially true for smaller congregations where budgets are tight). Corella continues, “On the other hand, there is the economic factor. Sometimes you want to plan activities, but cannot because of the lack of budget.” This frustration is mirrored by one of our Pulse members who wrote about their own congregation: “My church has lip-service towards reaching young adults, but there’s no follow-through. The budget, programming, planning are all afterthoughts, or we fall through the cracks.

This makes young adults like me wonder, are our congregations really in the business of building the church of tomorrow? If so, we need to start having honest conversations about our priorities in our program budgets, our opportunities for young leaders, and our willingness to get creative and envision new pathways forward.

A Way Forward

Unsurprisingly, when looking toward the future, Pulse members overwhelmingly claim that creating programs geared toward young adults is a step in the right direction. Secondarily, enhancing a congregation’s social media presence and increasing opportunities to mentor and guide young adults are also perceived as important steps moving forward.

And make no mistake: the key to these programs’ success lies in giving young adults themselves ownership and leadership of such programs. One Pulse member astutely tells us: “This is a good reminder to talk with the young adults who are active in our congregation about what would draw more of their peers.” After all, when we look to the churches who are successful in their young adult engagement, we will likely find young adults themselves leading their programs, coordinating social media, and spearheading peer mentorship/discipleship among youth and young adults in their congregations.

One final reflection on our findings from this survey came from feedback on the survey itself. Some Pulse members pointed out that one blindside of the survey is that it misses the importance of rooting youth in faith after confirmation, but before they go off to college. “I see nothing [in this survey] about actually rooting young adults in the faith. Nor does there seem to be an understanding of how our youth transition into young adults,” writes one member.

I think this criticism is entirely justified! Perhaps if our churches saw a throughline between children and young adult formation, then we’d see increased faith engagement with our young adults during and after college. For one Pulse member at least, this is their reality: “We see high engagement in our youth group (age 12-17), with graduating young adults being sent to college and engaging in Christian groups and activities in the new environments. Some return to the parish if they move back to our area and start their own families.”

Finally, others point out that the task of reaching young adults needs to be considered in the wider conversation on evangelism & local outreach, of which our denomination has much to work on. Please stay tuned for our February blog post which may very well dive into this topic!

Jacob Sierra is ECF’s Program Director for Adaptive Ministries. He coordinates the Episcopal Pulse survey with the support of an advisory committee made up of his ECF and FaithX colleagues. If you’d like to contact the team with questions or suggestions for the Episcopal Pulse, please email episcopalpulse@ecf.org.


  • Figure 1: Episcopal Pulse Pilot Survey, 2022; What percentage of your congregation is young adults (18-25)?; Base: N=391
  • Figure 2:
  1. Analysis of the 2022 Parochial Report Data, General Convention of The Episcopal Church; https://generalconvention.org/parochial-report-results/
  2. 2022 US Census Data, Age & Sex; https://www.census.gov/popclock/data_tables.php?component=pyramid
  • Figure 3: Source: Engaging Young Adults, Episcopal Pulse Survey, Jan 2024; Q1. Which of the following factors do you think contribute to a gap in your congregation’s engagement with young adults (age 18-25) in your wider community? (Select all that apply); Base: N=212
  • Figure 4: Source: Engaging Young Adults, Episcopal Pulse Survey, Jan 2024; Q2: Thanks for sharing! Looking forward, which of the following behavioral changes would positively affect the way your congregation engages with young adults (age 18-25)? (Select all that apply); Base: N=212

This post draws from findings collected in The Episcopal Pulse Survey. The Episcopal Pulse is a research initiative piloted by The FaithX Project and TryTank Experimental Laboratory, to capture the heartbeat of The Episcopal Church. ECF is now proud to partner with FaithX to continue this program and gain insight into the health and hope of our church.

Want to be a part of the Episcopal Pulse? Click here to join today!