If you’ve been to church lately, you probably know how unusual it is to see a critical mass of young people in attendance. According to studies by the Barna Group, church engagement falls by as much as 43% between the ages of 18 and 29. Which is why the scene on a recent night in uptown Charlotte, N.C., was so remarkable.

Young people were streaming into a beautifully adorned United Methodist Church, and by the time the lights dimmed for the Christian rock band Gungor (and their opening act, The Brilliance), the capacity crowd numbered more than 600. The audience was not, by and large, made up of members of United Methodist.

Rather, the mostly single professionals and students were brought here by Charlotte ONE, a collaboration of 40 or so area churches trying to reach this demographic. Such regular and extensive cooperation of mainline and evangelical Protestant churches from every major denomination is not a typical feature of American religious life. They are more likely to be competing for each other’s members. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Many of the more than 700 churches in this area (and all over the country, for that matter) have tried to run so-called young-adult ministries—but with little success. James Michael Smith, a co-founder of Charlotte ONE, tells me that a common problem is the return on investment: “Young adults are the least reliable, the most mobile and they don’t give financially either.” In order even to get them in the door, he adds, churches have to offer “the wow factor.”

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