Over the last three months I have been involved in purchasing three new cars for my son and daughter. You might say I have a reasonable amount of experience in this regard. Based on my experience I am not surprised to hear that new car sales are dramatically down for the young adult age group. Driver licenses are being delayed well past age sixteen, the traditional age we have obtained such permits for many years.
What has happened? Why are car purchases down for the age group many of us identify as prime buyers? Why are fewer and fewer young people not waiting expectantly to get that age-old sign of maturity and independence—the driver’s license? Are automobiles no longer relevant to the sons and daughters of America?
The fact that 18 to 30 year olds are buying cars at much reduced rate is one of the largest and most significant relevance challenges of our time. Much of the sharp decline in new car purchases is due to the younger segment. The average age of new car buyers advanced from 43 up from 48 just two years ago due to shrinkage of young buyers. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the percentage of those under 19 with a driver’s license declined from 64 in 1998 to 46 percent in 2008. For many youth, cars are simply not relevant. What can car makers do to resist this trend?
Relevance in the marketplace is not a problem for the car manufacturers alone. I will be closely watching Detroit (and Tokyo and Seoul) to see how they deal with this new phenomenon. Underlying reasons such as college debt, unemployment, interest in digital games and social media, and urban living with its mass transit and Zip-cars are difficult for firms to address.
Do we in the church have similar underlying causes for the decrease in interest in religion, God, and Jesus Christ? Or, do we ignore the relevance question and simply wait for our traditional congregations to return to the fold? It might be a long wait.