So, this past week we decided to cancel The Well, our young adult retreat weekend. No, it wasn’t due to all the snow, it was due to low registration numbers. I was really disappointed we had to do this and it has plunged me into some deeper thinking about young adult ministry. Oh, I should also tell you, I was really pleased the community at Rooftop (rooftopcommunity.com) still offered the young adults a unique experience as an alternative to getting a refund for The Well. Rooftop offered any of the registrants an opportunity to come to their new church plant and live with them in community for a weekend in uptown Saint John! (More details at: http://baptist-atlantic.ca/event/the-well/)
Here are some of my thoughts on the way forward in ministry with young adults. This is an area where I, and the church, still have lots of figuring out to do. I really hope to hear from young adults on this one! Plus, I’d like to hear from those of you who are integrating young adults well into your faith community, how are you doing this?
4 things we need to understand about connecting with young adults
#1 – Relationships matter. As the young adults who did register got back to me about the cancellation a number of them said “That’s too bad, I was looking forward to seeing…” I imagine for a young adult who is aiming to follow Jesus it must feel like they are an island sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time. An event is usually not the answer. Young adults are looking for deeper friendships. How can we, the church, help young adults foster authentic relationships, both with other young adults and across the generations?
#2 – Commitment looks different. I like to think I’m still close to young adult-hood, but the truth is I’m not and I’m of an entirely different generation, so I humbly have to learn about today’s young adult generation. I’ve heard people criticize this young adult generation for being “uncommitted” or having too strong a sense of entitlement. I want to defend the young adult generation here, I do not think they are uncommitted, but I do think commitment looks entirely different. See, my “old” generation, sees commitment as signing up at least two weeks in advance, paying your fees, showing up on time, being a regular attender, showing up to serve each week even if you feel like you are just another warm body stuck in a role…
My hunch and observation of young adults is they are all-in, committed, but it looks different. They are more carefully discerning, they have lots of pressures on their time and priorities. Look at the schedule of many young adults – they are crazy! Therefore, unless they are convinced this “thing”, this “cause”, this “event”, this “service” is going to make a difference and is worth their time and energy, they’ll wait and see if something else comes up that is more worthy of their time and energy. But world, watch out when they find the “cause”, the “thing” that is worthy of their dedication – they do more than we can imagine! This is a call to the church to make sure what we are doing is relevant and actually making an impact on lives and communities. (Carey Nieuwhof wrote a great blog about commitment looking different today and how we can respond at http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/04/7-ways-to-respond-as-people-attend-church-less-often/)
#3 Don’t back off – Young adulthood is a huge transition period. It is full of challenges, messiness and opportunities. We tend to have sympathy for the transition from childhood to adolescence. We tend to have less sympathy for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Think of all the changes that can happen from adolescence to young adulthood – the youth groups no longer wants you, school changes, work changes, where you live can change, the closeness of family changes, how you handle your finances changes, relationships change… Young adulthood is a major transition period of adolescence to adulthood. My hunch is young adults are not looking for a “do it this way” lecture, but they are looking for encouragement, mentors and opportunities to try new things out. This is not a time to “back off” our support as churches and fellow followers of Jesus, it is a time to pour it on! Not in the same old structured youth group days of their teen years, but in offering young adults significant mentoring relationships and significant opportunities for service.
If you have been pouring into a student and then they graduate high school, your significance to that student and your support of them does not change, it just needs to look a little different. Some of my favourite stories are the ones where church family choose not to back-off on young adults. One story in particular comes to mind, of a young adult who went away to university and slowly started sliding away from her faith, stopped hanging around other Christians and as she described it “put God on a shelf”. However, an adult from her church would send her regular emails from home – giving updates about the church, asking how things were going and reminding the young adult they were praying for her. As the young adult slide further away from their faith, they said these email were “huge” and kept reminding her that God was still there. Those emails were eventually the impetus for her returning to connect to a faith community. So, find adults who can or YOU - send a young adult a note, mail a care package or take them out for coffee this week.
#4 Think and dream bigger – Young adults want more. They want their lives to matter. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. None of this treating them like kids, none of this watered-down Bible teaching, none of this small project…somewhere inside of them they know they were made for more, God made them for more. I don’t know how to minister to young adults, but that’s just it, in so many ways I’m not suppose to minister to young adults, I’m suppose to release and empower them to minister to our world. Young adults, come to us, the church, with your ideas and dreams. We'll support you and help make it happen, but this is all yours. What dreams has God put in you? Young adults, how can you show & tell the Good News to other young adults? –to our world?
So, the bottom line for me:
Well….I guess, I’m listening and learning….we don’t have this one figured out, but we deeply care about young adults and want to find a way for them to be encouraged and equipped to follow Jesus with their heart, soul, mind and strength.
And young adults, we the church, want to say sorry for the times we've missed the boat by not including you or listening to your heart and dreams.
Leaders – what experiments are you trying in partnering with young adults?
Young adults – Help?! How do we support you in following Christ fully? Tells us! Be honest, even if it looks different than how you see things now.