Ministry with Young Adults 101

In the last month I’ve been blessed to be in conversation with over 100 United Methodist local church leaders around Indiana on the topic of leadership and engagement of young adults.  Again and again I’ve been asked questions about how to find young adults, how to make them feel welcome, how to offer ministry programs that engage them and encourage them to return.  In the midst of these conversations, it has struck me that this conversation about young adults in and out of the church isn’t really a question about programs; it is a question about ecclesiology and missiology.  More on that in my next blog post.

In the meantime, I feel compelled to share what I’ve been saying to so many leaders who sincerely want to see change for the church and engagement with young adults but who are struggling with where to even begin.  There are no easy answers, but here are 4 starting points:

 

1.  Pray and Study:  Put together a team of leaders to pray and learn about generational differences and the church.

Pray.  Then learn about generational differences and emerging trends, and pray some more.  Then study the trends and strengths and resources and possibilities in your local community and in your congregation.  Then pray some more.  Part of the question we must face in local congregations is whether we are willing to invest the time, the shift in priorities, and the engagement in new relationships that it will take, from the whole congregation, to be in ministry in new ways with young adults and our community.  I’m convinced that only prayer and an openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit can provide the path forward.

 

2.  Begin Cultivating Relationships:  Enroll your congregation in learning about young adults in your community.

You can share statistics and trends about young adults with your congregation, but the only way that members are really going to understand generational differences and the variance in understanding of the church today is to send them out to hear from young adults.  Give members a list of questions and ask each person to find a young adult – a son or daughter, niece or nephew, teacher, fellow employee, staff at a place fo business they frequent – and engage that young adult in conversation.  Questions can be simple and non-intrusive:  what kind of music do you like, what do you think is most important to your generation, what do you think of when you hear the word church?  We can’t be in ministry if we aren’t in circles of conversation.

 

3.  Empower New, Young People-Led Ministries:  Encourage young people – youth or young adults – to follow their passion and bring the resources of your congregation around their ministry efforts.

Find a young leader (or multiple leaders) in your congregation or your community and invite them to pursue a ministry to the community or world that aligns with their passion and interests.  Then find money in your budget (you may have to stop doing an annual event or some other current ministry to make room) to help make that ministry happen.  Assign wise, experienced church leaders to mentor the young leaders in that effort, and invite the whole community to support the new efforts with their time and gifts.  Stopping an existing ministry or finding budget room may be difficult and even painful, but if we are dedicated to reaching out we must embrace new models and ministries and stop trying to fit others into our current structure.

 

4.  Share Leadership:  Ask every leader to have someone lead alongside them.

Create a culture that values shared leadership, mentoring, and smooth transition.  While this does not have to just be about young adult leaders, ask every leader of every team in the church to always have a c0-chair or vice-chair that they are preparing to take their place when they are ready to step down or switch leadership roles.  This can be carried beyond church walls as well, with an invitation to every member to mentor or guide a younger person in an area of interest or work or ministry outside of the church as part of their Christian witness.

You may notice that none of these ideas involves getting young adults in your church doors.  We must stop talking about young adults as our future, and about the problem of a lack of young adults in our churches.  They quickly come to understand that we aren’t being authentic and seem to be more concerned about the church’s future than about individuals and communities.  Instead, we need to talk about shared leadership, and where God is calling us in ministry, and the power of Christ in and through relationships of caring and trust.  We need to focus on our mission, and on sharing in that mission with all generations.  In 1 Kings, when Elijah stopped dwelling on the problem and the lack of anyone of faith left and followed God’s call to anoint Elisha, his ministry was rekindled with purpose and power.  That is a place to begin.


6 Comments

  1. I’ve got my own theories on this, but in our congregation we’ve noticed that building community is a tremendous battle AND that it’s worth the fight. So, number two is massively important

    It’s real tempting to think that younger generations are iPhones and Facebooks, but that’s just not true. We crave legitimate relationship just like everyone else.

  2. Amy Covington

    Thanks, Brian. This will be very helpful time my leadership team.

  3. Jared Kendall

    Brian,

    A lot of great stuff here for me to chew over! Here are a few initial thoughts/reflections:

    1. Create spaces for interactions and conversations to take place. Too often I think of how to get people IN rather than how we can go OUT to meet others. Your suggestion to go out and engage young adults in conversation is wonderful. Asking simple questions and sharing interests are great ways to begin “bridging the gap” between generations. And this is a two-way road, not just older to younger but the other way around as well. Young people need to recognize and engage in these opportunities also.

    2. Mission as opposed to self-perpetuity. “We must stop talking about young adults as our future, and about the problem of a lack of young adults in our churches. They quickly come to understand that we aren’t being authentic and seem to be more concerned about the church’s future than about individuals and communities. ” Your third and fourth points resonated with me, especially this quote which goes back to your opening call for conversations to revolve around missiology and ecclesiology rather than merely ‘how do we get more young people in our church?’ Perhaps having a more robust missiology and personal involvement in God’s mission will shift our eyes off of what we do not have (i.e. young adults/families) and will, rather, make us be lights in our communities that will draw people – young and old – to join in what God is doing through our local church.

    3. Prayer. One thing God has challenged me with since arriving at the church I am serving at, is to pray that God would bring two new families to our church. It is difficult for one family or one young adult to remain at a church where they are the only young family/adult, but if there is another person/family then friendships can form and stuff can really get moving. That’s what I’m hoping for at least 🙂 And we, as a church, are praying for that. It has given us something to pray for collectively and has pointed us toward God’s mission to go and make disciples. We get to invite young people/families and engage in those conversations you mentioned ‘outside’ of the church.

    Well I’ve pretty much regurgitated what you wrote, which must mean what you said really resonated with me! One thought I have been wrestling with, however, plays off the ‘creating spaces for interactions/conversations to take place’ idea. Might another point or nuance within your suggestions be to create multi-generational ministries? Here I am thinking particularly of a new/expectant parents class we are hoping to start early next year. How might a ministry like this be able to incorporate ‘young’ and ‘old’ and provide them a space for relationships to form? What other ministries have potential to engage young/old and provide opportunities for conversations to take place? How might current ministries be more intentional about serving multi-generationally (this goes to your fourth point)? Again, I think one of the strongest ways to foster multi-generational ministry is to create spaces and opportunities for interactions and conversations to take place. In so doing, preconceived barriers/misunderstandings/fears are given the chance to be replaced by the realization that we have much more in common, no matter our age, than society and culture may lead us to believe.

    Thanks for the post, it has given me much to mull over!!

  4. Jared Kendall

    After reading your post again, I realize you already suggested creating multi-generational ministries and having current ministry teams incorporate younger generations. Great stuff!

  5. Christine Kindlesparger

    I’m sharing this with our whole staff. Well said on all points.

  6. Brian, these are some great points and will be helpful in building our youth program. I am also hoping that the Scouting Ministries in our church will help feed families into our programs.

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