Ministry with young adults is a challenging thing. Young adults are going through many life changes, and they are trying to figure out if the church really makes any difference in their lives. The United Methodist Reporter recently published a good story exploring the challenges of those leaving college. I want to look more specifically at some of the areas the church may need to address.
What may a young adult find and connect with in a local church? Vocational guidance, a place of rest, emotional support, friendship, family and an ethical/theological/spiritual structure are all possibilities. Too often the church gets so caught up in old ways that it seems to be nothing more than a social group. While young adult church school classes may engage in studies, are those studies really addressing the needs of class members or are the studies just something class leaders feel must be done?
A church that connects with young adults, regardless of whether there is a formal young adult group, will share a message that addresses the young person’s vocational questions. The message will be shared in sermons, in personal contacts by both members and staff, in small groups and in other activities. The guidance will include conversation about God’s calling on each person and the use of one’s spiritual gifts. Often times volunteer opportunities may relate to a young person’s vocational questions.
It is also important that local churches be a place of rest. Person’s in a time of heavy transition do not always need to be active in programming and leadership. Sometimes it is helpful to come, sit and listen. A place to meditate or worship may be helpful in getting away from the chaotic busy-ness of life. Similarly the church can provide emotional support for young people who struggle with problematic situations in their lives. Emotional support may come from peers in the congregation, but it should also come from staff and older members. Sometimes wisdom and experience are just what a young person needs to get through a tough time. The friendships and second-family connections built in a congregation may help the young person feel at home even if they have moved far from their place of birth.
Lastly, I connect the ethical, theological and spiritual, not because these are necessarily the same, but because a young person may not recognize where a question ties into the faith of the church or into some external body of ethics. Nevertheless, the church can share a structural framework by which the young person may explore ethical and theological questions. The young person may not accept every tenet of the faith community in which he or she participates, but the framework taught in the congregation may aid the young person in creating their own.
I am glad the United Methodist Church is looking hard at the task of ministering to young adults. It is an important piece of fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
How are your congregations building a community that meets the needs of its younger members?