Usually when I speak at churches, conferences, and judicatories, I begin by telling people what adults under forty generally look like. I tell them about their employment, financial, and social situations.
And usually, about halfway into the discussion, I hear an impatient and frustrated, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I get all this. But, what I want to know is, how do I get young adults into my church?” They want to know what kind of advertising campaign they should begin, what kind of curriculum they can buy, what program they can start, what kind of music they should sing, what they can do to get the next generation in their church NOW.
Unfortunately, although I am a very practical person and I have a very pragmatic approach to igniting church vitality, I cannot help them with that. The reason that I use the metaphor of “tribe” is to emphasize that effective ministry with young adults is about building relationships. Those connections take time, effort, and understanding.
But (if I can be so crass and use an unfortunate ministry metaphor) we, as church leaders, want to skip all that meaningless conversation, all those hours in the movie theater and eating nice dinners. We don’t want the walks in the park or the holding hands. We want to score.
Churches may have difficulties reaching out to young adults and building those relationships if we fail to understand where they’re at. We just can’t run to home base, without ever visiting first, second, and third.
As congregations, the first thing that we can do is start caring about young adults. Caring about their student loans and slim job opportunities, caring about the fact that 30% of them have no health insurance, caring about the fact that their jobs only last 2.7 years. We can begin by understanding what this amount of instability does to a person’s ability to form relationships and make lasting commitments. We can begin listening to what young adults have to say about gaining leadership in our congregations. We can even listen to what they think about sexuality.
There are other things that will be important as we move along, many more concrete and realistic steps that we can take. But, first, we have to care enough to listen.
The photo’s by mike.in.ny