I’ve had countless conversations recently about what it looks like to do collegiate and young adult ministry in churches. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some amazing formula we could put into place and – PRESTO – young adults are showing up and involved ministry? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
There have been a number of studies pointing toward the decline of Millennials being involved in churches. There are questions about who they are, what motivates them, and how they interact with the church. My own recent conversations with a few young adults over the past few weeks have helped me understand even more of why Millennials are not connecting with the local church.
I don’t claim to have an answer that will instantly attract young adults and college students to your church. However, I can share with you some things I’m hearing that are consistent with research concerning the mindset of Millennials. In fact, Lifeway did some research in recent years that landed on four markers that are important in developing a ministry for college students and young adults. If you haven’t seen this research, you can download Context for free by clicking HERE.
These four markers are: Community, Depth, Responsibility, and Connection. Over the course of the next four weeks, I’ll be taking each one of these markers and focusing on one a week for ministry leaders to begin thinking about ways to connect with young adults in our own context. Context is key – there’s no absolute in what will work. We must study our own contexts and begin to think about what each marker looks like in those settings, but these four markers are great places to start.
Let’s begin this week with Community – because life is meant to be experienced together.
According to research, 73 percent of churched young adults and 45 percent of unchurched young adults indicate that community with other young adults is extremely important in their lives (Context, p. 9).
Millennials value community. Young adults will find places outside of their work and home that give them the opportunity to do life with others – a place where everyone knows their name. I try to frequent places in my city where young adults gather. In my context, coffeeshops and restaurants cater to a young adult crowd. These environments help them develop relationships beyond surface conversations.
Community carries with it the idea of finding a “third place.” For most young adults, there tends to be three places where time is spent. The first two are home and work. But the third place is where community most often happens.
My question to young adult ministry leaders is, “How can we foster that third place for Millennials in the context of our own communities?” Here are three things to remember as we think about fostering community:
1. Community should encourage honesty, authenticity, and the freedom to ask questions.
The primary aspect I want us all to remember is: Don’t be something you’re not! Young adults value authenticity. As leaders, we obviously have a genuine desire to see young adults come to know Christ and walk closely with Him. We also want to see young adults develop community with the local church and with each another.
Find opportunities that will give young adults the chance to develop some deep and genuine relationships. Gathering young adults in non-formal or non-programmed environments helps develop an atmosphere of authenticity. Be willing to open your home to the young adults in your community for small group studies or socials. There’s nothing more authentic than real conversations around the kitchen table.
A caution in this area, however, is to always keep the group focused on being outward. Community always has room for one more!
2. Be careful not to program community.
We often want to make sure that all of our details are covered and end up making the mistake of over-programming something that’s meant to be casual and relaxed. When we try so hard to make community work, it will often feel sterile and inauthentic to young adults. It must have a balance.
This is where having key relationships with Millennials helps. They’re the ones who can help you decide what’s going to be of value to their friends. Don’t make plans for young adults and college students without involving other young adults and college students as a part of the planning.
And don’t plan too much. Millennials are busy. Make your plan for developing community both quality and meaningful. Quantity of events/planning does not equal good use of young adults’ time. Make sure you focus on quality.
3. Identify key individuals who are not Millennials to be a part of this community.
This takes some thought on your part as a leader. One of the other markers is Connection – which means that young adults value individuals who are older than them to learn from and ask questions. This is where we must identify key individuals in our churches to be a part of young adults’ lives through community. Ask these older adults to join you in a gathering where young adults can get to know them and begin to trust that he or she is a person who a young adult can learn and do life with.
This is not something where you issue a “y’all come” approach to those who are interested in being a part of your young adult ministry. Pray about who specifically young adults are already drawn to and who could be helpful in pointing young adults to a deep and intimate walk with Christ.
When you approach some of these older adults, they may have never thought of their involvement in young adult ministry. But this could be an opportunity for them to have a profound influence in Millennials’ lives.
Don’t attempt to do young adult ministry on your own. You need others to help develop the community that Millennials value deeply.
Community is a marker that can’t be ignored in young adult and college ministry. In order for there to be honest and genuine discussion about how Scripture intersects with our daily lives, young adults must be aware that others that are willing to walk alongside them and do life together. Community really does matter.
Mark Whitt is the Collegiate and Young Adult Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. Before joining Lifeway, he spent many years on the campus of Murray State University as a campus minister. Connect with Mark via Twitter.