If you’ve been in a ministry leadership role with college students or young adults for any amount of time, you’ve seen it happen. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.
Here’s the scenario: Your ministry is booming. People are showing up. Everyone seems engaged with others. There’s a general sense that you have things figured out in the collegiate/young adult ministry model. And then it happens. The bottom drops out from under you with no warning. Suddenly, people are skipping your Sunday morning gathering time. The missions opportunities you plan on Saturday mornings only draw a handful of folks. There even seems to be discontent with those who are showing up.
So what happened? At some point along the way, we’ve all found ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what we could’ve done differently to prevent such a dramatic change.
In these moments, I’ve realized that I might’ve gotten comfortable with how smooth things were running and then started to lose sight of the details like I did in the early stages of the ministry. If you find yourself in the midst of a struggling or declining ministry, let me encourage you with a few things to think about.
1. Are you giving college students and young adults the opportunity to develop true community?
Young adults are looking to do life with others, and they value the opportunity to be involved in community. Though they’re often busy and have to schedule their days to the moment, if they find community of value, they’ll make the time to be a part of it. A ministry that only meets once a week probably won’t fulfill the desire of developing community. Ask how you and your leadership team are creating spaces for college students and young adults to develop community outside of your scheduled weekly activities. If young adults don’t find community in your ministry, they will find it elsewhere! Make sure they’re finding community with people who will push them and challenge them to be Christ-followers who are making an impact in their life’s context. Schedule times for your group to serve in local missions opportunities together, or go on a weekend trip. Community is one of the most significant desires of young adults in their fast-paced lifestyle.
2. Are you giving college students and young adults the opportunity to experience depth with Scripture study?
You may already be aware of this, but young adults don’t simply like being told what to believe. When it comes to Bible study, young adults want depth; not just information. They want to wrestle with the tough questions. They want you to be honest that Scripture study is hard but worth it. They desire to see leaders who are genuinely intersecting with God’s Word in their own lives. If you notice your group dwindling, you might need to consider your teaching methods. Are you preparing well for your weekly group gathering or small groups. Or are you simply coasting? Anticipate the questions that might be asked. Ask yourself the hard questions from the passages you’re studying. When young adults witness you growing deep in your own Scripture study, they’ll be more willing to grow deeper with you. It takes both time and commitment to make sure young adults are continually challenged in the truths of God’s Word.
3. Are you intentionally connecting college students and young adults to other older adults in your church?
College students and young adults want and need relationships with those who are further along in life’s journey. As we intentionally get young adults connected to families and older adults in the church, we’ll give them opportunities to learn and be mentored by those who can have significant impact on their lives. Ministries that intentionally connect multiple generations are ministries that see long-term impact. Take a look at your own ministry and evaluate if college students and young adults have anyone other than you and your leaders to seek life guidance from. Mentoring can be difficult to program, but when it becomes an attitude within a church, college students and young adults will feel like they’re a part of something bigger than just their group.
4. Are you praying for God to do a work within your ministry to young adults?
Be honest: Are you praying for your group? Do you believe God has a significant plan for their lives, and that He desires to use them in ways to impact the world they find themselves immersed within? The Millennials are the largest generation to date. Are you genuinely praying for God to move among them? Are you praying for that movement to begin with this group in whom we’ve been entrusted? Pray specifically, by name, for your group. If we’re going to see a movement among young adults, it will begin with prayer!
Every now and then, we need to take a step back and do an honest assessment of our ministries. It seems that when things aren’t going quite as well, the Enemy plays a number on us, and we start to blame many people and things for why young adults may not be connecting with our ministries. Quite frankly, there are seasons when our ministries will experience decline–it’s inevitable, but we must continue to claim the importance of reaching and loving young adults with the heart and passion God has given us for them.
Be careful not to allow your ministry to go on autopilot. Take opportunities to evaluate your ministry’s effectiveness throughout the year. Ask for opinions and feedback from the young adults involved in your ministry. It’s risky, but if we truly want to see young adults follow Jesus intimately, we’ll be willing to ask the hard questions.
Above all, don’t get discouraged. God has given you a heart for college students and young adults. They need you and your willingness to walk with them along the journey. It’s not easy–but it’s worth every step!
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.