One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I get to meet a lot of people in a lot of different places. As I travel, I love striking up conversations with people at the airport, on the plane, in a restaurant, or in the hotel elevator. I don’t like passing up an opportunity to get to know someone new.
Last week as I was on a brief layover in Minneapolis, I was sipping a cup of coffee I’d picked up on my way between gates and sat down next to a young man in his 20s. He was wearing a hoodie of a team that I’m a fan of myself—it was a natural conversation starter.
I love to ask questions. Soon, my new friend was telling me about his adventures in life. The conversation eventually got around to him asking me what I did for work and my reason for traveling. I told him that I work with churches around the nation as they think about engaging young adults in their communities. I asked if he had any connection to a church or any spiritual belief and background. His answer was one I’ve heard repeatedly. He had gone to church when he was younger, but just did not feel like the church was relevant to where he was in life right now.
My next question stumped him for a moment, but what he gave me was something we all need to hear. I asked him this: If you could tell the church anything about young adults, what would it be? Here is what my new friend wants you to know as you think about engaging the young adults in your community:
1. “We’re not all the same.”
He asked if I did a lot of research on the generations and if I knew a lot about millennials. I told him that it was actually what I was talking about at the conference I was speaking at the next day.
What he said to me reminded me that each millennial is an individual with unique gifts and abilities. As we talk about reaching young adults, we often put them into a category with characteristics and attributes. However, God has uniquely made each young adult and desires to see each one come to know Him and walk close to Him.
2. “Engage us in deeper conversation.”
He said he often feels looked down on or ignored by individuals who are older than him. However, he was extremely open to talking about his journey and his struggles with Christianity. He said he wanted to talk about the important things in his life and would like to get beyond some of the social media conversations that he says permeate his generation.
He said to ask him about his family, his upbringing, the things that are important to him, and what he believes spiritually. He said that he really wanted to have good conversation with people that truly want to engage with him with things that matter.
3. “Be real with us.”
He asked if I had a perfect life. I said I had a good life, but it was not perfect. He asked what I meant by that. I proceeded to tell my new friend that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t make everything perfect, but He promised to never leave us in the middle of our difficult days. The conversation progressed to some difficult days that I’ve had over the course of the past year. Then he thanked me and said this is what he was talking about. He wanted to know that he was not alone with some of the difficulties of life.
He said he longed to have someone in his life that he could be completely honest with and would be completely honest with him.
I always value these conversations with young adults I meet along my journey. My new friend reminded me that it’s essential to be a leader who is always speaking to the heart of young adults.
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.