chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Why I don’t Like “Young Adult” Groups at Church…

Posted by Jason on December 9, 2008

I’ve been part of several of my church’s attempts at creating a viable young adult ministry. Just about every one of them has failed, no matter which pastor leads it, or which approach they take. I agree that churches need to find some way to recruit/encourage/cater to young adults, because they will be the ones that move the church forward when all the old farts die. However, a church with only young adults cannot possibly be self-sustaining, since this demographic really doesn’t have any big money.

In district and regional level church politics, I’ve attended several Young Adult meetings and one of the main things that this hodgepodge of college-age and slightly post-college-age folks cares about is “more representation in our district and conference affairs.” That’s the main rally cry of these people. Now I know I’m different than many of my “peers.” I’m married; my wife and I are professionals with salaried jobs (it sounds like I’m bragging). However, even when I was in college and didn’t have any money, I still didn’t find much resonance in my life with this “We need more representation” message. 

Here’s how most young adults I know participate in the church. They either go away to college and hang out with friends when they’re home, or they stay around and become youth “leaders” and camp counselors while they attend junior colleges or work minimum wage jobs around town. Some people leave the church after youth group days, and you only see them around on special days and such. It’s actually not the “lost sheep” that I’m interested in talking about now.

They main problem that I see with these “young adults” and their desires for more representation at the local, district, and regional level is that they want more of a say when they don’t really contribute to their churches very much. Sure, youth ministries are important, and we need good youth workers. However, we need youth workers who can mentor the youth in their walk with Christ. Usually this type of effective mentorship requires that the mentor have some life experience; not just youth group… The youth director at our church had a good policy where he wouldn’t let former youth group participants become leaders until they had finished AT LEAST one semester of college, sometimes more. I waited about 4 or 5 years until I helped out with the youth, and I think that helped create a more meaningful contribution that I could offer.

What young adults should really strive for is integration into the greater church, rather than segregation into a special group or what have you. Not only does this benefit the local church by having young, energetic participation in the larger church mission, but it also provides young adults with wonderful interactions and mentorships with older church members that really know what it’s like to live in a walk with Christ. 

So my advice to young adults throughout the Christian world. Don’t worry so much about having your own group. Once you get involved with the life of your church, the older folks will be so thrilled to have you around, and you will make friends with so many people that you never would have known otherwise. Furthermore, demanding a new group only puts a huge stress on your pastoral leadership. Why not make life a little easier for your church and jump into things head on as an adult. After all, young adults need to become adults at some time…


4 Responses to “Why I don’t Like “Young Adult” Groups at Church…”

  1. Mark said

    Agreed! Well said. Participate in the community of being the Church and then go and represent on the larger scale. Build a place where you can be authentic in your walk and honest about who you are as a person and watch your faith explode!

  2. John Fonner said

    I agree with your post with one caveat (which is more about organizations in general than specifically about churches): Old adults need to be willing to listen and offer leadership opportunities to the Young Adults if the Old want the Young to stick around and be engaged. “Wait your turn” will turn the Young out the door. I’ve seen this happen in churches, chambers of commerce, companies and clubs. I’m sure this dynamic is common in every type of human interaction.

  3. Jason said

    Very true, John. It could just be my church, but I’ve seen the adults just tickled pink that there’s somebody in their classes and committees without grey hair. My church has a pretty old congregation, and this crisis of the aging church has been looming for several years. It’s only been recently that the leadership has been actively seeking younger blood, hence all these recent attempts at target groups.

    Thanks for the input!

  4. Aunt Mary said

    Well said, Jason! I remember the youth group that your Dad & all of us were involved in ~ it all fizzled out pretty fast, no matter who was the director. Jer and Erin are involved in an awesome group here, and I think Pete & Heather and Molly also work with the same (worldwide) group. It’s a Catholic group, but they have created a great model for anyone who wants to help keep their youth/young adult group alive: http://www.lifeteen.com/. This group is primarily for teens, but after 1 year of college, the kids can become CORE members and work as a team of role models for the teens. The website’s pretty cool, and they have another website for chatting. I think keeping up with today’s technology is crucial for any type of ‘group’ survival long term. ASU also has a wonderful group for young adults: http://www.newman-asu.org/. Again, it is primarily a Catholic group, but there are members of all walks of life and beliefs involved. They participate in the music ministry, and some pretty talented musicians have launched their careers there (http://www.mattmahermusic.com/). Don’t completely give up on the ‘youth group’! We’ve been blessed with so many new ways of communicating & sharing our talents with others … as long as a church can utilize these gifts, there is no limit to the fresh new group of church leaders that can blossom from the next generation:)

    Oh, and I still need your address!

    Love you guys,

    Aunt Mary

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