Last May, I asked a group of DCE’s, “How does one do young adult (YA) ministry?” The response was quick and clear: “What YA are searching for is connectedness.” This comment comes as many people from older generations say young adults are immature and that the Church needs to raise them up, to apply the law until they shape up or ship out. But when it comes to today’s YApopulation, recovery from immaturity is only part of the story. The Church at large needs to recognize that today’s YA are slipping away, and that more deliberate efforts at reaching this group are needed.
We in the Church have experimented, trying to help YA feel valued through what we call fellowship and fun. In the meantime, today’s YA are busy looking for meaning, purpose, and direction. The church is missing the mark, big time.
Connecting to today’s YA
Watch YA attending church for the first time when home from college. Many wear an expression that seems to read, “Do You Remember Me?” …
“Here is the way I figure it. You could care less. I have been away from home for over three months. Not only did I not hear from you, you look like you have forgotten my name. I walked in the door anticipating the warmth I remembered as a youth and you were too busy to stop and talk to me. I am wondering if I even fit in anymore. I thought that the church was a community. But your donut fellowship is not fellowship at all. I am afraid that if you didn’t get your Krispy Kreams and your Starbucks style coffee you would not even be willing to slow down long enough to notice I am back. Oh, I did get the form letter birthday card last month. Thanks.”
We can no longer go on ignoring YA.
Today’s YA are from both Generation-X (those born between 1970-1986) and Generation-Y (those born between 1979-1994).1 While the bulk of Generation-X is often characterized as an unwanted generation,2 Generation-Y is usually characterized as the highly desired children of the Boomers who held off having kids until they were older. Today’s YA were wanted, and with high desire comes the desire to provide the best. Thus, Generation-Y has been given the best and is hooked on the best. They have been provided all their lives with a multitude of options that bring “happiness and fun”; so much so that they are a sleep deprived generation.3 But today’s YA also constitute a generation willing to make things happen. And they do not want to do it alone. They want to connect.
Two YA, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are co-founders of Google, an amazing tool that connects people to information from anywhere in the world. Upon the inception of Google, these two young men influenced the way the world communicates. They changed the rate at which information travels. They changed the established systems. They, and other YA like them, change the world. And they don’t operate the way their parents do.
We want the creative energies of today’s YA working on behalf of the Church. But we can’t draw this generation in or keep them with donuts and half-hearted Bible study. The Church has failed (this includes me) because we have chosen to consumerize YA ministry in the name of efficiency. Instead, we need to accept the challenge to connect to YA through building and nurturing relationships in their language. We need to recognize the impact the contributions YA have on the world and encourage this Generation to become not just people in the Church, but the Church in the world.5
The Power of Meaning & Purpose
Spirituality is on the rise and postmodern6 thought has opened many doors for ministry. We in the Church can complain or we can be the Church. If we are the Church in the world, we can complain about the world, or we can work to change it.
“Perfect love casts out fear.”7
The church lives in fear, living as if God’s love has no power. Young and old avoid each other. We try to find our own shelter when He has promised to be our shelter. Our scrambling has caused us to miss an entire generation of people and their causes. Today’s YA don’t need to be pampered (we already tried that and left them without meaning). Today’s YA need the Church to validate their existence, to give them true meaning. We need to listen to their hurts and dreams, and empower them through the Word by the Holy Spirit to be God’s people for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Providing an Overwhelmed Generation with Direction
The choices of the Gen-Y population are extraordinary, and they have been left alone to make many of their choices. Today’s YA have been given choices their entire lives, but few were given decision-making skills and few suffered consequences for bad decisions (parents have controlled YAthrough financial resources,9 often taking others to court to get the consequences of a teachable moment exonerated). As adolescents, they switched from one decision to another without understanding the consequences, and we accommodated them. Now, as YA, they are faced with making life-altering decisions, but are caught in the old trap of trying to keep their options open.
YA have been treated like adolescents long enough. They are seeking to understand what it means to live independently. They desire to be on their journey, and the Church needs mentors ready to help them meet that challenge.
But the church does not communicate well. We shout. We yell. We tell people what to do until they either conform or leave. Even though today’s YA are aching for direction, they can’t understand that sort of talk. We are afraid that wealthy generations will remove their financial support if they as leaders “live in the world” of the YA. But in reality, the older generation is aching for the challenge to be in contact with the very YAs that are walking out the back door.
Often unsettled within life’s purpose, YA wonder how and where to fit in. When we are in relationship with someone or something we value, we take on purpose. The Church has been duped into thinking that fun is the end goal of keeping YA connected to the church. Fun, however, only has stability if it is connected to something of value. Shame on us for thinking that God’s end goal is just having fun. He calls us to hope and love even while suffering for His sake.
Mainline denominations, and your congregation, must become more deliberate about YA ministry and outreach. Why? For Jesus sake. He calls us to connectedness in relationship. He gives us meaning, purpose and hope. He sends us out with a commission and a direction. He helps us see we do more than just exist. Whether they know it or not, Christ is precisely what Generations-X and –Y seek. Why should we exclude anyone from these core characteristics of a life in Christ just because we don’t understand their language? Additionally, why would the Church deliberately continue a failed experiment and thereby alienate the driving force alive in YA today?
It’s time for the Church to heed Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations (and ages). Don’t let theYA in your congregation sneak away. Make a deliberate effort to keep this creative, influential generation in the Church for the sake of the Church, and for the sake of the world. Make the effort now.
1. The Boomer generation was about 72 million, vastly outnumbering the current generations of YA. http://www.businessweek.com/1999/99_07/b3616001.htm
2. Ibid., The birth control pill is a major player in the cultural attitude of the parents of these young adults. Only about 17 million children were born in the years between the Boomers and Generation-Y.
4. Sergey Brin, originally from Moscow, and Larry Page, from Michigan, Google’s co-founders are in their late 20’s. http://archive.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/02/03/04/020304fegoogle.xml
5. Martin Luther, the Reformer, was a YA (34 years old) when he nailed the 95 Thesis to the door at Wittenberg. Born in 1483, he graduated with his master’s degree at age 22, the same year when he decided he had a call to ministry, five hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago a YA could change the world. Why should we consider it any different today? http://www.luther.de/en/
6. Postmodernism is not a generational trend as much as a whole cultural trend. It is very connected to technology, which makes it a global trend as well. It is a field of thought that understands humanity as no longer capable of overcoming all natural occurrences and that our knowledge of science is an infinite search of understanding.
7. 1 John 4:18
8. See Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old by Ken Dychtwald. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1585420433/ref=pd_bxgy_text_1/104-8991113-6799153?v=glance&s=books&st