“My church wants me to start young adult ministry, Help!”  When I get emails like this, it’s hard to know what to say.  There is no sure fire way to get young adults to flock to your congregation.  Each situation has its own set of variables and requires its own unique action plan.  If I were to strip down the effective young adult ministries that I have encountered into a few basic guidelines, they would read like this:

  1. Get to know the people you are trying to reach
  2. Listen
  3. Plan the activities that meet their needs at locations and times that appeal to them
  4. Personally invite them to each event
  5. Invest yourself in building relationships with them

Of course, every ministry should be saturated with prayer.  Never begin, end, or continue a ministry without constantly going to God in prayer.  Nothing is too big or too small to take to our Lord.  We need his guidance every step of the way.  We can’t do anything without Him, but we can do all things with Him!

Start by considering your audience.   Who are you trying to reach?  Are they college age, young professionals, young families…or a combination?  The term “young adult” generally refers to people in their 20s and 30s.  (Educational Psychologist, Erik Erikson, categorizes young adults as aged 19-39.)  While being a “young adult” is more of a world view than specific age group, it really helps to remember that people in this age range can be in many different life stages. For example: a college age ministry would look much different than a ministry aimed at young couples with kids.  Get to know the individuals you are trying to reach as individuals.  Are they part of your church, or unchurched?  What do they perceive as their spiritual needs?  What would make them want to come to your events?  Are they looking for Bible study or fellowship opportunities?  The sooner you get to know them as individuals and not as a demographic, the sooner you will be able to create a ministry that is both meaningful and specific.

In order to get to know the young adults in your community you have to be a part of your community.  We can’t reach out by sitting in the church basement.  We become part of our community by being a part of community events, groups, and activities.  We become part of our community through shared experiences, even simple ones.  We can start conversations at the local coffee shop, hair salon, farmer’s market, or microbrewery…We can ask young adults what is important to them, what they would look for in a church, how they are doing….and then we must listen.  Too often we set up “young adult” events that we think they should like, instead of engaging them in conversation and listening to what they are really looking for.  Maybe they want a way to connect with other Christians in an informal, social context.  Perhaps they are hungering for an in-depth Bible study.  Maybe they are looking for opportunities to serve the community.  They could be longing for mentors or ways to make a difference.  You’ll never know if you don’t ask.  Try to engage them in conversation and really listen to what they communicate.

If your goal is to fill your church pews with young people, you won’t succeed.  If you care about the spiritual wellbeing of young adults and want to invest your time and heart in building relationships with them so that they see Jesus in you, you won’t fail.  Young adults grew up navigating commercials on TV and blinking adds on the internet, they can see through false motives and hypocrisy.  They are longing for genuine community and authentic relationships.  They take social justice and volunteer service seriously.  They attach great value to environmentalism and community involvement.  The Gen-xers and Millennials in your community need to see Jesus.  They won’t see Him in your church until they first see Him in you.  New building projects, modern worship, and studies listed in the bulletin for “young adults” won’t get young adults to be a part of your church community, but a friendship with you just might.

What young adults won’t communicate is a burning desire to sit through long meetings at church every Wednesday at 7pm.  Try to plan events at locations and times that appeal to the needs and desires they have communicated.  What would make them want to come?  If they communicated a desire for informal social interaction and spiritual guidance, plan a Bible study at the local coffee shop.  If they are looking for ways to connect with other Christians, plan a kickball game at the community park.  Be flexible.  Don’t be afraid to think about ministry happening outside the church building!  Wine bars, restaurants, parks, microbreweries, houses and back yards are places where organic community is built.  These are social places where people usually spend time together.  Find out where they are spending time and plan to use those locations.  Ask them where they want to meet and listen to what they say!

Once you have an idea of what, where and when your event will be, it is vital to personally invite people.  A phone call, personal email, text or facebook message can go a long way to show that you care about someone and want them to be a part of things, but a face-to-face invitation can be even more effective.  People of any age are much more likely to be a part of something they were personally invited to.  It’s too easy to throw away a church bulletin, ignore a general announcement or drive right past the church sign.  Especially when beginning a new ministry, always extend personal invitations.  Try not to be frustrated if individuals you’ve invited don’t come, just keep inviting them.  It may take several invitations before someone feels truly welcome.

All this friendship building takes time.  The effort and time spent on becoming acquainted with the young adults at your church and getting to know young adults in your community isn’t quick and easy.  Ministry usually isn’t.  It would be much easier to plan a Sunday morning study in the extra room at church and just put a blurb in the bulletin inviting “all young adults” to attend…easier but not nearly as effective.  Ministry is a messy process that involves a personal investment.  Building relationships that help young adults see that you genuinely care about them and want to be a part of their life will enable them to want to be a part of your church community.

This may all seem overwhelming, but you are not going alone.  Our Lord Jesus equips, encourages and enables us to do His work through the Holy Spirit.  He cares for and loves young adults.  He wants them to experience that love through you…you aren’t in this alone!

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

originally posted at www.LCMSYoungAdultMinistry.org