A few Saturdays ago, I woke to an early morning alarm. In a half-asleep daze, I threw on paint splattered jeans, an old VBS t-shirt, and the $5 work shoes I purchased during a frantic trip to Walmart on a servant event several years ago. Grabbing wallet, phone, and hand sanitizer, I made my way to the freezing car. What could voluntarily get me out of the house before my coffee on a Saturday morning? A work day at an old parsonage in the process of renovations so it can one day house community events and servant event teams.
I might just barely qualify as a “young adult” anymore, but I share with young people a strong desire to serve with purpose. 20% of adults under 30 volunteered in 2013, up from 14% in 1989. Millennials are the generation most likely to say that volunteering is important, and they are putting their time and resources where their mouths are. Talk to the young adults in your congregation, and you will probably find that they, like me, are just as able to find their dirty, paint strewn service clothes as they are their work clothes.
Why does service matter so much to young adults? And what benefit does service have in the daily life of the church and of young adults? I’d like to suggest three key reasons opportunities for service and outreach should play a vital role in the life of our local congregations.
Service creates a shared experience that develops relationships.
Perhaps you have experienced how a service project pulls people together, gives them a common goal, supports teamwork, and provides a place to start conversation. Research tells us that people who share experiences, like a service project, are more likely to feel in sync with each other and feel better about their experience. Young adults can struggle to feel in sync within the church. But the reality is that God’s church is a primary source of community. God makes us one in the forgiveness of sins and in Word and Sacrament as a branch to a single vine. Service projects can provide a reason to practice working together as Christians, making a concrete pictures of what the Church’s life together is. Rather than coming together once a week for worship and then heading our own direction throughout the week, united in service, we live, work, and move together in Jesus Christ.
Service gives an opportunity to teach vocation.
Barna found 63% of churched adults say they have not received any Biblical instruction that helped shape their views on work or career in the last three years. In many ways, the church has dropped the ball on teaching young people about vocation, and they are struggling with how family, church, and work fit with their faith. Service is a wonderful way to open up that conversation and teach how our lives are expressions of our faith in Jesus.
Service work helps faith move beyond the church walls.
As they enter a time of intense transition to adulthood, service provides a way for young adults to connect that faith to the world around them. Service work helps us understand Jesus came to a world filled with very real problems, and he did not shy away from issues of sin, death, and the devil. He came, lived, and died for all our sin and brokenness. Service work takes us into the reality of the mess of a fallen world. It reminds us of our need for forgiveness. In service work we pray that the Holy Spirit will empower us to share Jesus’ love and sacrifice to others.
In this season of Easter, we remember anew the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross and the empty tomb. The reality of Jesus’ sacrificial love can leave us overwhelmed. Young adults in our congregation want to respond in faith and share that love with others. Service should be the natural extension of faith, giving young adults what they are yearning for: an opportunity to show love, care, and concern for those in need around them.
 Goff, B. (2013). Multi-careering: do work that matters at every stage of your journey. Barna Group.