The story of my parents’ first date has been told often in my family. Keeping the details brief, the year was 1973, and Mom and Dad attended a college basketball game with my Mom’s thirteen-year-old “Little Sister” in tow.

Romantic, yes?

Like many college-aged adults at the time, Mom was an active “Big Sister” for the local program. In that role, she spent time, energy, care, and concern on a young adolescent. In the process, she learned a great deal about nurturing others, responsibility, and participating in the larger community. It was an experience that launched Mom (and Dad) into action in their first congregation and community.

The concept of young adults working to nurture junior- and senior-high youth is not new.  For decades, young adults have been given the opportunity to serve as leaders, teachers, friends, and mentors to their younger peers in all sorts of settings. There is a natural connection that exists within our congregations to do the same.

Young adults are at a unique crossroads of being “grown up” while still waiting for program direction.  Providing opportunities for young adults to be active leaders in their congregational programs helps them recognize their ability to be leaders in a larger context of congregational life.  And a great place to begin is where they are–at the end of the youth ministry cycle.

Effective young adult ministry programs must fit contextually into the congregation at large. One natural bridge that connects young adults to the whole congregation can happen through intentional development of leadership and nurture opportunities for young adults in service to youth.

Three Practical Starting Points

Idea One: Form a core of Youth Ministry, congregational leaders and young adults to assess the needs of the existing youth program, with an eye toward strengthening it through the involvement of young adults–not as participants but as leaders.

It’s not a secret: Youth ministry programs are always looking for more resources; and one of the greatest resources is found in people. Young adults represent a wonderful resource of energy, fun, and ideas.

Involving young adults in youth ministry doesn’t mean handing over the 5 a.m. Easter Breakfast or Junior High lock-in, thereby relieving the “older” adult counselors from these (often exhausting) activities. Rather, involving young adults in youth ministry means considering the overall program in your congregation and assessing where young adults can lead and work in tandem with other adult counselors. Consider opportunities for young adults to be mentors, friends, and leaders in a variety of settings and roles.

Additionally, while the team is investigating the “people” needs of the program, many other neat ideas will emerge. Young adults have a fresh perspective on youth culture. After all, they were (and are) just living it! Provide an opportunity for young adults to share their voices and ideas with your youth ministry team. Encourage their thoughtful contribution to strengthening the program.

A common obstacle to this idea is to proclaim, “But all of our young adults are away at college!” Don’t limit yourself to your youth ministry “graduates.” Are there new young adults in your community who are attending college in your area? Are there young adults who opted not to go to college? To which towns have your “youth” migrated as college students; have you helped plug them in with the local LCMS church and its pastor? Young adults are all around you! Inviting them to get involved is an important first step in making them welcome and connecting them to the larger life of the congregation. Don’t just invite them to church–invite them to be a part of the congregation.

Idea Two: Using the information gathered in Idea One, identify specific opportunities for young adult involvement, participation, and integration as leaders and supporters of the youth ministry programs in your setting.

Work with your ministry team and intentionally integrate young adults into settings where they can lead youth. Intentional integration means bringing young adults into youth ministry programming on the leadership, not the participant, side of the fence (and at first, participation may understandably be their natural inclination). Integrating young adults into a youth ministry program requires that your adult leader team specifically nurture young adults in the leadership role of an event, program, or opportunity. Involving young adults in this way requires commitment by your adult leader team. They must walk in step with young adults, helping them make the transition to a new way of working within the congregational life of the church. Allow them opportunities for growth and success as caring servants in the church.

Intentionally integrating young adults into the leadership life of your youth program requires more time, commitment, and dedication. It involves training and equipping. It involves accountability, guiding, and affirming the fledgling efforts of these new leaders. As with any successful opportunity for lay involvement with a congregational program, your commitment is not only to the youth served, but also to those serving. Embrace the young adults and help create successful settings for them to experience fruitful leading in the Church.

Idea Three: Using the successful involvement of young adults in the youth ministry program as a catalyst, offer new activities, programs, and opportunities specific to their needs and concerns with young adults in the lead.

As young adults experience leadership within a ministry program, they will become encouraged to take the initiative in leading and serving new programs and opportunities for young adult (and other) ministry programs in the congregation.

One of the primary reasons young adult ministry programming suffers in so many congregations is the lack of time, ownership, and resources seemingly available. The youth director is often given the task of creating and implementing young adult ministry because it seems that young adults are still “youth.” But a youth worker already strapped with the demands of junior high, senior high, and (in many cases) child ministry programs simply cannot take the initiative to add one more segment to his or her overstuffed portfolio.

In our congregation, the Mother’s Club Alumni is led by mothers whose children are alumni. The Lydia Society is led by the older women of the parish. The Men’s Morning Bible Study is led by men. The Toddlin’ to Jesus class is spearheaded by parents with toddlers. The PFA charges forward on the steam of grade school parents. The Senior Gardening Club is led by seniors. There is nothing wrong with young adults taking the reins of young adult ministry programs!

Creating opportunities for young adults to serve in any congregational ministry program is an important step toward nurturing young adults in the life of the congregation. Given the tools, skills, and opportunities to serve in one context–and in this article we suggest youth ministry as a natural place for that to begin–young adults are equipped to lead and serve, to create programs and opportunities.

As young adults experience genuine invitation by the congregation to be actively involved in meaningful tasks and relationships with the congregation, they will be encouraged in their role as members of the family. Young adults are at a crucial developmental stage–in life and certainly in faith. Practical nurture by the congregation goes a long way toward encouraging young adults to stay plugged into the mission of their church. By God’s grace and spirit at work, young adults are ushered across the bridge into the adult life of service and leadership in the congregation. Youth ministry is one place where that bridging process can begin.

thESource is published on the Web by LCMS District & Congregational Services-Youth Ministry.  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1333 South Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295; 1-800-248-1930;  Editor: Gretchen M. Jameson. VOL. 3 NO. 6 April 2005.