Everything in life moves quicker these days, even existential angst.  What once took people 40-50 years to experience in a mid-life crisis, young people are now finding in their 20s and 30s during the quarter-life crisis.  (Who said Millennials weren’t ambitious?!)  Like the mid-life crisis, the quarter-life crisis is characterized by insecurity over life decisions, disappointment at a lack of “success”, loneliness and depression.  There are usually high levels of fear and anxiety over finances, relationships, and rapid life transitions.  While some have dismissed the quarter-life crisis as simply “Peter Pan Millennials” lamenting the process of growing up, research shows there may be some good reasons for this struggle.

A recent study showed 86% of young people felt pressure to achieve success in their relationships, finances and jobs before hitting 30.[1]  Despite changes in feasibility and priorities, young adults continue to value the traditional adult milestones of graduating, leaving home, getting a full-time job, marriage, having a baby and achieving financial independence.  In 1960, 70% of 25 year-old women had attained all those markers.  In 2000, only 25% of women age 25 had achieved traditional adult status.  In 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had reached those markers by age 30.  In contrast, only 46% of women and 31% of men had reached those markers by age 30 in 2000.[2]  True, some of the delay comes as a choice of young adults, but certainly astronomical student debt, un- or under-employment, and increased difficulty in finding and building relationships play a role as well.

The church can play a powerful role in helping young adults grow in faith through their quarter-life crisis.  In Titus 2, Paul engages older members to “teach what is good” to those who are younger (Titus 2:3).  We are to teach true doctrine of God’s great love for us and of how Christ died to bring us salvation.  Paul specifically asks older adults to help those younger to make choices that are reflective of Christ’s love for us shown on the cross, “so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”  It might not be as hard as you think.

  1. Engage their gifts and passions in the church.
    As young adults struggle to start their career, often they feel as though they have no outlet for their God-given gifts.  This is the perfect opportunity to find what they are passionate about, and allow them to express their gifts in and through the church.  This doesn’t mean asking them to warm a seat in a board meeting as a token “young person.”  Rather, give them something meaningful to do and cast a vision of how their gifts can be used, and let them go.  You will be amazed what God will do through them.
  2. Help them manage adult transitions.
    I recently talked with high school juniors and seniors for over an hour about taxes.  No, they did not fall asleep while I droned on about W2s.  They genuinely wanted to understand because no one had ever explained it to them.  Adult transitions are difficult and less and less information is provided to young adults making those transitions.  Young adults need mentors,  people who are willing to spend time helping them figure out their credit score and how to budget a tithe.  Church communities should provide a safe place for forgiveness and grace as young adults struggle, and Christ-focused guidance as they encounter adult life for the first time.
  3. Avoid comparison.
    Now, more than ever, we are inundated with a glossy, perfected picture of everyone around us.  Social media gives us filters for our pictures, Pinterest highlights perfect meals, and news feeds show us stories of young people gaining all sorts of success early in life.  Add on the delay in adult milestones, where young adults are comparing their lives to their parents and grandparents, and no wonder young people feel as though they have failed to live up to expectations.  Remind young adults that everyone struggles, sins and falls short, especially in times of stress and transition.  Let them see the messy parts of your life, so they can take comfort in God’s forgiveness rather than judging their own lives by an unattainable expectation.  Remind them that adult life is never as perfect as sitcoms or social media would suggest.

Here is what’s wonderful:  Research says that around 80% of young adults who experience a quarter-life crisis also report having an overall positive outcome.[3]  And many believe having a quarter-life crisis will lessen the chance of a mid-life crisis.  Let the church be a safe place where young adults can come and find support and grace through their quarter-life crisis.  Disciple them and show them God’s love and purpose.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/may/05/quarterlife-crisis-young-insecure-depressed

[2] Between Adolescence and Adulthood: Expectations about the Timing of Adulthood, July 29, 2003,  http://transitions.s410.sureserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/between.pdf

[3] http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2011/05/05/scientists-describe-five-phases-of-quarter-life-crisis-recommend-the-experience/#.VqkHWVIdrm4