How Not to Lose Young Adults

I am directionally challenged.  I could not find my way out of a paper bag with a flashlight and a map.  In the days before GPS, visiting a new place was panic-inducing and required a map, written directions and a prayer for well marked intersections.  I can vividly remember several instances of frustrated tears on the side of the road after hours of driving in circles.  Desperate for home, I would have taken any help that would have directed me to somewhere safe, somewhere I knew.  Maybe you know that feeling, or maybe you have never been lost in your life.  Regardless, following new driving directions is a bit like managing the transitions of young adulthood: sometimes glorious success, sometimes only a few missed turns and other times you end up completely lost.

As young adults work through many life transitions, navigating from one church community to another can be frustrating.  Young adults are managing transitions from school to work, single to married to parent, from parent’s home to dorms to independent living.  They manage life transitions like I did traveling to a new location; they have the best directions the internet could offer, maybe a few notes from mom and dad, and a prayer.  Headed off for something new, their destinations can be far away from their home church, or make their home church feel foreign and unwelcoming.  Helping young adults navigate from one church home to another, without letting them get lost in the transition, is a key piece of healthy ministry with young adults.

Not sure how you are doing in this part of ministry?  Consider the following questions.

Do you have their contact information?

It can be hard to keep track of young adults as they shift every few months from school to apartments to home and back.  However, without current contact information it becomes incredibly difficult to keep a young adult connected or help them seek a new church community.  If you have trouble keeping track of addresses, try cell phone numbers and emails, which are far less likely to change over time.  Find them on social media and utilize it to check in and encourage them in their faith walk.

Do you know how to find a local church?

There is a great tool on LCMS.org that allows you to search for local congregations.  This comes in very handy when moving to a new place where you don’t know any of the local congregations.  But just finding an address and worship time isn’t always enough to ensure young adults don’t get lost.  Encourage and help young adults to search local church websites and Facebook pages.  Often this will help them feel more comfortable when they visit and give them a sense of how big the congregations is, their worship style, and who to speak to about various ministries.  With their permission, I will sometimes email a pastor or DCE in advance of the young adult’s visit to ask them to keep their eyes open for a visitor from our congregation.

Are you in it for the long haul?

The congregation a young adult grew up in has significance for them, even if they no longer regularly attend.  Unless young adults ask to be taken off a church’s roll or if they request a transfer to a new congregation, the home congregation needs to feel the responsibility of care for young adults.   This is not just a once and done activity.  The first church suggestion made by the home congregation might not be a good fit, and a second or third congregation may need to be researched.  Perhaps a college student was able to connect with a Lutheran church near their university.  When they graduate and move to their new job, they will need the home church’s help yet again.  Home congregations need to be prepared to walk with their young people all the way through their transition and beyond.  Keep in touch by sending them updates from the congregation, even if they aren’t close enough to attend.  Owning their spiritual care ensures a young adult doesn’t get lost in transition for good.

Congregations seeking to support young adults can be a tremendous help in navigating them from one church community to the next.  Keep in touch and listen to their needs as life goes through rapid changes.  Be a safe place where they can return.  Prepare to give them directions to a new church community, and they may not get lost in transition.

About the author

Julianna Shults is a DCE serving a Program Manager for LCMS Youth Ministry. With a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Community Development, Julianna served congregations in Florida and Chicago. She writes for the Youth E-Source, co-authored Relationships Count from CPH and co-hosts the podcast End Goals. Julianna is a self-proclaimed nerd, coffee snob and obsessive aunt.
View more from Julianna

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