Young adults – Help! How can we help?

So, this past week we decided to cancel The Well, our young adult retreat weekend. No, it wasn’t due to all the snow, it was due to low registration numbers. I was really disappointed we had to do this and it has plunged me into some deeper thinking about young adult ministry.

Oh, I should also tell you, I was really pleased the community at Rooftop (rooftopcommunity.com) still offered the young adults a unique experience as an alternative to getting a refund for The Well. Rooftop offered any of the registrants an opportunity to come to their new church plant and live with them in community for a weekend in uptown Saint John! (More details at: http://baptist-atlantic.ca/event/the-well/)

Here are some of my thoughts on the way forward in ministry with young adults. This is an area where I, and the church, still have lots of figuring out to do. I really hope to hear from young adults on this one! Plus, I’d like to hear from those of you who are integrating young adults well into your faith community, how are you doing this?

4 things we need to understand about connecting with young adults

#1 – Relationships matter. As the young adults who did register got back to me about the cancellation a number of them said “That’s too bad, I was looking forward to seeing…”  I imagine for a young adult who is aiming to follow Jesus it must feel like they are an island sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time. An event is usually not the answer. Young adults are looking for deeper friendships. How can we, the church, help young adults foster authentic relationships, both with other young adults and across the generations?

#2 – Commitment looks different. I like to think I’m still close to young adult-hood, but the truth is I’m not and I’m of an entirely different generation, so I humbly have to learn about today’s young adult generation. I’ve heard people criticize this young adult generation for being “uncommitted” or having too strong a sense of entitlement. I want to defend the young adult generation here, I do not think they are uncommitted, but I do think commitment looks entirely different. See, my “old” generation, sees commitment as signing up at least two weeks in advance, paying your fees, showing up on time, being a regular attender, showing up to serve each week even if you feel like you are just another warm body stuck in a role…

My hunch and observation of young adults is they are all-in, committed, but it looks different. They are more carefully discerning, they have lots of pressures on their time and priorities. Look at the schedule of many young adults – they are crazy! Therefore, unless they are convinced this “thing”, this “cause”, this “event”, this “service” is going to make a difference and is worth their time and energy, they’ll wait and see if something else comes up that is more worthy of their time and energy.  But world, watch out when they find the “cause”, the “thing” that is worthy of their dedication – they do more than we can imagine! This is a call to the church to make sure what we are doing is relevant and actually making an impact on lives and communities. (Carey Nieuwhof wrote a great blog about commitment looking different today and how we can respond at http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/04/7-ways-to-respond-as-people-attend-church-less-often/)

#3 Don’t back off – Young adulthood is a huge transition period. It is full of challenges, messiness and opportunities. We tend to have sympathy for the transition from childhood to adolescence. We tend to have less sympathy for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Think of all the changes that can happen from adolescence to young adulthood – the youth groups no longer wants you, school changes, work changes, where you live can change, the closeness of family changes, how you handle your finances changes, relationships change… Young adulthood is a major transition period of adolescence to adulthood. My hunch is young adults are not looking for a “do it this way” lecture, but they are looking for encouragement, mentors and opportunities to try new things out. This is not a time to “back off” our support as churches and fellow followers of Jesus, it is a time to pour it on! Not in the same old structured youth group days of their teen years, but in offering young adults significant mentoring relationships and significant opportunities for service.

If you have been pouring into a student and then they graduate high school, your significance to that student and your support of them does not change, it just needs to look a little different. Some of my favourite stories are the ones where church family choose not to back-off on young adults. One story in particular comes to mind, of a young adult who went away to university and slowly started sliding away from her faith, stopped hanging around other Christians and as she described it “put God on a shelf”. However, an adult from her church would send her regular emails from home – giving updates about the church, asking how things were going and reminding the young adult they were praying for her. As the young adult slide further away from their faith, they said these email were “huge” and kept reminding her that God was still there. Those emails were eventually the impetus for her returning to connect to a faith community. So, find adults who can or YOU – send a young adult a note, mail a care package or take them out for coffee this week.

#4 Think and dream bigger – Young adults want more. They want their lives to matter. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. None of this treating them like kids, none of this watered-down Bible teaching, none of this small project…somewhere inside of them they know they were made for more, God made them for more. I don’t know how to minister to young adults, but that’s just it, in so many ways I’m not suppose to minister to young adults, I’m suppose to release and empower them to minister to our world. Young adults, come to us, the church, with your ideas and dreams. We’ll support you and help make it happen, but this is all yours. What dreams has God put in you? Young adults, how can you show & tell the Good News to other young adults? –to our world?

So, the bottom line for me:

Well….I guess, I’m listening and learning….we don’t have this one figured out, but we deeply care about young adults and want to find a way for them to be encouraged and equipped to follow Jesus with their heart, soul, mind and strength.

And young adults, we the church, want to say sorry for the times we’ve missed the boat by not including you or listening to your heart and dreams.

Leaders – what experiments are you trying in partnering with young adults?

Young adults – Help?! How do we support you in following Christ fully? Tells us! Be honest, even if it looks different than how you see things now.

-Renée @r_embree

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14 comments

  1. Emily · February 9, 2015

    I’m so happy to see so many of the YAs from our small group respond! You all have wonderful insight!

    Echoing what some of them said already, number 3 is really important to remember and respect. It brings to mind a theory that my church brings forward every week, being that the most crucial part of a person’s spiritual journey is childhood. Children need to know and experience God’s love from a young age to feel safe and, hopefully, grow up to be a strong Christian. On the flip side of this, we should NEVER discount the fact that YAs may be searching just as much as (maybe even more than!) a child.

    Speaking from experience, this transition period is really confusing and … grey sometimes. Moving out of your parents’ home is a huge step, but will likely present a lot of challenges. What seemed wrong under your parents’ watchful eyes, might not seem so bad, and things can start to slip. The Devil may be a roaring lion, but he presents himself much sweeter and innocent than that.

    I myself had stopped attending any church after I’d moved out, and I’d never felt more empty. It wasn’t until, by chance, I happened upon a ministry opportunity where I believe I found my calling, that I felt the love of a church again. My pastor viewed me as a contributing member of the body of Christ, and it’s because of that, that I’m even ATTENDING church, let alone running a small group.

    I could ramble on with more examples, but my point is YAs need love as much as a small child (obviously in a different way), but love nonetheless. We are the near future of the church, and in order for the work of God to be continued, we need to feel valued and understood. (Even if we have a hard time understanding ourselves sometimes.) Never give up on us.

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    • Renée Embree · February 12, 2015

      Thank you so much for sharing! So important to remember what you say – the transition is major! And we need to include young adults as contributing, important members of the body!

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  2. Ruth · February 7, 2015

    For me #3 seemed to sum it up perfectly in the first sentence.

    At the YA board-games/small group Danielle mentioned (that has indeed gotten off the ground and is doing well), we’ve been talking a lot about transitions, and I think the rest of your entry makes sense in light of transitions.

    We need to be loved and accepted and we need people to come alongside us. So relationships matter in helping us get our feet under us and really work at discerning God’s will. Not just other YAs, but those in our church who have walked this road (or a completely different one) before us. I’d be a fool to have attended a Christian university and not recognize the importance of a community that bridges generations! So don’t let the church worry about being out of touch. We’re ‘adults’ now, dealing with the same ‘out-of-touchness’ in our own way, so we have more grace for that than you might think.

    Commitment looks different, some of us can afford to make the effort, others can’t. Some are still trying to figure out where that whole ‘independent from our parent’s faith’ puts us. Find us where we are.. Don’t pressure us into being who we were… develop your relationship with us and help us in our new walk with Christ in light of what we’re understanding about the world in this time of Transition and Discernment!

    It’s true. I think with all we learn from life and college or university during this time, we can’t help but dream. But we have a lot of ideas, and very few resources (Thank you student debt!), help us figure it out, come alongside us and (pardon the cliche) make our dreams come true!

    In summary, we are trying to find our call, our voice, our purpose and our passions. This time is what 12 and a 1/2 years of our lives was supposedly preparing us for. Our relationships, commitment, trajectory, dreams and aspirations are not necessarily what we thought or hoped they’d be. PLEASE stress the importance of relationships continuing forward, mentors may change hands with distance, but keep praying that we don’t ostracize ourselves from the rest of the church, or distance ourselves from whatever, whoever, and wherever will draw us closer to Christ. Listen to what we have to say, we just might transform YOUR life.

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  3. Noah Lohnes · February 6, 2015

    This kind of question has posed me many times throughout my whole childhood, teen years, and now in young adulthood. Each time it has been a question of how can we get more of the young generation to join with the other generations to make up the church.

    The points raised are true and valid observations of what today’s young adults seek and are living in. The reality I am about to face is daunting to say the least. As a member of the church, I too wish to see growth in all areas. We need representation from each generation that we may learn from one another to reach all people.

    Getting young adults to commit to Christ in my opinion is simpler than we might think. With that said, I’m not sure I know the simple answer to the question. I do have a proposal though. For the Bth Program at Crandall, Dale Stairs got us to read a book entitled “Get off your Donkey” by Reggie McNeal. I would highly recommend this book. It instills the idea into our minds that service is a key part to growing the church, the idea that we need to get up and do something. This in effect will help other people by showing them love, and help yourself by building your skills that God has given you, and realizing that serving others is what God wants us to do. It makes us happier to do good works.

    All of this is to say that perhaps what the young adult generation is looking for is rather not just a seminar where they sit and learn about God, but actually get out and apply it. If we want, we can use the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told. Jesus taught us who our neighbor was, but did he leave it at that? No. He said go and do the same.

    This generation is one that loves to be the change in the world. I’ve seen many secular groups flourish at the thought of helping foreign places, or the homeless, or the handicapped. These were young people I saw who made incredible differences, but did not attribute it to God’s work. If we can use the same energy in a God focused way, than perhaps we may see a flourishing. At Crandall, there is a revival about to happen. I can feel the presence of God growing, the Profs feel it, other students feel it. We would be denying the truth if we did not know something huge is about to happen. I believe that events such as Tidal Impact are exactly what we need to help this community of faith grow.

    To wrap up, I believe that service is the key. Service is the thing in my life that helped me to grow as a Christian. Young Adults, I believe, may find this a very appealing way. It might just be the kind of valuable “cause” “event” or “thing” that we are looking for. What this looks like, I guess we will have to see.

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    • Renée Embree · February 7, 2015

      Thank you Noah. This is really helpful to hear from your perspective. Yes, I/we see the heart for service many in your generation have and want to help you join God in righting wrongs in our world. Praying and working in God’s strength with you, so that together, we will see God bring this revival…that leads to lives changing and neighbourhoods changing. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. Rooting for you as you continue to follow God in “what this looks like”.

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  4. Danielle Leger · February 5, 2015

    Hey Renee,

    So I read your post this morning and was not really able to comment as I had my mind focused about work and kids ministry events. As per a text I sent you I figured I would just comment here as per Email so others can view as well 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed your post, its great to know that someone actually cares enough to put something on for us YAs, I have attended The Well ever since it began a few years back, and can say I really enjoyed myself and felt a lot closer in my relationship with God and getting away from the busyness of “life.” I must say I was a little disappointed about The Well being cancelled because the numbers were down, as in previous years there were at least 30-50 YAs.

    Something I have noticed in my own church is that YAs leave the church for many reasons; (school, work, cost, transportation, underestimating the value of it (events like the well), and spiritual apathy) just to name a few 😉

    Something I wanted to comment on was the 4 things we need to understand about connecting with young adults:
    1) Relationships Matter- Out of everything I have learned over the years it would have to be that no matter who you are relationships is something we all need in life. Imagine going through your life with no relationships……it is impossible to not have a relationship, wether being with friends, co workers, school mates, parents, siblings, God, and many more. Lets face it we all have at least one relationship we are involved in 🙂 Something I always look forward to when I attend The Well is being able to grow in my relationship with God but as well as create new relationships with others as well.

    2) Commitment Looks Different- This explains itself, this also goes back to where I stated about YAs leaving the church! Face it most YAs are busy between work and school 😦
    Well observing and serving in a local church in youth ministry I have learned that once youth graduate Middle School and head to High School they have a tendency to stop attending Youth. This tends to be the same issue when youth graduate High School and become YAs

    3) Don’t Back Off- These 3 words are something to keep saying to yourself! Even though The Well was cancelled don’t give up! There are still YAs in this world who appreciate everything you and other leaders like Next Gen pastors do for us 🙂
    Something else I experienced myself is once I graduated from High School I became what most people consider an adult, but your a YA (which is a big difference), there are all these Programs/Events for youth, and even for ladies and men, but what is there for YAs? When I first heard about The Well I was ecstatic about there finally being an event for us YAs.

    4)Think and Dream Bigger- This is the point that I have been wrestling with all day… so I decided I would just briefly talk about different ideas that may be helpful/able to try 🙂
    Last year I attended a small group at a coffee shop designed especially for YAs, (and small it was); During the course of the year the numbers would fluctuate. One evening a YA had this vision to start up a YA Board Games Social, where YAs could come and play Board Games with other YAs and then take about a half hour to do a devotional (Same idea as the small group in the coffee shop, but incorporating an aspect that catches the attention for YAs. The numbers grew immensely!)
    Another idea that comes to mind is why not have a retreat like The Well but possibly lower the cost and have it say in a church building, or even closer to summer time (nicer weather) and go camping?
    Something else could be digging into conversation with different YAs and finding out what there interests are (which can be helpful as you plan for future events) 🙂

    So the question you asked was:
    How do we support you in following Christ fully?

    That varies on each individual and how much impact CABC has had on their life. For myself its being able to know that I can talk to staff like yourself but as well as Next Gen Pastors 🙂
    Just briefly, growing up as I mentioned previously, some events I attended included; The Well, Springforth, Tidal Impact, LINK, Oasis Kids and Oasis Youth. I hate to say this but besides being able to talk to yourself and other Pastors, it is from my experience now that very little support comes from CABC in being able to follow Christ fully!

    Sorry this is so lengthy but these were just some ideas/thoughts I had from reading your post 🙂
    Thanks for caring about us crazy YAs 😉

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    • Renée Embree · February 6, 2015

      Hey Danielle, Thank you for your thoughtful reply and honesty. Appreciate all you have shared here. We are listening.

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  5. hannahbygrace · February 5, 2015

    Wow! This is a REALLY good post – it makes me feel very loved and valued as a YA to know someone is even thinking about this!
    I’m sad to hear about The Well being cancelled, and admit that I was never registered in the first place. I went the first year it was held and REALLY enjoyed it!! For me it was nothing against the event, just #2 on your list hits the nail on the head! My schedule was tight around this time. Thank you for understanding that! 🙂
    I really like the idea of having regional events. One practical thing that I could suggest would be to maybe hold an event in the local region that is split into a couple days. Some YAs really like the idea of their own beds, and not having to pack to go away ;). It may make it feel like less of a sacrifice (loss of time from packing/traveling, loss of sleep) – though don’t get me wrong, I see the immense value in “retreating”!!
    I think it is amazing that this post exists – even a few years ago there was hardly anything for YAs. Thank you Renee for putting so much thought into this and showing God’s love through loving us YA’s. We are a complicated breed, aren’t we? 😉

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    • Renée Embree · February 6, 2015

      Hannah, thanks so much for your insight and ideas! Very helpful and encouraging. No need to apologize for being a “complicated breed”, we love ya! The truth is, each new generation has it’s own “complicatedness”. My plea is simply don’t give up on the church, how can we help your light shine?! Thanks for the thoughts around regional gatherings.

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  6. Dustin Day · February 5, 2015

    I’ve been trying to respond to this one all day- I had a comment, then it disappeared- but this just went like this:

    When you were talking about the transition period for young adults you were so right! But I think it goes deeper than just the transition. Young adults have a lot of pressure put on them. They are taking out copious amounts of debt, studying degrees that might not get them far, and (especially in Atlantic Canada) they are entering a dying work force. We (I use ‘we’ because I still consider myself a young adult- even if I am through the school and have a ‘real job’) are told over and over again that we have to save more because of the deflating pension plans and that the older generations are a huge strain on us. — young adults are stressed and taking a weekend retreat to escape it all isn’t in the cards.

    I sense that there is a lot of discouragement in this, but be encouraged.

    Look around- young adults may be retreating from the church for a few years but I don’t think it is always because they are denying what the church teaches. In fact- I think a lot of times they are taking their new found independence and making their faith their own. They are finding other ways to embrace the teachings of the Gospel- they are gathering with other believers in coffee shops, dorm rooms, school cafeterias and classrooms. Opportunities to fellowship happen daily for the young adult. They are talking about God and asking questions- they need people they can be relational with to learn from… not people to preach to them, but to converse with them.
    I like what you said in ‘Don’t Back Off’ about how other generations need to be constantly be in conversation with young adults but those conversations need to begin when they are teens- and we need to be including our teens in the church- not just reading scripture or running the sound board but in decisions about finances, vision, and planning. How can we expect them to take hold of the mission of the church when they grow up if they aren’t included in it.

    Good Luck Natasha- I really hope it takes off for you! And I hope you will feel comfortable leaving the church building to meet them where they are.

    (Sorry this is so long…. but not really)

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    • Renée Embree · February 5, 2015

      Great thoughts Dustin! Yes, I agree I think SOME YAs are finding other and fresh ways of connecting and expressing their faith. How do we create bridges back and forth? So the church includes and hears from young adults now, but also lets them find fresh, good and new ways of expressing faith in this generation?
      I’m with ya, I think integration into the wider church family and leadership is key. Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts…appreciate your younger than me perspective 🙂

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  7. natashadavidson · February 5, 2015

    Hey Renee! I so enjoyed reading this post and I am very interested and excited for the future of young adults in Atlantic Canada! It has been something that I have been struggling with in starting a young adults program at Falmouth (which begins this Sunday night!) I constantly wonder if anyone will show up but I also know that what is going on in their/our minds is much deeper as they are trying to figure things out in their lives.
    Relationships are so huge to this age group, you hit the nail on the head there. It’s not all about the big showy stuff that is done for youth group but it is a deeper relationship and no fluff.
    I don’t really have any words of wisdom for you on how to reach young adults but to give opportunity for relationship. It’s easy for me to want to go to the Well and other Convention events because I know you, I have a friendship with you. However, a lot of young adults in Atlantic Canada have no idea who the Convention is or why they should come to something that costs more money then they are willing to spend to do something that they don’t know what they are doing, and for so it’s farther away then they are willing to travel. I feel like it would be interesting to have smaller young adult events in each of the regions, building relationships there throughout the year and then bringing the groups together once a year wouldn’t be so hard.
    Maybe it takes Convention reps going to IVCF’s and Crandall and ADC and starting the conversation there? I’m not sure. Maybe these are just ramblings, but they are just some thoughts I had while reading! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you in class next week!

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    • Renée Embree · February 5, 2015

      Thanks Natasha! These are great thoughts, in a helpful direction! Similar to your regional idea – I’d like to see us encouraging and finding ways for local churches and gathering of Christians to find ways to healthily integrate and include young adults. Maybe CABC, IV, Schools role is to equip and encourage existing churches and communities to know how to connect with the young adults right around them? GREAT to hear what you are trying in your area. Go for it!

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