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Is your congregation seeking to reach out to young adults? Many congregations are. There can be both excitement and anxiety about engaging the generation commonly called millennials.

Not every congregation is going to be seen as a possible faith home for a 25-year-old. There are so many variables. There are so many roadblocks. The variables and roadblocks include practical matters like time of worship, location, congregational demographics and much more. The variable and roadblocks also include sacred factors like style of worship, theological worldview, opportunities for service and much more.

Level of religiousness
In the book Souls in Transition by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell, the authors summarize the dynamics that make it most likely for a teenager with strong faith to become a young adult with what they call low “religiousness.”

The statistical data is impressive and a bit overwhelming. If I’m reading it correctly, there are three primary factors that lead a teenager with high religiousness to becoming a young adult with low religiousness. These factors are lack of strong parental ties to religion, doubts about faith, and decrease in the practicing of faith activities, such as worship, prayer and service.

The authors note that consistent high religiousness of young adults contain the same dynamics, but expressed positively. Check out Chapter 8 of Souls in Transition, which was produced by the authors noted above and Kyle Longest.

Welcoming young adults
These results suggest some principles for congregations that want to be in relationship with young adults. The principles include:

  • showing emphatic curiosity about family of origin commitments to faith and providing modeling of faith for young adults;
  • opportunities to explore a range of spiritual practices;
  • and openings for service.

Additionally, relationships and a sense of community are important to young adults. Young adults want to contribute to the design of programs. They don’t want congregational life all organized for them.

Engaging the individuals
These are principles. There are no best practices providing a magical answer for your congregation and its relationship to young adults. In fact, the use of the word “they” is a sign of the challenge. In this short piece, I’m already referring to young adults as an undifferentiated mass of folks.

You will know your congregation is engaging young adults when this group is no longer a “they,” but people with names and faces: Jill, Jose, L.D, Samson, Lori and a holy host of others.

This is sacred ground. There is much to absorb. If you are interested in learning more about your congregation and young adults, search young adults on the CRG.

I recommend these two books: Souls in Transition and You Lost Me.


Tim Shapiro by Tim Shapiro

Tim is president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations – the parent organization of the CRG. He began serving the Center in 2003 after 18 years in pastoral ministry. He holds degrees from Purdue University and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tim has served as alumni-in-residence at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a commissioner at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, and studied family systems theory under Edwin Friedman.

tshapiro@centerforcongregations.org