This article originally appeared in Deacon Magazine.
If you have asked, "How could our church better connect with and reach young adults?" then you are in a normal church. How to do young adult ministry is one of the more perplexing conundrums of many churches.
Making traction in the area of young adult ministry is far from impossible, but by no means is it easy. As a matter of fact, if you are reading this article and looking for a quick fix or a 10-step process, this article may not be the solution for your church.
Over the course of the past several years, we at Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, have dug our heels deep into understanding and connecting with a young adult demographic. Along the way, we've had some wins and made some mistakes. We remain committed to connecting young adults to our local body of believers.
Evaluate your church's current connection to young adults
For 99.9 percent of churches, connecting with young adults starts with a healthy dose of self-evaluation. And that self-evaluation will lead to a major paradigm shift in ministry for some churches.
As key leaders in the lives of your individual ministries, know that you and your leadership team are the best equipped to perform this evaluation. Gather your key leaders and ask them to give honest feedback on the following questions.
- If a 25-year-old single lady walked into our church, would she find five to seven people like her in our congregation?
- Do we provide opportunities for young adults to engage in weekly, non-Sunday morning Bible studies?
- Is the median age of our congregation under 45?
- Is a visitor to our church going to have an opportunity to serve either in the church or in the community within one month of visiting? Or does the person have to join before participating in a project?
- Does our church budget include line items or leaders designated specifically for reaching young adults?
If you answered no to all five questions, reaching young adults will require major shifts in your ministry approach. If you answered yes to three or more, you are well on your way to creating an environment where young adults can be engaged in the life of your church.
However, evaluation should not start and stop with your church leaders. This simply allows you to glean wisdom about your current state of ministry to better understand how to reach a new demographic.
Host one or more think tank sessions
It has been imperative for us at Rolling Hills to approach young adults, ask for their help, and host them for think-tank sessions. The purpose of these sessions was to discuss young adult ministry within our congregation. This is a very practical and beneficial next step regardless of whether you have a large or small number of young adults within your church. Because of this targeting effort, we at Rolling Hills have not only received feedback that has helped us in planning for the future, but we have also identified natural leaders.
During these sessions, we prepare a number of questions related to our ministries and ask for both constructive and critical feedback. These questions include:
- How easy is it to connect at Rolling Hills?
- Would you bring a friend from work to our church?
- What confuses you about our vision and mission?
- What are we not currently doing that you would like to see us do? As a result of using this process, you'll get real-time data and feedback correlated to your specific church and community.
In many cases, a church's efforts in reaching a new demographic successfully get bottlenecked at this phase. As leaders, we may read the latest statistics and research the latest trends within ministerial life and even look at what other churches are doing. We may attempt to implement new ideas without first understanding what young adults in our churches or communities are looking for in a church experience.
If you don't currently have anyone between the ages of 18-30 in your church, then use this think-tank as an opportunity to bring in young adults from completely outside your ministry. You may be surprised at how eager they are to share with you their perspectives of your ministry. (This perspective may be difficult at times to hear.)
The advantage of hosting a think-tank of this type is that you come away with a clearer picture of what needs to be done and a group that you can immediately turn to. This group can step up and lead out in making these visions a reality. When people offer suggestions, they are often willing to lead in helping their own ideas come to fruition.
Connect the young adult ministry to the church as a whole
At Rolling Hills we've developed a young adult ministry that's very closely connected to the other church entities. Although we have small groups that are specifically designed to target and reach young adults - along with fellowship and service opportunities - we're sensitive to keeping those activities aligned with the overall small group and missional vision of the church.
Young adults sign up for a small group at the same time married couples with children have opportunities to join small groups. We're going to work hard to get a young adult plugged into serving with an existing ministry of our church. Existing ministries need new people and energy to strengthen their work.
A more recent paradigm shift for us has included a simplification of our programming. We brought together young single adults and young married couples without children under the umbrella of "Young Adults at Rolling Hills." We have found that the largest variable isn't necessarily whether young adults are married or single but whether they have children.
We communicate with our young adults every other week via email. We stay in frequent contact through church blogs and Facebook. These emails not only include announcements of upcoming events but also articles specific to their life stage.
Young adults crave opportunities to serve and be a part of something bigger than themselves and to connect with others on more than just a surface level.
Just recently I posted an article in an email that dealt with sexual temptations within marriage. After the email was sent, I was able to track the stats and saw that more people clicked on that article than any I'd ever sent or linked to before. That is real-time data. I know that my young married couples want to know how to better safeguard their marriages and this communication piece provided that feedback.
Offer service ministries
A few specific wins that would be easy to implement hinge on service and connection. We have seen a large number of young adults integrated into the life of our church as a result of missional opportunities.
For example, we've invested a lot of time and energy into reaching at-risk kids and their families in a few specific communities in our area. A large portion of the traction for this ministry has come from young adults. Young adults want to serve. If the opportunity is meaningful, they will show up and make it happen.
Connect young adults with each other
Do not underestimate the impact that programs designed for deeper levels of connection can have. We started a program called "Dinner for Six" for young married couples in our church. The concept is extremely simple: pull together three married couples and match them up for three months.
Once you've matched them, it's their responsibility to coordinate a dinner one time during those three months. I continually receive positive feedback on the connections that are being made as a result of this simple program that requires very little work and maintenance.
Be encouraged wherever you find yourself in ministry. The number of misnomers and misconceptions about young adults often stem from a lack of understanding as to where they are in life. Young adults crave opportunities to serve and be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to connect with others on more than just a surface level. Therefore, as the church, we have to grapple with the questions of how to connect them more fully to what we are doing.