By Lawrence Powers
We’re impulsive, passionate, creative and each one of us is unique. The Church desperately wants to reach us, but often does not know where to start. Many don’t even know how to define us or what to do with us when we show up in sanctuaries and Sunday School rooms–if we even show up in those places at all. We are young adults and the question of how to engage with us is at the forefront of many discussions within our Fellowship.
In her workshop at the 2015 CBF General Assembly titled “The Struggle Is Real: Starting and Sustaining Ministry with Young Adults,” Emily Hull McGee, former Minister to Young Adults at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and new senior pastor at FBC on Fifth in Winston-Salem N.C., asked attendees to list places where they thought young adults might be found in the communities around our congregations. Answers like “cafes,” “Target stores,” “bars,” and “places where the arts flourish,” were all thrown out. Not many in the room — made up of parents, grandparents, clergy, lay leaders, and a few young adults — answered “our churches.”
As our churches seek to work forward from this reality, Hull McGee encouraged attendees to see young adults not as the church of tomorrow, but as the church of today. She pointed out how formative this time, the decades of life taking place in a person’s 20‘s and 30‘s, is to the decades that follow. If the direction of our later lives are directed by the identity-driven time we’re in now, churches must find ways to not just get young adults in the doors, but also seek to find moments where they are given opportunities to discuss, to learn, and to lead.
As a minister to young adults in both a campus and congregational setting, I see the daily struggle of those who are desperately looking for authentic community where they might find belonging and identity- a place our churches should, and must, be. As young adults seek to complete education, raise young children, build financial stability, find employment, and figure out how faith fits into all of it, our community is both needed and crucial.
It is with this in mind that we were offered 5 ‘nuggets’ of wisdom to know in seeking to ministering to, and engage, the young adults in our midst:
- The whole church must be invested, interested, and pliable. A few individual adults, or staff members, are not going to effective in the long-term, in reaching young adults. It takes the entire congregation inviting young adults in and valuing their opinion when it is shared.
- Our Baptist churches must be authentically our Baptist churches. There is no other place just like ours. As young adults seek to find identity and belonging, we cannot afford to give up our own identity in seeking to reach them. We do not need to copy the flashy congregation down the road, we just need to be who God has called us to be and be the best version of who that is.
- Leaders and church-wide passions must be vibrant, inspiring and life-shaping. Even if our buildings are aging and our resources are limited, this does not mean that young adults will avoid our community. We must be able to show young adults we are excited and passionate about what we’ve been called to do and how we’ve been called to serve.
- Your church must be ready to be led by young adults with new energies, passions and ideas. We must be willing to put young adults in positions of leadership- yes, even on the deacon board- if we are going to effectively reach and engage them. We must be willing to hear their thoughts, ideas and hopes for the church and allow room for the organic growth in our community that will come, even when it gets messy at times.
- It’s all about relationships. Relationships are the cornerstone of ministry to young adults. Our churches must seek to build community with a transparency and willingness that will allow for young adults to connect with people of all ages, backgrounds and ideas in real and authentic ways.
The journey to engage young adults is not an easy one on which to embark. It’s going to take more than us creating a ‘singles class,’ or hiring a young clergy person. It will take our whole congregations being willing to have tough conversations we may not be ready for, creating community in places miles from our buildings, and putting leaders in place that are much younger than the average age we’ve grown accustomed to. No, it will not be easy, but journeying this road together is crucial to our future because we need young adults in our midst, and in the same turn, they need us to.
To keep up with news, photos and videos from the 2015 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, please visit www.cbf.net/Dallas2015.
Lawrence Powers serves jointly as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina Campus Minister at East Carolina University, as well as the Minister to College Students at Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina.