On June 25, 2014, the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington began conducting a survey of local parishes and worshipping communities in the diocese in order to gather data that would be useful in helping to determine what, if any, specific conditions exist that might be a contributing factor in the creation and cultivation of strong young adult ministries.
Responses were accepted through July 19, 2014, and at the end of the survey, the diocesan office had collected 45 responses. The following report includes statistics, a summary of the responses that were submitted, and a list of resources that may be helpful for those interested in either starting or maintaining an active ministry for young adults or college students. Download the full report and/or the summary, complete with resource suggestions.
When the responses from the communities with active young adult ministries were compared with those without, it became obvious that quantity of programs offered was much less important than quality. In other words, if young adult ministry is an area of ministry that your congregation would like to support and sustain, it is important to have something available (regularly scheduled or casually planned) and for that program or event to be planned and executed well. Simply stating that young adult ministry is a priority is not enough. Communities need to be prepared for success, and the only way to do this is by approaching ministry to young adults with a sense of anticipation.
Resource: The Asset Based Community Development Institute has made available a free workbook titled, Welcome!, written by Bruce Anderson and Dean Paton. This workbook is an easy-to-use guide for reviewing current practices and developing new habits. The goal of the workbook is to help you “Increase in size and diversity, Get everyone participating and Keep members coming back.” It is not written directly for congregations but is easily transferrable to such a context.
Another important factor in developing strong congregational support for young adult and campus ministries is to name its importance and to recognize its value. It is easy for communities to simply say, “Yes, we would like to have an active young adult ministry,” or “We want to draw more young adults into our community.” However, intentionally taking the time to discern and execute a plan to start this type of ministry is entirely different and requires communities to approach ministry to young adults with a sense of accountability.
Resource: It is important that the discernment and execution of a new young adult ministry involves actual young adults themselves. The Episcopal Church Center’s Office for Young Adult & Campus Ministries has created a helpful guide for doing just this.“Discerning for Young Adult Ministry” includes biblical reflection, a litany for young adult ministry, helpful discernment questions and a young adult survey to use.
Of the responses gathered from both communities with an active young adult ministry and communities without an active young adult ministry, two areas of strength seemed to emerge: 1) the integration of young adults into the life of the congregation rather and 2) the visibility of young adults in the life of the congregation.
Resource: Kathie Amidei, Jim Merhaut and John Roberto are all leaders with intergenerational congregation experience. Together they have written,Generations Together. Their book provides practical insights for working across generations within a congregation. Along with this book, their website offers many helpful free resources for integrating young adults and giving them visible leadership in the life of the congregation.
Further, of the responses gathered with regard to areas of improvement from both communities with an active young adult ministry and communities without an active young adult ministry, two areas of improvement seemed to emerge: 1) the need to develop effective programs for Christian formation and 2) the need to implement ways to re-connect and follow up with young adults and college students who visit our communities. Here are a couple of questions for churches to consider with regard to follow up: 1) How do we keep track of contact information for young adults and college students in the area who visit our community? Do we have a data management system in place? 2) Whose responsibility is it to follow up with these individuals, and what is the church’s procedure for follow up?
With regard to worship and prayer, two points can be gathered from the statistics. First, most young adults are interested in attending later morning, traditional worship services (10:00 am and after). An important aspect to consider, then, is what to provide for young adults in terms of hospitality. Is a designated person or group in place who can provide a welcoming presence for young adults and college students who may be visiting for the first time? Is nursery care provided, and if so, is that information made readily available to the community? Is a coffee hour (or some other form of social event) scheduled before or after the service that seems to attract more young adults and college students? Second, in general, young adults are not concerned with style of worship (high church, low church, or broad church). Once again, the emphasis should be placed on quality rather than quantity. It is not about what you do; it is about doing what you do well.
Curriculum is never a silver bullet. That is to say, curriculum alone will not change the nature of young adult participation in your congregation. But it can be helpful for sparking the right kind of conversations. Before deciding on any materials, consider the resources above regarding welcoming, discerning ministry with and integrating young adults in your church. After those steps have been taken, here are a few resources that you might consider using:
Emerging Christian leaders and authors from a variety of traditions have come together to offer frank conversation on Christian practices, the Bible and basic theology from a progressive perspective. Each of these studies are broken up into 7-week sessions which include video materials as well.
WTF? (WHERE’S THE FAITH?)
The WTF? book series addresses issues that young adults are keenly aware of. Subjects such as relationships and sex, politics and faith, service and justice are presented with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Young adults offer frank stories of their own experiences of how these subjects have been addressed in their faith communities. Like Animate, video materials are also available online.
CMT AT VTS
New curriculum and materials are always coming out. It can be difficult to keep up with all the publishers. The Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary is a great resource for young adult materials. Providing regular reviews of books and curriculum, reports on events and podcasts CMT is a trust worthy source for updates on materials you might find useful. Visit their website for more information at.
FAITH COMMUNITIES TODAY
Our survey was patterned after the research done by Faith Communities Today on significant young adult participation. Their study’s final dataset included more than 11,000 congregations and offers helpful insights as to what constitutes significant participation amongst young adults in local congregations.
SUPPORTING LOCAL LEADERS IN YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY
Starting this fall, leaders responsible for family, youth and/or young adult ministries will be gathering to strengthen our connection with leaders in proximity to each other, tend to the spiritual formation of those responsible for Christian formation in the parish and leadership development. These leaders may be lay or ordained, compensated or volunteer. Find out more on our diocesan website.