GROWING IN GRACEBEN GOSDEN
I currently serve as an associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. One of my primary responsibilities is young adult ministry. During the past two years I’ve learned a good deal about what ministry with young adults is like and I’d like to take a moment to share a few ideas with you. Take them, leave them, question them, it’s up to you.
- Do NOT over-generalize the demographic. Statements like “all young people want…” are simply not acceptable. People are different and young people are complex in many ways. I know it’s always more helpful to think of people in demographic groups and then simplify them down to shared characteristics. But that’s not fair. You simply cannot make assumptions based on over-generalized statements.
- Worship style is not nearly the driver of young adult ministry you might think it is. There is a stereotype out there that says young people prefer contemporary worship (again, over-generalization). That is simply not true. While many young people love contemporary music and worship, many others want something more traditional. Rather than playing to the assumed consumer tastes, try building relationships instead.
- Be authentic. I cannot overstate this enough. Before the mid-1970s, marketers used to target parents when they advertised products for children. But somewhere in the mid-70s they figured out they could market whatever toy or cereal or product they were pushing directly to the child who would then ask their parents for it. In other words, young adults today are the most advertised to generation to date. Rather than trying to be slick or clever, just be real. Trust me, young adults can sniff a scam a mile away and they won’t think twice about avoiding your church.
- Build relationships. Spend less time trying to attract young people to your church and spend more time going where young people already are. Find out what the young adults in your area care about and see how your church can plug into that. And don’t do it because you have the hidden agenda of wanting them to join your church. Do it because you care and Jesus teaches us that relationships are important
- Develop young leadership. When young adults start joining your church, do not make them sit on the sidelines to wait their turn for leadership. Get them involved in leadership and start developing the next generation of your church’s leaders. And be ready to hear their ideas. If churches are serious about wanting young adults, then don’t expect them to simply inherit the church structure you already have. They are not clones of your current congregation so don’t treat them as such.
A recent Pew Research Center study showed that one in three young adults are not affiliated with organized religion. This same study showed that a majority of that group considers themselves spiritual, have belief in God, and have some experience in organized religion. In other words, they’re making a conscious choice to not go to church. This is as much an indictment of us in the church as it is on those who choose not to affiliate. We need to do a better job of forming young people. We need to do a better job of preaching and teaching and living the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to do a better job of being a church in mission to the world around us. And we need to quit longing for the return of the church of yesterday and start living into the church of tomorrow.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is an associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.