Qualifier: No one person can write definitively on an entire swath of diverse people, I created this list out of my own experiences as a young adult (which I am defining here as ages 20 to 35) in the church. It reflects my own biases.
Here we go.
- Be authentic, be yourself, be the church.
Are you an aging church that only uses hymns? Don’t try to reinvent yourself with a zippy new worship style just to attract young adults. We are cynical and have been going to church all our lives; we can smell fake a mile away.
Stay true to what God is doing in your church and trust God to draw the right people. Authenticity is a rare thing. Don’t abuse it by trying to be something that you’re not.
- Be friendly but not too friendly.
Young adults are used to church shopping, aka frittering away months and months jumping from service to service without any firm commitment. In most of my experiences church shopping, I would rarely be greeted by a member of that congregation.
A warm welcome can make a huge difference. If you are greeting a young adult, ask them questions but don’t be too overwhelming. Back off if they look uncomfortable, especially if it’s their first time visiting. But, if they come back a few times, now is the time to invite them over to your home for dinner or out for coffee. Personal invitations versus a “sign up for this program” are always better.
- Intergenerational churches are a plus, not a minus.
Young adults are often in communities of their peers, especially if they’re recent college graduates. We crave interaction with the “older wisers” who have gone through the life phases we find ourselves in. Young adult groups are great, but don’t be afraid of encouraging intergenerational community. Mentoring programs, meal groups — any way to match older folks with younger folks is a plus.
- Regularly ask young people to do something in church.
Many young adults are non-committal and kind of lazy. We’re used to being catered to, being programed for in church. But, if somebody asks us point-blank to read scripture in the service next Sunday or to write about our experience living in Guatemala for the church newsletter, we’ll do it. Find out what your young adults are passionate about and invite them to use their gifts in church. We’ll be grateful that someone thinks we have something to offer, we’ll be more invested in the church. And, we’ll have to show up the Sunday we have a job to do.
- Throw wedding showers and baby showers.
Young adults are in a season of transition, making big life decisions, some of us getting married and having babies. If a young adult in your church gets engaged or has a baby (even if they only come to church sporadically), throw them a shower!
There is nothing more beautiful than having the corporate church come around you during a season of major change.
- Create a safe space for doubters, for askers of hard questions, for disbelief.
If you have young adults attending your church, chances are good that they have struggled with unanswered faith questions and doubt. Chances are even greater that they’ve been wounded by a church in their past. Churches are notoriously bad at welcoming people who are on the fringes of faith, who are asking hard questions.
Creating safe space for doubters can look a lot of ways. The pastor can host a theology night, or an “Ask Anything” event. Even better, personally invite young adults out for coffee to talk about their faith. Whatever form it takes, it’s important to listen to and affirm the experiences of the young adults in your church. Having “the answers” isn’t as important to most young adults as feeling welcomed despite doubts.
- If you want parents with young children to participate, arrange for childcare.
Do you want young mothers and fathers to serve on worship team or speak during adult education hour? Providing childcare is a must. Ask the young parents in your church about their child’s nap schedule and plan meetings during times that they can make it.
- Have a web presence, but it doesn’t have to be fancy.
We do like the i-net. A lot. And most churches have a website these days. But you don’t have to invest lots of money into making a fancy new website or join twitter just to cater to young adults. We just need the address, the service time, and little blurb about the church. That’s it.
- Invite Young Adults into Leadership Roles.
Young adults can be a fickle bunch. But, if we’ve been attending for a while, it might be time to ask your young adults to serve in leadership roles in the congregation. Even better, offer to mentor a young adult in a certain role if they’re feeling non-committal. Ask, ask, ask.
10. Be a community.
Young adults are a transient bunch. We move a lot and might be new in town. Church is a great way to meet new people. And there is nothing so beautiful as a community that cares for one another in good times and bad.
So… be friendly! Have potlucks (and ask us to bring something)! Invite people over! Invest in relationship! You’ll never regret it.