The Boundless blog is a collection of unique voices addressing the issues young adults care about right now – everything from dating and faith to current events.
Four years ago, I wrote an article called "Quarantining a Generation" (republished as today's feature article). I was shocked to receive more than 50 emails in response. Most were from 20-something singles like me who resonated with the article's premise that it is difficult for young adults to find community in churches. But a handful of letters were from pastors and ministry leaders asking how they could make their churches more hospitable to my generation. I was excited to see such a passionate response.
In the article, I talk about the model of the early church, which was obviously successful since thousands were being added to their numbers daily. A main strength I see is intergenerational community:
"The church was established to glorify God and to provide a place for believers to challenge, encourage and support one another. Those who previously had little in common became one unit through belief in Christ. Paul explained it like this: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female," single nor married, young nor old, "for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). I added those last two, but I believe they are in the spirit of Paul's intent.
"This unity inspired people to share everything they had, to invite widows and orphans into their homes and to demonstrate a love and cooperation that drew non-believers like a magnet. Spending their time together in each other's homes, church members operated much like a family."
During my years as a single young adult, I have felt the power of the church best when this family element is present. Young families who have invited me into their homes for dinner. A pastor and his wife who initiated meeting me for coffee. Older women who stepped in as godly mentors. These people made me feel worthwhile, like I belonged. As much as I enjoy my peers, the deeper acceptance was felt in intergenerational connections. In response to the trend toward young adult services, I write:
"In order for these relationships to take place, all ages must exist in community together. With the growing number of alternative services, young adults are missing out on relationships that provide wise counsel, build spiritual maturity and help bridge the gap to the next stage of life."
I have discovered that my generation is quick to point out all that is wrong with the church. However, I believe many of our core spiritual needs can be met within that very community. That is why Christ established the church in the first place.
Since I wrote this article, I have pressed on in seeking out intergenerational church fellowship (it has required some hard decisions). My ministry with children and interactions with volunteers who were not my peers ultimately led me into the path of my husband, who shares my heart for intergenerational church. And while I waited for a spouse, those rich relationships diminished loneliness and gave me a place to belong.
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Comment by CourtneyP:
Great article, my church is much like this with all families, singles, and children together for the most part then we have retreats, children church and special outings for teens and single. My church is on the smaller side 250-275 people in attendence.
Comment by Rebekah:
I think a lot of the problem with young adults not integrating into the rest of the church is that a lot of them don't want to. I currently attend an amazing mid-sized church with only one Sunday service, where I, as a graduate student, feel very connected. But then, I attend more than just "college ministry" activities. I love our college group, and I'm pretty involved in it, but I also go to church-wide events and serve in the nursery, so I know a lot of the women in the church from other age groups. A lot of the college students never even think to speak to someone who isn't between 18 and 26. Maybe they are too busy, or maybe they feel like they have enough "community" living on campus, or maybe they think they don't have anything in common with other generations. I don't know. But its definitely not always the church's fault when young adults don't connect, since a lot of the time, they could if they wanted to. But I definitely agree that it needs to happen! I love my different age/different stage in life friends! hanging out with the SAHMs during ladies Bible study pretty much makes my life :)
Comment by BDB:
I was just having this discussion with our young-adults pastor this week. They definitely have a tight core group of 20-somethings. But those individuals are ALSO involved as volunteers in a variety of other ministries that are multi-generational. Children's ministry has volunteers that vary in age from 12 to 72 for example. I definitely think that the core group of volunteers is strengthened by their interaction across generations.
Comment by vanessa:
Most churches don't know what to do with unmarried people past college age. They corral the women into Children's ministry and the men (if they can manage to retain them) into some sort of maintenance positions.
Mentoring is all but extinct in the church. I recently left my previous (very age-segregated) church and started going to a multi-generational church that encourages mentoring. I'm excited to see what God is going to accomplish in my life. I've been feeling so empty and restless lately, and I know it is because He is getting ready to draw me closer.
Comment by VV:
Church criticism is not something I've been able to relate to as a young, single adult, and now one who is about to wed. (My future husband and I grew up in our church. That's not to say I've never been critical of something here or there, but not overall. I love my church and the people there, even at times when I've been disapointed with some things. Ultimately, unless my church is dead or something blatantly wrong is going on, I need to serve CHRIST and stop focusing on what my church can do for me. I have this problem with my generation. We seek to be served and if we aren't being "fed" or our "needs" aren't being "met,'' we lack the maturity to remain faithful. (I'm not talking about serious exceptions here).
We need to serve, and there we may just find the need met. Like Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve.
Comment by TamarafromCanada:
I think it probably seems easiest to most people to just sperate people by age or life stage, but you are so right that we are missing something important when we do that. I know my own church is going through some significant staff and ministry changes right now, and this summer some of the young adults had a meeting with church leadership to discuss what would happen in the future with ministry to young adults. The big thing that came out of it all was that we wanted to feel like we belonged, were part of, and had influence in the larger church body - not that we were just another ministry the church had.
And that conversation has brought big changes this year already. We still have a weekly young adult meeting, but rather than doing a church service when we meet we've made it a place to get to know others through activities and Bible study, and sharing food together. And then have encouraged the young adults to get involved in the weekend services of the church and other ministries instead of coming to a young adults service. It's still early on in all of these changes, but I think they're positive ones.
One of the ones we have already seen is about a dozen young adult women who have decided to go to my church's annual women's retreat. In the past few years, this hasn't happened, as we've had our own retreats (which, don't get me wrong, were good) and so there hasn't been a need. With the new look of our "young adults" ministry, we are slowly seeing young adults get more connected to the larger church and get to know people of all ages. Definitely what is needed in the church today. And it excites me to see what will happen.
It's a big change and is not proving to be a totally seamless adjustment, but the church leadership believes this to be for the better, and so those of us who are leading the young adults ministry. Young adults need relationships with and the influence of older and younger people in the church. And, for the church to last beyond this generation, the younger and older people in the church need young adults to be involved.
Comment by Danielle:
I think Boundless should add a "Like" function similar to Facebook's, because I like this. :)
Comment by RhemaKeller:
Good article, my church is very small 100 members, being one of the only two Mid twenty guys I dont feel I'm really a member here even though I have gone to this church since I was a child. I have decided to move to another church were its more friendly to young people even though I dont really feel their doctrine is true.
Comment by Carol:
In response to Rhema Kelly (#8), I have also grown up in my church, although, unlike you, I feel deeply connected. I have noticed, though, that I'm not often recognized as an adult because most of the members knew me as a child. It can get a little frustrating, especially since I'm in my late 20's. However, I don't think they do it on purpose, and I know that as my responsibilities increase, their respect for me will deepen along with that. In other words, I think that problem will solve itself eventually.
Comment by Leah:
I can't help but think the larger the church, the more likely we are to 'quarantine' generations - all generations. Once you get five or six hundred people in a church, it's clear that you can't take care of them all as one group - you have to split them up to be able to pastor to them more effectively. And we naturally resort to generational splits. We have the seniors group, the young mothers group, the singles/college group, the high school group, etc.
While smaller churches have these ministries too, I think it's probably easier for smaller churches to arrange events and ways to mingle the generations. But from my observation of the only church over 600 people in our town, it is very split between the generations. I think it's easy, when faced with so many people, to get overwhelmed and just retreat back to those you're familiar with, which is generally your own generation.
Our church has those age-based ministries but we are also able to mingle. A great ministry we run several times a year is called "Friendship Dinners". It's always organised by the same lady, and the idea is that those who want to participate put down their name and how many people are attending (eg. a family of 5 would say "2 adults, 3 children") and whether they want to host or attend. The organiser then arranges everyone into groups, with about 8 adults and their respective children attending a dinner together. Sometimes it is hosted at the host's house, sometimes the host will decide to have it down at the beach or a park or even McDonalds. Everyone brings a dish to contribute. (If there's a single college-aged person attending, the hosts often ask them just to bring drinks or something coz they understand college students don't always have the facilities to cook something!) The organiser makes sure that the groups she arranges are inter-generational, so you'll often end up with a middle-aged couple, one or two university students, one or two families, a 50+ single, etc. It's a really good way to get to know people you might not otherwise speak to at church.
We also have a church camp every year. It is called the "Church family camp", and after a bit of confusion that it was only for families, our minister has made sure to emphasise each year that it is for the CHURCH family, not families within the church. Families & older couples are also encouraged to take a single or college-aged person under their wing for the weekend (to help feed them) or sometimes a bunch of students will get together to make their meals more cost-efficient.
Comment by InIdaho:
If you don't think their doctrine is true, don't go to it! I'm going to a small church (~30) that has two guys ~ mid twenties and I'm having a blast!
Comment by edwige:
# 2 rebekah >>But its definitely not always the church's fault when young adults don't connect, since a lot of the time, they could if they wanted to.>I need to serve CHRIST and stop focusing on what my church can do for me. I have this problem with my generation. We seek to be served and if we aren't being "fed" or our "needs" aren't being "met,'' we lack the maturity to remain faithful.<<
I was getting ready to talk to my pastor's wife about my need for a mentor or our need as young adult at church to know older people or couples...just like this article said...but rebekah(2) and V.V. (5) are making me rethink that...cos you are also right...but personally being a full time student working part
time and part of a christian fellowship and other organizations on campus, it is hard to also serve in something at church...really hard...I tried before but it is tiring...
and I am FOCUSING on serving Christ u know by being involve with my campus fellowship but it just happen that campus fellowship usually have only young adults lol or I can say mostly young women...sometimes it is not really by choice that we segregate ourselves...
and talk about being an International Student where your family is very very far and you have made friends and really good ones but 99% are of your age!
Plus by God's grace I have been able to remain faithful, I think God is good and big enough to help us remain faithful even without mentors...I can say so far christian books, websites like Boundless have been my mentors...I pray and long for real ones but I just don't know how to get one...except praying to get one... but people seems so busy nowadays... and I see how my christian sistas are also struggling around me and I pray for them to get godly women as mentors...but how do we get them?
#5 - While I agree with you that our generation is needy and self-seeking (as a generalization), not everyone is going to church to get their "needs" met as opposed to serving.
In some churches, especially large ones, it's hard to follow your calling...and you have to go where God leads you, even if it's another church. In my heart, I've felt God calling me towards mentoring; both to be a recipient again (I've been under 2 mentors in the past) AND to become a mentor myself. At the church I was attending, the only way to remotely follow what I felt God calling me to do was to become involved in the youth group. There was a lengthy protocol for becoming involved and basically a "waiting list" after that protocol in order to be able to serve in any capacity. I had no desire to become involved with that particular group because of the way it was run.
I've stayed and served in churches where I felt spiritually starved...because I felt God had placed me there for a purpose and He would remove me when His purpose for my being there was fulfilled. He has always done so, and I believe He continues to do so.
Sometimes, it is our "needs" that aren't being met, but sometimes God does that to make us uncomfortable so He can move us into what He wants for us. Sure, some people leave for selfish reasons, but maybe the "my needs aren't being met" speech is just the PC way of saying "God's done with me here and I can't grow unless I step out in faith."
Comment by Marie:
I'm 23, almost 24, and while I was in college I found it very difficult to find a church to attend. Not for lack of trying (I live in a major city with churches of all kinds all over the place), but for lack of a church that knew what to do with me. It's been my experience that at a majority of churches young adults, particularly college students, don't have a place in the church. It's like I could hear the church leaders thinking, "Great! More help for the kids and youth!" Yes, I think it's important for everyone of all ages to be involved in ministry. The problem I had was that it was expected that I, as a young person, give in a ministry, even though I wasn't being fed myself. I was not being discipled, but I was expected to disciple those younger than me. In a time that is full of one transition after another, I was left without guidance and help.
Now I've found a church that yes, is largely young, but I've sat near adults who are closer to my parents age the last few weeks. Everyone is encouraged to find at least one small group, if not more, so that we can become involved in community. They also make it easier to help out with a ministry, by setting it up so that things rotate and you're not counted on to be in the same ministry indefinitely. I think this encourages people to try a lot of different ministries in the church so that they can find what area they are most gifted in to serve. I know that having people expect you to volunteer week after week can be draining, but when you're given the chance to get your feet without taking on sailing a whole boat on your first try, it's a lot better. I'm excited to meet people (and I hate meeting people) at this church because I feel that I will be valued for who I am, not what I can do for the church.
And I relate to the comment where someone said that they didn't always get seen as an adult at the church they grew up in. That's how it was for me when I visited home after leaving for college. Church can be a great place to help someone learn the transition between child and adult, and I think it would be great if more churches embraced that opportunity, especially in regards to mentoring.
Comment by Nancy:
I completely agree with the artice and post. I became a Christian at 21, and found my home church at 22, when it did not have a young adult ministry. One was formed about 6 years age, in response to the US stats about 50% of young adults leaving the church after high school.
I didn't know that young adult ministries existed when I started attending (I didn't grow up in the evangelical world). But I have to say that I didn't miss it at the time -- I jumped into volunteering with our community Thanksgiving meal and Easter drama, then took some classes. I met some wonderful people of all ages. I agree with the commenter who said that our mentality shoud be about serving, not having our needs met.
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