If you ask most young people, either in college (18-22) or recent graduates just entering the workforce (22-28), most would say they are not religious. There’s lots of speculation as to why young adults don’t identify with a faith or a faith community, such as time commitment (Sunday morning church services are too early or inconvenient) or sometimes the atmosphere and attitude of the church is not attractive to them. So how can the United Methodist Church be more attractive and inviting to young adults?
For starters, the young adults who are currently involved in the Methodist Church should feel valued and respected. I’m not saying that every single Methodist church disregards young adults, and I imagine the ones that do are not doing it consciously. Outside of a college town, it’s very unusual to find a church with a vivacious young adult ministry, because most churches are not getting the leadership, support, and guidance they need to implement such ministries. Obviously, most college students or recent graduates have not yet settled down, gotten married, and started families. They are either still in or fresh out of academia and are feeling out the waters of post-graduate life. They are not making six-figure salaries (if they are salaried at all) and cannot afford to be large givers to the church, and expecting them to do so is an unfair and unrealistic expectation. As a result, many churches overlook the gifts and talents that young adults bring because their gifts are not monetary. That’s a huge problem. If the church only supports and values abundant givers, how can we ever expect to reach the least, the last, and the lost? The truth of the matter is, the people the church needs to reach the most are not going to be abundant monetary givers. The people the church needs to reach are young adults who need a community in which they feel wanted and loved.
I understand that many people get turned off of church in their youth or early college years. When I was first in college and on my own, I didn’t feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning when I had been out the night before with all my friends. All I wanted to do was sleep in and waste the day. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a faith community in my college town that had a college ministry and an awesome pastor who, per the senior pastor of the church, directs 75% of her time to Wesley Foundation and pasturing to college students. It’s an awesome program, and I’m so blessed to have it in my life. However, it seems as though as soon as a student graduates college and begins to start their own life, they fall through the cracks. They feel as though traditional worship is not necessarily comfortable for them, but then again neither is the college group. They may feel comfortable in an alternative worship service, such as the one offered at my college-town church, but outside of the one hour service on Sunday morning, where do they feel connected? It seems to me that churches with a currently present young adult population should be using that population to their advantage. They should be obtaining feedback from those young adults, understanding what is appealing about the church to them and what is not, determining how they feel connected and how they would like to be more connected. It’s all about feeling supported and cared about. It’s a basic human need, and it’s free for the church to satisfy. If every church had an alternative/contemporary type worship service that appealed to young adults, and maybe even offered a small group opportunity for them, that’s a perfect place to start. The first major step, as stated previously, is to use the young adults a church currently has and listen to their feedback to understand what can be done to make the church a more welcoming, inclusive, and positive experience for young adults.
Creating a welcoming environment for young adults is not necessarily an easy feat, but just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s not important.