“Please, give us time to join the congregation. It has taken us quite a while to back away from the church and it will take equally as much time, if not a little more, to come back. “
With April out of the way, and all the rain and surprise cold weather, it’s May and that means the beginning of summer. May is also a time when transitions are happening. Students are transitioning from exams and graduations to new endeavors and responsibilities.
Transitioning times are times with open spaces for love and compassion to fill our lives. A lot of time that is spent in the ‘between spaces’ are when we are most vulnerable and susceptible to feeling like there won’t be a ‘next step.’ In those times we need the care of family and friends. More than that, we, as young adults, need the Church and Christianity as well.
The time when a young adult is no longer comfortable at a college geared worship service but doesn’t feel quite welcome enough to the main service, is a transition point for the church. This point is a place where a lot of young adults decide that church is not a place for them. We want that place, we want that community, but we need hands to reach out and welcome us in.
This is the subject of many meetings in churches across this country, concerned with how to attract young people to come to their services. I think that a few reflections and perspective changes will shed light on what to do (and what NOT to do).
One of the problems with the idea of, “we need to attract young people to come to church” is that you are ignoring the young adults already in church. Chances are, if you are having that conversation, there are a few if not a couple of handfuls of young adults in your congregation. I’d suggest you stop thinking about attracting more young adults and start thinking about making sure those already there feel included. There is a line, though. I’ve had friends who have stepped into a church and within attending a few services they have been asked to join committees, help with youth programs, even run for vestry as a “young adult voice.” We welcome your gusto, but that can be overwhelming. So what exactly am I suggesting? It might sound impossible to say, “Welcome, but don’t overwhelm,” but that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Imagine taking in and welcoming young adults like the way you get to know a friend. Within a few meetings, you don’t ask them to be a bridesmaid in your wedding, do you? I hope not. You get to know them. You ask them about their lives, though not in an intruding way. What would welcoming young adults in church be like if someone simply walked up to me and said, “I’m glad you’re here.” I think that’s the right way to start.
Something else that I think is important to realize is that there is no quick solution to attracting young adults. Having flashy and edgy and ‘young adult oriented’ programs don’t do any good if you don’t have a base to join. More importantly, young adult programming should be grassroots based. The ideas should come from the community itself. If we want a “pub and theology” group, there will likely be a young adult who will spearhead it, only if others want it.
Also, please, give us time to join the congregation. It has taken us quite a while to back away from the church and it will take equally as much time, if not a little more, to come back. Again, if you begin to really take some time with the young adults already in your congregations, they might bring a friend and that’s where the growth will happen.
The beginning of welcoming a young adult (and any new parishioner) is simply to care that they are there and to love them. We as young adults just want a community to grow with in our faith.
Margaret Blount Montgomery is a young adult living in Oxford, Mississippi where she reflects on life, Christianity and being 25 in a world (and church) that is not so open to hearing her thoughts.