3 Ways to start seeing young adults in your church

Steve Argue, PhD Image Steve Argue, PhD | Sep 27, 2022

For many churches, young adults are an out-of-sight, out-of-mind demographic.

It’s hard to care for those we rarely see.

Even those we claim to love can get lost in our fast, crowded, demanding lives.

Our paths meet less and before we know it, our attention gets redirected.

Not only do we not see young adults, but we also stop looking for them.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Many ministry leaders admit that their congregations don’t believe they have any young adults connected with their churches. They say they miss young adults.

Some churches are sad about it.

Some are confused,

Some are angry,

Some are panicked.

Others don’t know what to think, or what to do about the young adults they don’t see but whose absence they definitely feel.

At FYI we’re discovering, through hundreds of conversations with ministry leaders and young adults themselves, that supporting young adults is challenging—not because people don’t care, but because congregations are relying on dated or ineffective ministry approaches that only perpetuate “missing” young adults all over again.

The result is that young adult ministry defaults to ministry afterthoughts, guilt-ridden attempts, or Hail-Mary efforts to attract young adults or at least keep the ones still around. These tactics leave everyone longing for something more and better.

If you miss young adults or your church is having trouble seeing them, don’t give up. Refocus your efforts toward young adults by starting with these three essential views.

First, see the adults who are right in front of you

You may disagree with me, but hear me out: you have young adults in your midst.

You may not have a group of them or may not see them sitting in a certain section on Sunday morning, but they’re there.

They are your high school graduates, transplants who just moved in to go to school or start a new job, or children and grandchildren of your community that are always on families’ minds.

Young adults are present but may be invisible, obstructed by the congregation's generalizations and perceptions. Countless stereotypes in news and media leave young adults feeling misunderstood and fighting to be seen for who they really are.

Also, the fossilized memories of “church kids” can petrify adults' perceptions, leaving young adults in their next decade of life unable to escape the impressions made from their younger years and teenage personas.

Know that each young adult has an up-to-date life that’s unfolding, and now is the time for adults to catch up on these stories by listening and not assuming, seeing rather than labeling.

Ask some hard questions about your own view of young adults:

  • What’s an assumption you’re making that seems far-fetched or out of date?
  • What’s a grudge you're holding about a young adult or their family?
  • What if you sought to appreciate the young adults by seeking to get to know them today rather than yesterday?

See them for who they are today. Don’t assume. Get to know them all over again.

Second, seek out the adults who live closer to you than Sunday morning

Often we hear adults worry that young adults aren’t showing up at their churches for Sunday morning worship services. Somehow their attendance is equated with loyalty or faithfulness. While we certainly support intergenerational worship, let’s not over-interpret their non-attendance.

Perhaps they can’t make 9 am Sundays for myriad reasons—working late, traveling, taking weekends with friends or family, or needing just one quiet morning after a frantic week of school, jobs, and stress. We don’t help young adults by putting all our evaluative eggs in one Sunday basket.

Further, consider that adults are regularly closer to you than Sunday morning. Some are your neighbors, your co-workers, even your kids. You don’t have to drive to church to see them, they’re present in your everyday paths longing to be acknowledged.

Make a new effort to connect this week:

  • Learn their names.
  • Buy them a coffee.
  • Add 15 minutes to your meeting to talk about life before agenda items.
  • Text them an encouraging note.
  • Accept them as people who are part of your life, not just in the background.

When my twenty-two-year-old daughter visits home, I make it a point to say, “Did I ever tell you how happy I am you’re here?” She laughs but deep down she loves hearing it, and I love saying it.

Who’s a young adult that’s closer than Sunday morning in your life?

Watch for them. Acknowledge them. Appreciate them.

Third, support the young adults you see

Probably the action that paralyzes most adults is figuring out what to do when they finally see young adults in their midst. Here is where it’s your move. For young adults, the only thing worse than not being seen is being seen and then ignored, labeled, or dismissed.

Seeing young adults can and must flow toward personal action, sacrifice, surprise, and transformation. It’ll result in you rearranging your schedule to show up, changing your mind to engage in a new conversation topic, or admitting your limitations by asking for help.

Once you see young adults, closing the relational distance requires you to move one step closer. And young adults want you to. In fact, they need you to because they often struggle to make the first move.

Take that first step toward young adults by:

  • Inviting them to dinner (even if they’re vegan!)
  • Welcoming them to a holiday gathering (even if it disrupts family traditions!)
  • Asking them for technology advice (even if it makes you feel vulnerable.)
  • Telling them about your life story (the good and hard parts— as much as you can.)
  • Sharing your career journey (your success and failures, realized dreams and shattered hopes.)
  • Reflecting on your faith (and inviting them to share their beliefs, too.)

Once you see them, you can’t ignore them. Nor will you want to.

What happens after we see, seek, and support young adults?

The hopeful yet challenging news is that you’re just getting started. For young adult ministry to become a priority for their congregation, leaders like you need reliable resources and connections. Here’s where we can help!

Building on over a dozen years of research and working intensively with over 40 congregations, 80 ministry leaders, and 80 young adults, our FYI team has united fresh wisdom on ministry innovation with our landmark Growing Young insights to give you a young adult ministry guide you can count on.

Whether you’re a senior pastor seeking to find ways to engage your young adults,

A youth pastor who cares about your high school graduates,

A volunteer giving your all with little time and no budget,

We’re here for you with a book I’ve written called Young Adult Ministry Now.

Young Adult Ministry Now

Churches need young adult ministry now because the Church needs young adults—now.

Young Adult Ministry Now Book

Order now

Tweet this: Don’t let young adults become “out of sight, out of mind” in your church. Refocus your ministry with these 3 essential views.

Photo By: katemangostar

Steve Argue, PhD Image
Steve Argue, PhD

Steven Argue, PhD (Michigan State University) is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers, and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years. Steve is the coauthor and contributor of a number of books, including Growing With, 18 Plus: Parenting Your Emerging Adult, and Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry.

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