Help for young adult ministry leaders who feel stuck in the middle

Steve Argue, PhD | Mar 16, 2022

If you care about young adults, chances are you've sometimes felt like you get stuck in the middle.

You're probably the person to whom concerned congregation members direct their laments about young adults not showing up at your church. You're also the one to whom young adults express their feelings of being misunderstood or judged, often for factors out of their control.

Our research conversations with young adult ministry leaders have captured the tensions you face. One leader, Danielle, put it this way: "Young adults don't care about the church's institutional survival. They're facing real needs: loneliness, losing parents, and how to adapt [in a changing world]. With all this, they feel that perpetuating the system is not worth investing in. But if the church's purpose connects with their longings, they see it as more worthwhile."

Desmond, another young adult ministry leader, also wondered if Black young adults are ever going to come back, with many having a sour taste in their mouths when they think about the church's historic and current response to racial tensions in America.

Samantha puts it bluntly, "The young adults at our church want the church to get their act together."

Remember why you do ministry in the middle

The clash of perspectives sounds bleak and feels stressful for those like you in the middle. Yet you are made for the middle.

You're the advocate who can see more than one perspective. You're the interpreter who tries to help young adults and older adults hear and see each other. You're the innovator who believes that there's a hopeful way forward. Young adults and congregations rely on you.

But the middle can be a lonely place.

We've heard from many ministry leaders who express that this space in the middle can be fraught with tension. It's hard to please everyone. It's challenging to get people to see beyond their own concerns. It's exhausting to come up with creative new approaches at every turn. Young adult ministry feels extra stressful when your time's limited and you don't feel like you have support or understanding.

So, the middle is challenging and stressful. Sometimes it’s exciting, but often it’s lonely.

Stop here for a moment and ask yourself how you are doing. What part of young adult ministry …

… inspires you?

… frightens you?

… overwhelms you?

… puzzles you?

Take a minute to jot down how it feels to be in the middle.

Invite others to join you in the middle

Whether you're excited or terrified by the responsibility placed on you, a common default of young adult ministry leaders is to think they have to do it all on their own.

If you only ever hold conflicting opinions and realities on your own, you may unintentionally be reinforcing a message to your congregation that young adult ministry rises and falls on you. Inadvertently, you're teaching people to expect you to be the young adult problem solver—and when things go wrong, the lightning rod for blame.

A discernment team can be a helpful antidote to feeling alone and stuck in the middle. This group's primary role is not to carry out your ideas, but to discern with you as you seek the best way to develop the ministry.

Create a discernment team by inviting those you trust to offer helpful perspectives on how your faith community can serve its young adults. Since we do young adult ministry with young adults, not just for them, recruit a team in which approximately half are young adults, and the other half are adults who care (elders, parents and stepparents, mentors, or grandparents).

Stop here for a moment and ask yourself: Who might you invite into the middle to help you discern what’s best for your young adult ministry? Perhaps you could jot down a few names right now.

Let's meet in the middle

Churches want to “get their acts together" to serve young adults. Yet leaders who participated in our research cohorts admitted that they needed more than simple solutions to young adult ministry—they needed each other.

As we conducted research through the pandemic, some of the exciting stories we heard were about ministry leaders leaning on one another as they navigated one of the most isolating times in history. Let’s remember that when the pandemic ends, as a ministry leader you may still feel isolated and continue to need support, connection, and togetherness. If the middle is feeling like an uneasy space for you, here’s good news: you don’t have to go it alone.

These and more findings from over a dozen years of research and working intensively with over 40 congregations, 80 ministry leaders, and 80 young adults, have informed a brand-new resource collection called Young Adult Ministry Now, including an ebook I’ve written with you—the youth pastor, young adult ministry leader, or next-gen pastor—in mind. You can download this resource and equip yourself with essential information about young adults, reliable discipleship approaches, and practical steps to get you going right away.

Equally as important, we’re working hard to provide a place where you can "meet in the middle" with other young adult ministry leaders like you.

Tweet this: Young adult ministry feels extra stressful when your time's limited and you don't feel like you have support or understanding. Here’s help for young adult ministry leaders who feel stuck in the middle.

Young Adult Ministry Now

It’s time to take the mystery out of young adult ministry.


Discover a brand-new resource collection to help you lead vibrant young adult ministry with confidence and clarity. Get Young Adult Ministry Now resources and training today. 

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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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