Bridging the Youth-Young Adult Divide
One of the greatest values of the United Methodist Church is our commitment to understanding the diversity of experiences in our churches across the globe and new and effective means of ministry through that diversity. It makes every gathering, every conference call, and every web chat full of excitement and opportunities for learning. During my recent trip to the Caring for Creation Conference, a faith-based conference designed to help futher people's love of God and neighbor through deepening our relationship to God as revealed in creation, I was able to engage in several conversations speaking to the power of this diversity and how it can help the church overcome some of its shortcomings. One of the Opportunities in ministry with young people is the drop off in church attendance as young people age from youth to young adult. A recent Barna study found that almost 40% of young people who were active in the church as youth do not remain as active in the church as young adults as they were in high school. In other words, the church does a poor job of continuing good patterns of discipleship in this age group (but contrary to popular belief it is not because the cllege experience is necessarily hostile to faith or causes students to lose their faith). Christian Piatt, a writer and speaker on Young Adult ministry, gave his own experience with the church when he was in that intermediate age:
“When I went to college, I was contacted by fraternities, campus activity groups and credit card companies, but not one church. The only connection I had with religion was the ridiculous guy who (literally) stood on a box with a bullhorn in the union garden and yelled at us about our sinful ways. I could have used support in how to deal with my own finances for the first time. I could have used a built-in network of friends. I would have loved a care package, an invitation for free pizza at the local restaurant or help with my laundry. What I got was the goof with the bullhorn.”I met a person who is on staff at a church that has tried to reverse this trend in an interesting way. When a youth graduates from high school and goes off to college, the congregation makes a commitment to have a member of the church to go and visit that student at college. The students greatly appreciate the chance to visit with a familiar face from home and is able to maintain an ongoing connection the Church throughout their college years. Through the simple act of people taking college students out to lunch or coffee, the church has set into motion a reversal of the statics I mentioned above, and allow students to continue their path of discipleship during the shift from youth to young adult. Ministry with young people takes creativity, but it can also be found in simple acts of discipleship and relationship. I love hearing about stories like these.