Sometime late last summer, I decided to hold an informal retreat for young adults. I thought late December might be a better time because of vacations and school breaks. Despite what I thought would be good timing, not enough people signed up for the event and it was canceled.
I always try to learn from failure, so I sent a Facebook message to some of the young adults I know in the Iowa Conference UCC to see where I might have gone wrong. Of course, timing was named as a possible impediment. (I was not surprised. Not having enough time is always a problem.) Then, I asked those who responded what kinds of things they might want to do if we attempted such an event again. One person suggested that we could hold a service project. That might get more people to attend.
That suggestion really got me thinking. I wondered if the real reason young adults didn’t attend this (and other events) is because there simply isn’t interest in gathering with a bunch of other young adults. After all, young adults can be a lot of really different people – young parents, college students, people just entering the workforce, etc. Just because they are in their 20s doesn’t necessarily mean their lives have much in common.
Perhaps what young adults (and all people) really crave is a deeper sense of purpose and mission – tangible ways to live out their faith in the world. In the gospel, Jesus most often taught by example. He showed us how to reach out to marginalized people. By doing this, he taught us that what we believe has EVERYTHING to do with what we’re doing in our lives. Living faith gives people a sense of significance that few other things can.
Having a gospel-filled sense of purpose is something that ALL people of faith can rally around. You don’t have to be young, old or middle aged to show God’s love through acts of justice, mercy and kindness. Don’t try to gather people by age group – just give them a solid sense of purpose. That transcends age. And, maybe, people will MAKE time to do things infused with this higher purpose.
I know this suggestion might sound a little weird from someone whose job it is to support youth and young adult ministries in the Iowa Conference UCC. But, I’m willing to put myself out of a job if all people in churches are engaged in relevant and transformational mission and ministry. Go do it!