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!
One of the struggles, I think, is that there are so many different life stages encompassed by the category of "Youth and Young Adults". I am reminded of a "YYA" event I attended at Synod with some of my fellow 2030 Clergy Network colleagues: we walked in to a lovely hotel conference room with a well-stocked refreshment table… and about fifteen college students… and became very aware very quickly that this was not actually an event for people ages 18-30, it was an event for people ages 18-22. So we left. In our planning for our 2030 events, we've found it far more useful to group people by interest-affinities. We build in a time — usually a lunch spot — where, say, all the Single Clergy can get together and talk, while all the folks who, say, have small children, can gather and have their conversations as well. That way, everybody can connect with others who share the same experiences, so they can learn from each other and know they're not alone. It's also a great way, under the umbrella category of "Clergy in their 20s and 30s," to celebrate our diversity!
You're ideas are great, Mary! We are attempting to have such affinity groups gatherings at the Iowa Conference Annual Meeting this year (for young adults and others). I'll let you know how it works!