Old First has a growing young adult ministry! Kristen Miller told Michael recently about welcoming a new, young couple at the fellowship hour, “They were really excited to hear we not only have young adults at church, but that we do things together!”
The young adults have been organizing their own fellowship and service events since last fall. They’ve decided to try another activity– going out to brunch after church. Their first such outing is scheduled for Sunday, March 27 after worship. If you are interested, please speak to Beth Davis.
They hope brunch will make their fellowship more open to others, especially newcomers or people who have not yet been part of their activities. Young adults involved in their group are noticing that each Sunday they have new peers at church. They are looking for ways to welcome, include and get to know others. They have been talking with Michael about ways to do that.
In good UCC style, our young adults are a loosely defined group– starting with a few college age people, but mostly in the 23 to about 35 year age range. We’re not telling who, but some folks hanging with the young adults have been “grandparented” in! And, while most don’t have children yet, they’ve decided– for Kristen and Hans who are expecting their first child any day– that parenthood won’t invalidate one’s membership either!
An older member of the church said to Michael recently, “I know church is hardly any of us older people any more; it’s all young people…” It’s not quite that big of a population explosion! But since mainline churches often have difficulties reaching young adults, it’s a noticeable trend and interesting success. Old First is blessed by the new energy our growing number of young adults bring to the life of our whole community. (As we are blessed also by our older members, middle aged folks, the teens and the kids– we want to be a community of everyone).
How are we reaching this group? Some of it is our revitalization strategies at work… or, at least, making the best of the mysterious and gracious workings of the Spirit!
Soon after Michael arrived, he and Jill Soubel had dinner. Jill said to him, if not exactly in these words, “What I want is not to be the only person my age in church.” She also talked about being a young professional person disheartened when, for example, she was out with friends on Saturday night, and she shared that she was planning to get up and go to church in the morning. She laughs and says, “Suddenly I was a pariah, someone people don’t want to associate with anymore… just because I go to church!”
Michael promised to help Jill and Old First attract and welcome other young adults. When he first said that, it was mostly his optimistic nature speaking. The mainline church, in its usual form, isn’t often very successful with people in this age bracket. Yes, some churches have changed their formats completely to reach these people. There is a whole movement in this direction, known as the Emergent Church. But it would be a pretty radical leap for Old First.
More often mainline churches lose young people after confirmation age. If church ever sees them come back, it is usually not until after they’ve started families, their kids old enough to need Sunday School. But when Jill asked, Michael figured, “I came to Old First to see if we can reach more new people, so why not see if we can change that pattern. Or at least, start praying and trusting that God can make a way where there seems to be no way!”
A funny thing happened: Sunday by Sunday, standing in the pulpit, Michael noticed new, young faces. He was doing his best to welcome them, and get to know them. But, funny, they did not, at first, seem to know one another. Or even recognize the arrival of other people in their age group. But over time, we were able to connect these new folks.
Your pastor cannot quite explain all this, except to say that the Holy Spirit seemed to have heard Jill too, and knowing we could receive young people, decided to make it happen. In gratitude, we have responded, doing what we could to help young adults find their place among us.
Young professionals age 25 to 35 became one of the population groups Old First committed to stretching for in its covenant ministry (along with three others populations: families raising children in the city; l,g,b,t folk; and people disappointed by the church– either by perception or experience).
Our revitalization efforts challenged us to develop innovations to reach these population groups. The Community Life Standing Leadership Group invented “Parents Night Out”– the young adults care for the young families’ children so the parents can go out to dinner. The young adults then go out after the kids have been reclaimed by the parents. Ironically, this innovation was hoped to be a form of outreach towards families with young children. It turned out to have more of an effect in our efforts with young adults!
Young adults responded to the invitation that they offer this service to parents. We had about a 3 to 1 ratio of young adults to kids at the first Parents’ Night Out. And the young adults had a well-deserved, great time afterwards. They decided that first Parents’ Night Out, they were going to organize their own on-going, get-togethers.
If you see a young person in church, introduce yourself and welcome them. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first Sunday or not. If you don’t know them, it’s appropriate to greet them. You might also tell them that the young people at Old First are very active these days. And then introduce them to one of them. It’s about building relationships and helping people get involved.
Michael wonders if other groups in church, however their demographic might be defined, could take a lesson from the young adult’s experience? Our Hospitality Teams are supposed to be helping us realize that it takes a whole church to make new people feel welcome and find their home among us.
What if others took on responsibility in some organized way for welcoming and building fellowship with newcomers? Or, let’s make it easier, what if more people started taking advantage of our Old City neighborhood, and every Sunday a group from church went out to brunch… and invited others?
Church, we’re doing a good job of building our fellowship and engaging more people in transformative ministry. We can learn from efforts that don’t work (or work differently than we expected!), and build on our successes…