“They’ll come back when they’re married with kids.”
“Maybe if we have a contemporary service, we can get more young folks to come.”
“If we don’t get more young people, we’re going to die.”
“These young adults just don’t care about anything these days.”
Church people seem to get all frenzied when they talk about the gaping black hole that seems to replace the presence of 18-30 year olds in their churches. Reactions range the spectrum from nonchalant shrugs to expensive bells and whistles meant to lure the young creatures like rodents. Many denominations are putting together new strategies and nondenominational folks are trying to close the back doors.
But what do we do about the generation of Millennials, Postmoderns, Generation Y or whatever label you give them, who are hesitant, distant, and unconcerned about church membership or even the real life offered to them in the Person of Jesus Christ? Do we schedule more “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays, attempt to play Chris Tomlin songs, or arrange a special Sunday School class?
The answer may be Fresh Expressions.
The label “young adult” is a misnomer. Just as in many countries, the word “youth” may describe people up to around age 25, the American “young adult” is more of a life stage than an age, more of a mindset than a marital status, more of a social location than a geographic one. In some ways, it’s an extension of adolescence and a delay of the picture of 1950’s “American Dream” adulthood many of us have come to use as a measure of achievement. But it’s more than that—it’s people, real live people with names, addresses, hopes, dreams, jobs, classes, families, and friends. Some are figuring out married life, others have a child or two, and many are single—never-married or divorced. Social media keeps them connected with friends in far-off places but sometimes awkwardly isolated from those nearby. They consume a large proportion of take-out and frozen foods, and 90% of their Lean Cuisine purchases are eaten alone. Those who venture into the foreign church world usually do so quietly, sporadically, because we don’t even know their names. Groups of young adults who do connect form “tribes” that seek refuge in bars, clubs, gyms, living rooms, and kickball fields, operating as pseudo-families for the time being– usually until the majority graduate, move, marry, or have children.
In my ministry, creating a young adult Fresh Expression is really the work of creating a young adult tribe that acts like a church. The only thing is it looks more like the small community church of Acts instead of the polished church of the young adults’ grandmothers or the perfected performance of the city megachurch. It requires getting names, lots of names, hearing stories, and taking time for lots of coffee, ice cream, and lunches. Go, meet, eat, repeat. It requires substituting a “build it and they will come” mantra with one that says “go, connect, and build.” For me, in the two churches where I’ve experimented with starting young adult ministries, it has meant both working outside the church—at a running store and a community college—and gathering outside the church—in living rooms, bowling alleys, and even Chick Fil A. But the bigger issue is not searching for success in numbers but rather connecting young adults with each other and with an un-churchified Jesus who gives them purpose beyond work and true relationship beyond the bar or kickball. You meet consistently to give consistency. You have fun and adventures because life is fun and adventures.
What are your thoughts on Young Adult Fresh Expressions?
Join me for a workshop session at the Fresh Expressions National Gathering in March, where we’ll hash out more in this conversation.
Kris Beckert is the Coordinator of Operations and Communications for Fresh Expressions U.S. and associate pastor/ church-planter-in-residence at Real Life Chapel in Easton, MD.
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.