27 Jun, 2015 Chapter 10
YOUNG ADULTS MINISTRY – THE NEW PARADIGM
It doesn’t take many Youth Pastors long to realise that most of the ‘success’ they feel they may have had is actually all a bit of an illusion. Specifically, it will take about four to five years to realise this, by which time most of their first generation of youth will have ‘graduated’ out of their youth ministry. It will then be discovered that in today’s world, youth ministry is not enough!
Young Adults Ministry is the destiny of every Youth Pastor.
Many Churches are grappling with this area. As discussed in the introduction of this book, this is the demographic where many leave the Churches they were a part of in their youth. Times are changing (and, in truth, have already changed), and many Churches are realising they need to adapt if they are to keep more of their young people in their Churches beyond the days of their youth.
... in today's world, youth ministry is not enough! Young Adults Ministry is the destiny of every Youth Pastor
Let’s consider this topic on a very practical level. We will discuss what we can do to successfully integrate older youth into a tertiary young adults ministry, and also explore the nature or ‘DNA’ of that ministry, in as much as that might help meet their felt needs.
What ‘graduation’ should be:
A key problem for newly ‘graduated’ young adults (from Secondary Education, including Junior College) is negotiating the transition out of a youth ministry with its high level of energy, vision and faith. They loved being a part of that. But the young adults ministry (if there even is one), may not have the same momentum. It all feels like a big let down, and within two years they already look back on the days of their youth as if they were better days.This is not to mention that many are already, within those first two years, irregular in their attendance at Church.
They won't all just come because this is the Church they 'belong' to!... This generation needs to believe that a genuine vision exists for their growth.
The way to get P6 youth (twelve year olds) to be excited about coming to the youth ministry is all about:
(a) Selling them the vision of why it is important (purpose proceeds program)
(b) Inspiring them with how they will grow / benefit, and
(c) Promoting how great the programs will be (the programming being targetted at meeting their felt needs).
I suspect that it may not have been as necessary to be intentional in the way this transition was done twenty or thirty years ago, because there were not so many things or groups vying for these young peoples attention and time. But taking time to ‘sell’ the vision to them now-days seems to be necessary to most, if we are to keep the majority of them in attendance.
It’s no different for the young adult transition. Culture has changed, and we can adapt!
The young adults are looking for a calling, not a group just to learn in.
A relaxed, social young adults ministry, based around small groups, is probably not going to hold young adults together like it did a decade or two ago! In today’s fast paced, media overloaded world, young adults somehow expect more.
1. Tertiary aged Young Adults Ministries must have a compelling vision for the discipling of their members
The young adults today are asking, ‘What is in it for me?’ This is not a silly or selfish question. They are working out whether turning up is worth their time. Many things are vying for their time, and so, if the ministry does not have a clear vision it may not be worth their time! What is for sure is that they won’t all just come because this is the Church they ‘belong’ to! This generation that needs to believe that a genuine vision and purpose exists. If not, they will just go where their friends go (which may be the beach).
Like little consumers, many of these guys still need to be intentionally discipled, and need to be encouraged along with attractive and exciting programs too! It might seem like we are baby sitting them - but that is exactly the point. Something has changed, and it is essential that we understand it if we are to be effective with more than a small few.
Some may think that good programs are the key to keeping young adults. While good programs are important, as we shall discuss soon, if they are not accompanied by a clear vision, many will not be interested. Programs are still a very strong motivator of twelve year olds, but not the strongest motivator of eighteen year olds, if you want to keep them coming. In other words, they will come for a while, but this generation will tire of the programs more quickly. They need to know there is a real reason to be there; a reason worthy of their commitment; a calling significant enough to respond to. If you want them to attend, you need to call them to a purpose! I believe this to be the most powerful factor. This is what youth ministries discovered ten and twenty years ago (depending where you live). In some places games could be completely abandoned, being replaced with passionate worship and preaching – and the youth came. Something changed. Don’t doubt that!
2. Young Adults Ministries must have content that will impact their lives.
In running a youth ministry, a lot of effort goes into giving relevant, engaging and challenging content. Youth are intentionally confronted with God’s truth, and challenged to respond.
What young adult ministries need is no different! If you apply the same principles contextually (the leadership style does have to change a little), they will be impacted. And, if they are being impacted they will (a) want to be there, and (b) bring their friends. Meeting felt needs is important – and that takes resources! Staff will be needed!
For in Singapore I believe that many young adults ministries, if they could just do the basics, could grow quite easily through catching all the young adults who are giving up on their other Churches. The young people are walking around looking for places that reflect that they have found a genuine meaning for life, and connected with a spiritual reality. The young adults are looking for a calling, not just a group to learn in. The irony, in my observation, is that very few Churches manage to do these basics! There are, however, others who are doing them very well, and benefiting from it. We can learn from their approach and ethos.
... in my experience here in Singapore it seemed to be easier to get new friends along to tertiary young adults events than it was to get new friends to youth events.
3. Young Adults Ministries need good programs!
Please don’t be naive to think that they are adults. They are not! While they want to be called to a purpose, they still want to have fun!
Please, also, don’t assume that they are mature disciples, for they are not! Many have yet to develop sufficient depth of conviction in the things that they ‘learnt’ in the years of their youth to sustain themselves. They still depend on the crowd. This is what I suspect many have yet processed through to a point of application. Like little consumers, many of these guys still need to be intentionally discipled, and need to be encouraged along with attractive and exciting programs too! It might seem like we are baby sitting them – but that is exactly the point. Something has changed, and it is essential that we understand it if we are to be effective with more than a small few.
Our Tertiary Young Adults have, in a way, become more like our youth. Maybe they are not becoming ‘adults’ as early as they once did, in terms of their need to take on adult responsibilities. They are less accepting of what they hear. They are more skeptical – but they don’t always feel the need to speak that out. Faith can be a private thing, and thus the skepticism can be unseen too. It is taking longer for the convictions of faith to sustainably ‘drop’ into the hearts of this generation than a few decades ago.
They are, at the same time, less inclined to join a group because of an obligation to someone who told them that this is where they ‘belong’. And so, if their felt needs are not met – whether those needs are for a sense of purpose, or just for a social life – they may not come. So, both the building of a corporate momentum through programs and the intentional feeding of passion are still important for their growth – just like youth ministry.
There must be vision. There must be content. And there must be programs.
…and, in case you’re not getting the point still, these are needed in a way that is more intense than it was a couple of decades ago.
Let’s consider some possible activities:
(1) You have a Youth Camp, so have a Tertiary Young Adults Camp!
It will strengthen their relationships!
Even campus ministries have camps in the July holidays. We should be doing the same! Aren’t our Church’s young adults ministries more important! We do well to be reminded that para-Church ministries only exist in as much as they meet needs that the local Churches are unable to meet. If the local Churches grow more mature, it is right and good that some para-Church organisations will be done out of a job. This is how it is supposed to work. This then forces the para-Church ministries to readjust. In time they will naturally find new ‘gaps’ in what the Churches are doing, giving reason for their existence through the next generation of the Church.
It is not wise for a Church to not disciple its tertiary young adults because it assumes the campus ministries will do it. Para-Church ministries do these jobs because of our (the local Churches) negligence or inadequacy. We should learn. In so doing, we fulfill God’s plan of releasing para-Church ministries to other needs that are, as yet, unmet. Such pioneer work is the calling of para-Church ministries. Such is the healthy, and natural process.
Camps build fresh momentum in a ministry. Camps build team – amazingly! Camps deepen and broaden members’ relationship base. Camps unite members together in pursuit of their vision.
Why are so many tertiary young adult ministries not having camps?
(2) Have social events
You had them with the youth. Have them with the young adults, and appreciate that they are actually important. By the time these guys are twenty-seven and working long hours, they won’t be so interested. But when they are twenty, they are craving it. Let them come up with the ideas. Let them run the events. Your job is to facilitate so as to make sure these events happen. If the programs are run and they connect with their felt needs, the young adults will come, and you will quickly have the opportunity for growth, for they will bring their friends.
... get them to think about how things will change, and how they can overcome the potential challenges.
(I don’t know if others share this experience – but in my experience here in Singapore, it seemed to be easier to get new friends along to tertiary young adults events than it was to get new friends to youth events. This goes against my logic, but it has been my experience. I think Singaporean National Service Men and tertiary students are craving healthy social interaction! If this felt need can be tapped into, initial growth in numbers could come easily – but keeping the numbers would require a fuller picture, such as is discussed in the first three points above.)
(3) Give importance to large group gatherings
This is about creating the ‘large group’. I observed that in some Churches the need for tertiary young adults to ‘congregate’ is overlooked. This is likely because they are seen as a part of the adult congregation, and so large group meetings are not really necessary. Maybe because they meet in small groups, and this is where ‘real discipleship’ can best happen, this is considered to be enough.
I humbly suggest that larger group ‘congregating’ is important.
If they are technically a part of the adult services, then maybe you could consider a monthly Tertiary Young Adults fellowship so as to create a ‘congregating’ platform for this demographic. This could run like a relaxed Church service, maybe once a month on a Friday night, or something similar. But what is important is it’s passion, and building a sense of unity, or togetherness, in that. What is important is the dynamic of this meeting, because these guys are looking for a reason to live (see the need for a clear vision, point one, at the start of this chapter). If you want them to be passionate about their faith, most of them, from my observation, haven’t yet developed a self-sustaining level of conviction on faith matters by the ages of nineteen or twenty-one. Thus we (the Pastors) still have a role in motivating, inspiring and challenging them.
So, have a monthly tertiary young adults fellowship, or Friday night service or whatever other idea suits you, but run it with the same dynamic and motivation, with vision casting and passion as you had when you ran the youth ministry. At their stage of development, this is what they still need. It is only when they reach their mid-twenties (maybe twenty two or twenty four or…) that the dynamic finally changes for the majority.
... those who struggle with the transition often do not tell us with their mouths - but may tell us with their feet.
There will be some who mature in faith sooner, of course. But we are talking generalities here. By their mid-twenties they will hopefully have developed the conviction to be able to sustain their Christian lives without need for such direct challenging. If putting it ‘condescendingly’ is helpful for understanding: The need for ‘baby-sitting’ is only then reaching its end.
(4) Continue with your Cell Ministry
This never changes. This is the constant. It is still all about relationships. In fact, at tertiary young adults level, it is even more about the relationship than it was when they were youth. These guys are at a stage where they are craving more depth in their relationships. So we can provide the context for this in our small groups. The small groups are also where true discipleship takes place, where lives can rub up against each other, and character and understandings become sharpened.
(5) Other ministries (worship, AV, drama…) can downscale
The reason for this is that, assuming you don’t have a weekly young adults service, you are likely intentionally starting to merge these tertiary young adults into the adult congregation. Instead of duplicating all of the ministries that existed at the youth level, at a young adult level only a few might be needed – for the rest this is maybe the time to encourage them to serve in the adult congregation’s ministries instead. A transition is taking place. Its just that we’re not forcing it to happen in just one year.
For example, you don’t need a full AV ministry if you only ‘congregate’ once a month. You don’t even really need a welcome ministry because you and your Cell Group leaders could do that relationally. Etc.
To run a successful Tertiary Young Adults Ministry I suggest that all we have to do is apply the same leadership principles as when we were running the youth ministry, only in a different gear. Lessen the intensity of the programs – but not the passion. Create more informal ‘socialising’ space. Ask deeper questions and let them talk more in group discussions. There are different dynamics, but it’s the same principles.
Here are some additional thoughts, and ‘start-out’ tips
If you have come from youth ministry, all your new leaders were fifteen years old, had no skills, limited perspectives, zits, confidence problems, and squeaky voices. But now your leaders have actual maturity – they can nearly be called adults. Leadership development is easier! In addition, many who showed no leadership ability in earlier years (because they were too young) now show ability because they have matured. Unlike the past when you were in youth ministry, you now have leaders coming out of your ears!
Take time to look for new leaders from amongst those you previously ‘disregarded’ for leadership roles, because they are older and maturer now.
Keep the same leadership development focus (you will build the future leadership of the Church if you sustain it), but you can expect a higher level of comprehension. It is easier to teach, because they will be more engaged with the content.
Better than just having more leaders who are now ready to learn and try things, these leaders are now becoming capable of overseeing things at a whole new level too. Their leadership skill level has increased, because they are more mature. Your job just keeps getting easier and easier – but the challenge is to not yet let the momentum wind down.
Your leadership style needs to change, because they really can oversee many things on their own. With youth ministry leaders, while your involvement may have been quite intensively hands-on, they made many mistakes… With young adults, it really is more ‘hands off’, and they will make less mistakes.
However, you are still the vision carrier, and they will need continual motivating. These are your job. So don’t neglect your core work, and do not yet assume they are mature enough to sustain their passion and focus without you. But note that, in the execution of the programs, you are increasingly a facilitator rather than the executor.
Their ability to comprehend concepts has gone to a new level. Teaching is now easier. You can also get them to take turns at teaching things, researching topics, and presenting their findings. Teaching in groups can be much more fun, because you can involve the members at a new level.
You need a new curriculum (content that builds upon what was given at the youth ministry, but at the next level).
You need deeper content, engaging their minds, but also training them in how to think critically (logically and analytically, so they can develop discernment of truth from error).
You will thus need (1) a platform to sustain the vision and passion. Something such as monthly fellowships could work for that.
You then need (2) a platform to teach all these other things. A combination of monthly fellowships, cell groups and seminars can all work for that.
(4) ‘Tertiary Young Adults Ministry Integration’
Just as you had an integration program for the P6s (twelve year olds) when they joined the youth ministry, you need the same for the new young adults. I warn you that there is a lot of content below on this – this is because these transitions are just so important! This is the easiest place to lose people, but much of that can be averted.
a. Mentally preparing members for the coming changes six months in advance:
They need to be mentally prepared half way through their last year of secondary education (JC2, Poly 2 or 3) for the fact that a season of change is coming up. It is helpful to get them to think about how things will change, and how they will overcome the potential challenges of National Service, holidays, tertiary education, making new friends, etc. This is called ‘cognitive restructuring’ – they become mentally prepared for the changes, and thus become prepared for how they will respond.
I have usually done this by casually walking in on their cell group meetings for short five minute chats, asking how things are going, what their plans are, and telling them a little of what is in store for them in the transition to the young adults ministry.
b. Prepare Cell Group leaders for the extra effort needed six months in advance:
The Cell Group leaders (if they graduate up as a group, which I recommend as this would give a continuity of relationships at a time when everything else is changing) will need preparation to give extra support and encouragement to their members in the first half of the next year. This is because this is when the members will be struggling with their transitions. No doubt some will stop attending, and so they will need to be readied to give extra time to follow up with them. It would also be wise to encourage the Cell Group leaders to work extra hard in strengthening their Cell Group’s ‘core team’ (core members who share leadership responsibilities in the Cell) so they can share the extra load of leadership and motivating that will be needed in the first six to nine months of the transition. In my observation a number do become irregular. The extra effort in personal visitation and phone calls… will be needed.
c. Have a graduation ‘ceremony’ in your youth ministry:
We usually do this in one of the last youth services of the year. We do three things: (a) We invite some to share a testimony of how God has changed them since they started attending youth ministry to encourage all the youth, (b) we thank them, giving them a book gift (I give them each a copy of ‘Ordering Your Private World’ by Gordon MacDonald, as it is an exceptional book on the importance of personal spirituality), and (c) we pray for them.
d. Have a ‘Young Adults Life Orientation Program’:
At these they can sit down to specifically discuss the potential challenges of NS (National Service) or University life, so they can be further prepared for them (i.e., cognitive restructuring). This can be run by some who are just two or three years older than them, who can lead simple discussion and share their own experiences.
The hoped for conclusion of this is that they come to a renewed commitment to daily devotions, fellowship, Christian friendships because they recognise that they will need strength from God to triumph over any coming temptations and struggles, but also that they develop a perspective that they do have what it takes to triumph these challenges if they ready themselves first!
e. Stagger the transitions:
Have you ever considered that asking a youth to leave a youth ministry from a given date could be damaging to them? For many, the youth ministry has been their ‘spiritual home’ for the past six years, and their attachment to it (as their ‘congregation’) is significantly stronger than the attachment they may have felt to the children’s ministry. Their entire adult life has been lived as a part of that group!
As such, I recommend against forcing them to leave the youth service from the day of their ‘graduation ceremony’. Instead, have them leave (a) as a group, or (b) only when the whole group feels ready to leave. In my experience, most groups have chosen (that is the key word here, as they cannot blame anyone for ‘pushing them out’ – that being the important point) to stop attending the youth service within three months to six months of their graduation to the young adults ministry.
Some Cell Group Leaders have wanted the Cell to stop immediately, at the start of the year, stating that ‘the group wanted to’. But I believe it might have been only a few members who had expressed this, which they misunderstood to represent the whole group, and thus declined their request until they were really sure. I have seen how the groups have benefited from this staggered transition (and how some struggled when we did not do it), and so am convinced of its benefits in today’s climate.
To ‘kick a person out’ of what they consider to be their congregation can be damaging! Some will truly struggle with resentment, and for some it could trigger feelings of ‘abandonment’ if they had had bad family experiences earlier in life. A person should never be pushed out of their spiritual home! Thus we do well to find a way in which they can choose it for themselves. We can create the environment and options that help them make that choice, but that give them time to process it!
In my view, they are only ready to leave when they really want to leave, and as a whole group.
An additional benefit of their moving on by choice, and as a whole group, is that they will have momentum as a group. They are now much more likely to succeed in the transition because they have now grown to feel a greater affinity to, or belonging to the the young adults ministry than the youth ministry. The Young Adults Ministry is now – by combined choice – their new spiritual home.
I pray this point is understood, for those who struggle with the transition often do not tell us with their mouths, but may tell us with their feet.
An additional benefit is that, by having continued weekly attendance at the youth ministry for a season, the habit of turning up at a particular time and place helps them keep attending, while everything else in their life goes into a state of flux (changes in school, etc.). It can be of benefit that the transition to young adults ministry does not fall entirely at the same time as their transitions to new schools and classes and friends…
Doing such is called pastoral leadership, recognising the things they may be dealing with, and thus planning things so as to be of greatest support to them.
f. Have a ‘welcome program’ to the Young Adults Ministry:
At this, they can be welcomed to the tertiary young adults ministry by all the young adults (just as they once were welcome to the youth ministry by the youth). This could be at the first large group Tertiary Young Adults fellowship meeting they attend. Young Adults can share testimonies of how they have grown in the young adults ministry, to give them a vision of how they will grow. The Pastor can share the vision of the ministry to broaden the vision caught through the testimonies. The various opportunities for their growth in the coming year can be laid out for them to see, showing them just what they might do to grow in the ways described in the testimonies and vision that’s been cast. This program can be promoted so they can feel some excitement at what is in store for them. This all also serves to help them understand how the young adults ministry will be different to the youth ministry, but at the same time, reassuring them that it is (a) the same vision, (b) the same passion, and (c) a friendly place where they will receive the same love, care and encouragement. When they feel assured of this, they will feel secure, and thus be willing to come back!
g. Give their Cell Group a first content that will help with the transition:
As their first content, we have found it a great ‘boost’ for the group to do Rick Warren’s ’40 days of Community’ series, using the DVDs. This will help them establish themselves better as a group, standing now separate from the more intense ‘mothering nature’ of the youth ministry. The natural momentum and ‘team work’ of the course helps motivate members to attend Cell Group meetings, which now, for the first time, may be at a new time and place.
Hopefully these tips for guiding these transitions can be of some benefit.
The idea of a ‘Youth and Young Adults Pastor’
(a consideration for Senior Pastors):
Have you considered giving someone responsibility for oversight of these two ministries? A growing number of Churches are structuring themselves this way. This person can thus oversee the transitions from Sunday School to youth, and from youth to young adults ministry. This person can also strategise a discipleship plan that can grow youth from from age twelve through to their mid-twenties, by which time they will hopefully have developed a sustainable maturity in their faith.
I propose that this kind of thinking (even if not this kind of staffing) is the way forward. I will share thoughts on ‘curriculum’ for youth and young adults ministries in the next chapter.
How to find Young Adults Pastors
(another consideration for Senior Pastors):
This note just has to be made. Finding Youth Pastors is challenging, but finding Young Adults Pastors is easy!
Firstly, many working young adults in your Church may want the job, because this is a truly pleasurable age group to work with. Consider what this groups has. They have, youthfulness and energy (it’s exciting); comprehension (you can feel you are getting somewhere in teaching them); hunger for learning (they engage you in the content, encouraging you on); true leadership ability (not everything has to rest on you, so it is easier); and can give you ‘adult’ relationship (it’s hardly cross-cultural at all when compared to relating as an adult to twelve year olds).
In short, Young Adults Ministry can be fruitful, and it’s really fun!
So, who do you choose?
You want the best person, not just someone teeming with fresh passion. You want someone with ability, and even experience. Consider – you already have such a person!
Consider also that the way to run a really successful young adults ministry today is to apply the same leadership skill sets involved in running a youth ministry (large and small group leadership, vision, programming, leadership development etc.), but in a ‘geared down’ way, giving increased depth in content, increased room for relationship, and a higher sense of release in the delegation of responsibilities (a more ‘group’ based leadership style). Who might know how to do all that?
It’s your Youth Pastor!
And young adults ministry is not only the destiny of every Youth Pastor, it is their reward, for they (a) get to see the discipleship of the youth they have served the previous five or more years in the youth ministry through to a place of sustainable maturity, and at the same time, (b) are given a means of release from the rigours of youth ministry (for most are probably quite wearied and more than willing to make the transition after about five years).
In consideration of this point…
(a) The average Youth Pastor really is feeling a wearied by about five years. A way to help keep them healthy is to give them something fresh to do, and in this case a potentially easier job as well.
(b) Your Youth Pastor has the needed skill set. Young Adults ministries need leading in a new paradigm. The Youth Pastor only needs to repackage his or her skill set a little to be ready to lead the ministry well.
(c) Your Youth Pastor also has the vested interest, because they have already put a few years of their life into discipling these very young adults they now meet with. They will believe in the importance of what they are doing! Because of this, they may give more to it than others would. They will also transition really easily, because they already know everyone.
Resourcing for Tertiary Young Adults Ministry
(a note for Senior Pastors)
As was discussed in point five of chapter ten, I believe that young adults ministries now need increased resourcing, in comparison to a couple of decades ago.
If we consider what it would take to lead the above well, the job is moving beyond that of a volunteer – if you have the numbers to be able to justify it.
I would caution that, if you do employ a Young Adults Pastor, that you do not see this as another person to be busied with a great many differing roles. too often the Young Adults Pastor also has to oversee the welcome ministry, car park ministry and Christian education programs of the Church… The reasons are understandable, but by doing this they are made too ‘busied’ to actually provide the kind of leadership needed to really grow the tertiary young adults ministry.
The point of this chapter is that the paradigm has changed. It is not only that someone needs to oversee the ministry, but that the paradigm of that leadership needs to be considered, and that effectiveness will likely take more energy now than it did a few decades ago.
The inspiring vision, to me, is that we could succeed in discipling young people right through from twelve years old through to twenty five. We could produce young adults who hate sin, are free from worldly attachments, who love God, know their spiritual gifts, have experience in Christian service and leadership, are full of faith, and are thus equipped and ready to serve God in this lost world.
I am inspired by this vision, and pray you would be also.
Something to reflect upon
1. Do you agree with this cultural assessment of how tertiary young adults might be different to a decade or two ago, and how leadership styles might need to adjust – just as they did in many youth ministries a decade ago? (You could discuss this with a group of leaders and members).
2. What is your vision for your youth and tertiary young adults? Is it compelling? How clearly are you selling it? How often are you selling it?
3. How passionate are you about the discipleship of the tertiary young adults? Is this just a ministry you are ‘managing’ casually, or are you truly investing your life and passion into it? (A key with this age group is that the passion needs to not be geared down. It really needs the same momentum as at the youth ministry!)
4. How much energy and thought is going into your programs? What fun things could you do that might really excite your tertiary young adults? (They are young – you could help give them adventurous experiences they will talk about for the rest of their lives!)
5. Who could you get together with to discuss the potential future vision and path for this ministry? Would it be possible to sell this vision to your Senior Pastor?
6. Which of the seven ‘Tertiary Young Adults Ministry Integration steps (a to g) could you achieve in the coming year’s integration? Who could help accomplish the various components of this, so you could begin to build a team for this for the long run?