The Gap: Young Adult Leadership
October 26, 2010
Updated July 10, 2018
10 comments 149 views
One prevalent problem in our churches is disappearance of people from age 18 to 30. Even the most active youth group kids seem to go away to college and virtually disappear off of the congregations' radar. There are many possible reasons why this, but chief among them has to be that when they return, their home church no longer feels like home. When you are an authentic member of a household, there are certain things that are thrust upon you that aren't given to guests. For instance, there is a real space for you where you belong, you are not merely crashing on the couch or sleeping on the floor. Secondly, chores or responsibilities are assigned to you; guests do not do dishes or mow the lawn, but family members do. Finally, as a member of the family or household you have some platform to speak and be heard by the other members, whereas a guest should be politely quiet. Our young adults — especially the single ones — are not finding these things in most of our churches. As a result, we tend to have very few young adults that faithfully attend our churches, and even fewer that have any real leadership responsibilities.
There is much that we can do to combat this problem within our own churches, but at The Leadership Exchange (a new denominational ministry of the CRCNA) we are trying to address this problem from a denominational level. Currently we are planning a round table discussion for the end of August with young adult leaders from all over North America. At this event, we plan to discuss the current state of young adult leadership in the church (from their perspective) and also to begin planning a potential Young Leaders Summit to correspond with Synod 2012. We are currently seeking participants for this discussion, so if you are interested or if you know some young adults who might be good candidates to be passionate catalysts for change within our denomination then please contact me for more information. We must pursue young adults for two reasons, they need to be a real part of the covenant community, and quite possibly we need them even more.
As William Willimon says, "For all of us older people, young adults make following Jesus exciting again."
Leadership Exchange Young Adult Coordinator
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At our most recent elders meeting, we discussed this very issue. One easy (but hopefully significant) change we made was to assign young adults to a district separate from their parents. So, for those that grew up in our church, they move from Youth Elder to their 'own' district at the age of 18.
Hopefully that helps remind them - and us! - that they are an adult member/attender in their own right. They'll get the same elder visit as any other member, including a conversation about their participation in the life of the church. And the lines won't be so blurred as when they have the same elder as their parents.
I'm looking forward to hearing what comes of your round-table discussion. Keep us posted.
And, in the meantime, what other things have churches done to be better enfold young adults into the full life of the church?
I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Grand Rapids Christian Connect - might be a useful crowdsourcing tool, at least locally.
And for what it's worth, I think you hit the nail on the head in your second paragraph.
I'd love to be part of this discussion....I am a young adult and I was hired at Fresno CRC specifically to minister to young adults. This is a topic very near to my heart
For the most part, we are completely upside-down in knowing how to engage the next generation. It really is an epidemic. I'm convinced that Millenials are actually offended if all we will offer them is a seat at the table. Until we are willing to listen and be led by these bright young minds, they will not feel engaged in a church body. That generation does not just want to be welcomed.... they want to have a voice.... and it must be a voice of influence and not just a token vote. How many CRCs have an Elder under 30? How many CRCs can't fathom ever having a 20-something Elder in their midst? Until this upside-down mindset changes, the church will continue to bleed out an entire generation.
I like the way you think, Dave. I'm probably preaching to the choir here. In my expeirence young adults do not feel trusted, valued, or encouraged. Sure they feel valued that they attend church. But their perspective about where to go with the church is rarely sought or adhered.
I've encouraged several of our young adults to consider being elders and deacons. They are conviced they cannot do the job, why? I'm convinced it's because they have not been encouraged/challenged/taught that they can. I think they have subliminally received the message from their elders that they are not fit to lead.
Christian Reformed Church of North America, how badly do we want our denomination to be around in 30 years? Are we willing to let young adults lead the church to a new place even if it makes us uncomfortable?
Our young adults need to know that we cannot survive with out them. I'm not talking only about membership and involvement; we need their leadership and perspective. We live in a rapidly changing world and we need their leadership and perspective to help us thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Ken, thanks for bringing up this crucial topic. I'm a parent of two great young adults, and I've worked with teen leaders in the past. I have been very impressed with their level of thinking and spiritual commitment -- far beyond where I was at their age. I agree with Dave that these current and future leaders need to be specifically encouraged to lead, and the rest of us need to be humble (and flexible) enough to accept their gifts.
Specific question for the Leadership Exchange -- are you working with colleges and universities to help identify young Christians with leadership potential? Are there other organizations you are partnering with to find youth leaders?
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Currently we are making plans to co-host a leadership/spiritual retreat with Calvin College. This will function as sort of a pilot event; if it goes well we hope to reproduce the success at all of the affiliated schools--Redeemer, Dordt, and Trinity--and make it an anual event.
We also hope to be able to support secular campus ministries by providing their student leaders with some form of leadership training workshops.
Thanks for your interest!
Let me know if you have any more questions.
Hello everyone, and thanks for your great comments!
I thought I should post an update of what has been happening since I first posted this article. You can download a copy of the manifesto that was put together by the young adult leaders that attended the roundtable discussion at the end of August 31st here:
Feel free to print it, email it, and share it with anyone who might be interested!
Also, here is the latest Banner article chronicling the event:
Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Leadership Exchange Young Adult Coordinator
A Wild Thought:
Since we have, according to some sociologists, 5 or 6 generations in a typical congregation (Builders, Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, etc.) I have an idea. Some churches try to have equal numbers of men and women in leadership - thus more equally representing the congregation. Other churches have made attempts at having people of different political stripes in leadership - again to represent the entire congregation. How about having leaders from each of the 5 or 6 generations in leadership? That might do a better job of representing and understanding the congregation. A church council would have equal numbers of teenagers, 20 somethings, 30 somethings, boomers and builders. Mentoring could be an integral part of that kind of leadership too...
This really resonated with me - thought I'd share!
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