Skip to main content

 In our area right now, it is a big problem that when people get to their early twenties, many of them leave the church where they've spent their entire lives and go to another church.  For us it seems that people are just going to another church because everyone else goes to that church.  What really kills me is that around here, this "cool" church is actually a "non-denominational" Baptist church.  In order to participate in ministry there, these folks must be re-baptized, since this church does not recognized infant baptism.

To try to combat this problem, we are starting a Young Adult ministry at our church, but it has been hard to get it off the ground.  It has been in its infant stages for about the past year.  We have a regular schedule going now, but only about 6 or 7 people attend regularly.  Does anyone have a success story about getting a young adults program off the ground?  We're just looking for some ideas to get it moving.


Can you help give us a feel for what you're trying?  What kind of people are leading it? What is your church's pastor like? What is your church's worship style like? Are young adults involved in leadership in any other areas of the church? What's your church's history with young adults? Do you have strong small group ministry? Children's ministry? Would you say your church is actively missional in your local community? WIth that in hand, we may be able to give some better advice......

 There are a few things we are trying right now.  We meet every Sunday after church for a Bible study during Sunday school hour.  This fall we are scheduled to meet two Thursday a month for a "local" event (something we can do at church or nearby - bowling, manhunt, kickball, etc) and one Saturday a month for a bigger event (apple picking, trip to Rockefeller Center, laser tag, etc).  Right now I am leading it with one other guy.  We're both in the age group we are trying to target (20 somethings).  He happens to be a deacon, and I am also the director of music at the church.

Our church is sort of in a period of transition right now.  Our pastor passed away suddenly just over a year ago and we are in the process of searching for another.  Our worship style officially is blended (unofficially I'd say its blended-leaning-contemporary).  There are a number of young adults involved in church leadership, including youth leaders, search team, council, praise team, etc.

Our church has a thriving Jr. High youth ministry (75+ students attend weekly), and an up-and-coming Sr. High ministry.  Our church has some trouble retaining students from Jr. High to Sr. High.  The Jr. High ministry is made up mostly of students that don't have a church home.  (Rough estimate - 25% from our church, 35% from other churches, 40% un-churched).  During the summer our church has an 8-week day camp, which is made up of 60%+ un-churched students.

The small group ministry at our church is growing, but is mostly geared towards "middle-aged" adults. There is no small group that exists for the 20's age group.  When I've asked about that, I've been told that I would be more than welcome to create one.  But I've been too busy with other responsibilities at church to be able to create a small group on top of that.

My church tries very hard to reach out to the local community through its programs.  I would love to see the young adult ministry at our church attract people from the community.  But, I think we first need a base of people from our church before we reach out to the community.


Thanks, John, that helps.  You should know that any advice I give simply comes out of far more failure than success - I think that's the name of the game here.  Even the local Baptist church you speak of would probably say they tried 25 bad ideas before they hit the sweet spot.

I think, first, the differentiation between different young adult "groups" needs to be made, of which I see four major ones - single (read: not married) folks on campus (those living the "college experience"), single folks who are non-campus (working, community college, etc.), married folks with no kids, married folks with kids (obviously, single folks with kids is a reality, also).  Trying to link those all together into one group can be not only challenging, but detrimental to real growth, I think.  The challenge is, if you only have 5-10 folks in the 18-30 age range in your church and they span all 4 groups, you really lack options.

I've been in churches with good ministries to campus students, but I don't get the sense that's the group you're targeting.  And....there's lots of ministries for people with kids, so I'll just address the other two groups - non-campus singles & married folks with no kids. 

If you're dealing with married young adults, I'm finding more and more that what they crave is high-cost discipleship......we have a young marrieds small group that is busting at the seams and ready to plant group #2 after only a few months - we meet almost every week and we do one service project for every "fun" event.  There's deep study, deep accountability, deep struggling with the realities of our situations, our church's ministry, etc.  I've found that this group is willing to forgo typical "attractional things" - high-end worship, spiffy buildings, etc. for the chance to be challenged spiritually, emotionally, etc.

However, the single young adults I work with are almost the complete opposite.  Because so many things are available to them and they live very transient lives, they need that "hook" to get them to stay.  We attract a large percentage of ours through the arts - either as musicians or using creative arts in worship, etc.  We employ some of them through our after-school care program.  Certainly, we can't compete with the level of quality that many mega-churches in town can offer, but we've had good results in our small group approaches, as well.  We split the genders - one female group that has a deep focus on healing from broken situations and one male group that we call "Fight Club" that is ultra-secretive (invitation-only) and consists of an activity - poker, basketball, watching football, etc. + someone talking about a struggle with sin as we talk about deep accountability.  Then, we do events, like you're talking about.  My suggestion would be to make the events the last priority and the relationships the first.  That's the harder way to build a ministry, but I think it has more staying power.

That's some of the "how".  Problem is, churches with good young adult ministries almost always have things in their DNA that meet young adults where they are, as I'm sure you know.  Its a "feel" more than a "program".  That's the hardest and the most beautiful part of young adults at the same time.  Its monumentally difficult to get to the point where your church's authenticity, quality of ministry and missional capacity reaches out to the heart of young adults, but once you get there, your church will be the better for it, overall, I believe.  To get there, your leadership HAS to grasp where you're going.  We benefit from having a 26-year-old pastor and young adults in many key visual leadership positions (worship leader, clerk of council, etc.), but you don't need that.  One thing I would suggest to you and your leaders - look for the right people, not the right program.  Take a risk on someone that might be an innovative leader - worst thing that happens is that you're back where you started.  Identify the right people and let them shape the ministry - people aren't "right" just because they fit the age bracket - they have to have a vision for what's next.  Remember, you're not where you want to be now - so if you appoint a leader who is okay with where you are now, you will never get where you want to go.

Hope that helps.....and maybe this will, as well.  Its a cross-sectional study we did on young adults in our church as we shaped our young adult ministry (only non-married young adults):

Programs and ministries are nice and beneficial but I think what young adults (and all humans) really want is community.  They want to be part of a group of people that goes through life together.  In your first post you said they go to a certain church because "everyone else is."  This is very telling.

You can have the best programs, ministries, preaching, worship, the right 'groups', but if there isn't a community they want to be a part of, they won't come.  You have to build a community of young adults that other people want to be a part of.  Obviously the challenge is building this community. 

It is my opinion that programs and ministries are not the place to start.  These will organically flow out of the community later along with discipleship.   Instead, I think the building starts with opening up homes, breaking bread, watching a football game, having a couple beers, poker, LIVING LIFE together.  Do whatever it is that you do, but do it together.  And occasionally invite other people to join you.  It's not your primary goal to add lots of people, this shouldn't be on your radar.  Your goal is to build a community.  Build the community and all the other things flow out of the community naturally. 

I hope I'm not just ranting, I believe this is a very biblical concept.  I believe this is the kind of thing God was doing when he established a covenant community called Israel.  God said more than once that the purpose of this community was to bless other people and be a light to others.  God's purpose was to build a community that other people wanted to be a part of.  I think this is what church is supposed to be as well. 

Mark Hilbelink on September 16, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You're definitely right, Nick - I guess that's what I was trying to get at with the "feel" and "DNA" ideas.......ministry should be more about who you are rather than what you do (or with rather than at).

The real challenge for all of us in church leadership in churches that don't have that "it" factor yet is how to get ourselves from here to there.  Programs and ministries are really only useful if they move your church toward being more who God wants you to be.  We've eliminated virtually all "programs" from our church's ministry and gone towards groups - gatherings of people who are the Church together.

Another challenge is that many younger young adults have recently come out of churches that have catered to them for all their lives (Sunday School, youth group, etc.), so I've found that there is an attractional (program, if you will) element to doing ministry with younger young adults that may be less necessary as they start to mature - but I think we created that problem.

Since this Baptist church seems to be doing a good job - why not go there yourself and glean their knowledge?  We're all on the same team, after all.  We make it mandatory for our leaders to go to other "successful" churches to grow our collective wisdom.

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post