A few decades of ministry with teens and twentysomethings has taught me that faith communities have a lot to offer young people. We can provide stability, support, mentorship, leadership opportunities, and a gateway to belief. This work has also taught me that, even though faith communities may not know it, they need the many gifts that youth and young adults have to offer. Young people can bring the church vitality, relevance, new ways to communicate our ancient truths, not settling for the status quo, hope for the future, and practical help right now. While young people and the church would appear to be a match quite literally made in heaven, we don’t always seem to be able to link up.
So many of our churches struggle to minister to, or even simply to connect with, twentysomethings. The statistics about young people and disaffiliation with church bear that out. And despite being the most connected generation in history, Gen Z is also the loneliest one. A recent study showed them higher than any other generation on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale by anywhere from three to ten points. (A score of 43 is the benchmark for official loneliness. Gen Z scored a 48.3 overall, Millennials (45.3), Gen X (45.1), Baby Boomers (42.4), Greatest Generation (38.6) This loneliness puts them at greater risk for everything from addiction to suicide. Young people are not only suffering from loneliness. They are dying of it.
The story from Luke’s Gospel of the Road to Emmaus is a model for ministry with young people. Two disciples are traveling away from Jerusalem. They are literally walking away from the community (Sound familiar?) Jesus appears to them. But rather than reveal himself as the risen Messiah and turn them around, he walks with them and listens. He asks questions and then pays attention as they pour out their hearts about their hopes and disappointments. It is only then—after journeying with them and engaging with their pain—that he explains the scriptures, and ultimately shows them who he truly is in the breaking of the bread. Then they say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?”
I love this story as a model because it is so simple. And 2000 years later we can do what Jesus did- walk with, listen, love, be present. In the context of disaffiliation, loneliness, and the struggles so many of our young adults face, we can walk with them, whatever road they are on.
We have to stop talking and start walking.
We have to become listeners and lovers.
We must be churches that love our young people, even when their perspectives or choices or priorities are different than our own.
How to Use This Resource:
Having seen this disconnect up close I wanted a tool that we could put in the hands of young people to help them with life beyond youth group and a tool we could put in the hands of pastors, parents, and ministries to help them listen to the hearts and hopes of young adults. So I wrote the Twentysomething Handbook.
Whether you’re starting a new ministry to young adults, looking for programming for a current young adult group, providing outreach t
o college students or former youth group members, or simply dreaming of how your community could walk with young adults, The Twentysomething Handbook can be a resource for your church to connect with young adults. The content of the book offers guidance for the practical aspects of life—work, food, money, a roof overhead—while at the same time addressing the hunger for meaning, connection, and purpose.
Free downloadable resources take the content of the book further:
- The Twentysomething Handbook Faith-Based Discussion Guide-discussion questions for each chapter, topically based as well as questions that connect with faith
- Pastors’ Step-by-Step-a how-to on using the faith based discussion guide
“For an age group overwhelmed with information, Bradbury-Haehl finds a way to make it all manageable.” –Publisher’s Weekly
Nora Bradbury-Haehl is the coauthor of The Freshman Survival Guide and a nationally recognized voice in the conversation about young people and religion. For more than twenty-five years she’s worked with youth and young adults in churches, camps, and interfaith programs forming young people in faith, providing pastoral care, companioning them through the challenges and joys of young adulthood, and building caring supportive communities for and with them. An experienced and inspiring speaker, Nora has been a frequent presenter at churches, schools, and the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), leading workshops for large groups of young people and their adult leaders.