Later this year I’ll be turning 30. At this point I’ve been married for over five years and a father for almost two. I think it’s time to admit that I’m moving out of the “young adult” category. That, however, doesn’t mean I intend to change the focus of the ministry that I’ve been invested in for more than a decade.
I was 19 when I started pouring significant time and focus into what became Junction122, a vibrant young adult ministry in the Brainerd, MN area. Since those early years my passion for making disciples among those ages 18-30(ish) has only increased. Yet, in general, those within the church don’t seem to see a need for intentional ministry that targets that age range. College ministry, sure, but post-college and late 20s? Not so much. Once you’re out of college (or if you never went) there’s an implicit expectation that you should suddenly be fully folded into the adult world.
The truth is that those ages 18-30 have unique challenges and needs that those who aren’t in that stage of life don’t have. Those unique needs and challenges require unique Gospel answers that I believe merit intentional ministry focuses. Here are a few of the reasons why I personally am committed to ministry focused on young adults:
They are a massive mission field
Some of the latest survey data says that 70% of young adults in the United States self-identify as something other than Christian. That’s over 61.5 million people. According to Barna’s recent research on Gen Z, those born between 1999-2015 who will soon be entering into the “young adult” category, the trend away from Christianity continues to increas. Only 9% of Gen Z are considered “engaged” Christians. And, based on Barna’s definition of “engaged” given on the bottom of the web page linked to above, I think it’s fair to say that that means only 9% of Gen Z are Christian.
If almost 90% of the coming generation isn’t engaged with the Gospel, we have a huge mission field in front of us that we don’t dare ignore.
Most kids who grew up “Christian” aren’t
The book Almost Christian, based on the result of the National Study of Youth and Religion, concludes that the vast majority of the teenagers surveyed (most of whom are now young adults) who self-identified as Christian functionally believe something other than the biblical Gospel. Instead of the true biblical faith, they were living what was coined as Moral Therapeutic Diesm – essentially, if I live a basically good life God will do good to me.
Little wonder then that 70% of students leave the church during or shortly after high school. The faith they had wasn’t so much faith in Jesus as it was an enjoyment of church programming. In my own experience over the last 11 years or so I’ve seen dozens of young adults discover Jesus for the first time as they are truly discipled, and they say things like, “Wow! How was I never taught this growing up?,” or “I don’t know if I even really knew Jesus all those years.”
There’s a massive need to disciple those young adults who grew up in church into a true, living, dynamic relationship with the God who loves them.
College ministry isn’t enough
There are far more 18-30 year olds outside the walls of college campuses than there are within, and with the ever-increasing cost of tuition this is only growing more true. Government data shows that only 40% of those ages 18-24 are enrolled in college. That means that even if we were to see every college student in the country become followers of Jesus, there would still be 60% of the young adult population to be reached.
Discipleship during those college years is crucial, and thanks to organizations like Navigators, CRU, Intervarsity, and many others, ministry on college campuses around the world has been normalized and celebrated. Tens of thousands have come to Christ as a result of those ministry. That, however, isn’t enough. We must go beyond the borders of campus.
They are making life-shaping choices
Whether or not they attend college, young adults are making significant life-shaping choices. In the American culture many if not most of the choices that set the trajectory of your life are made in your 20s. The career you’ll focus on, who you’ll marry, the habits your adult life will be built upon, where you’ll buy a home, and so much more. If those choices are made without Jesus as the guiding factor it will have a lifelong impact.
Young adult ministry is crucial to help shape the foundations of young adult’s lives with Jesus at the center.
They have huge opportunity for steps of faith
In the midst of those life-shaping choices, many young adults have a fearlessness and flexibility that enables them to take steps of faith that would be significantly more challenging for someone with an established family, career, etc. There’s a reason why most of Jesus’ disciples were young men.
I’m focused on young adult ministry because I want to empower them to take steps of faith that will open them up to experiencing God in ways they never thought possible.
Sure, it’s selfish, but it’s also legitimately true. There’s something energizing and exciting about working with young adults; the directness of their questions; the raw energy and willingness to try something totally new; the immediacy of the struggles, all give life to young adult ministry. The church needs the energy and passion that only young adults can bring.
Jesus loves young adults
There has been much negativity spoken and written about millennials and other coming generations. For some reason the opinion of the majority tends to skew towards the negative when dealing with those who are younger. That’s a problem.
Jesus doesn’t look at young adults and college students and think “Man, what a bunch of troublemakers. They need to be less entitled and spend less time on their phones.” No, I believe he sees in them the beauty of what they were created to be in Him. Jesus loves young adults and wants to see them as significant players in His kingdom.
Those are just a few of my reasons for focusing on young adult ministry. Don’t let those who are entering adulthood be missed with the Gospel. How can you intentionally shape your life, your church, or your organization to engage 18-30 year olds? You won’t regret it.
Want to make an impact among the young adults in your city? Connect with elementum.