The term “young adults” is very broad, and it is recommended that you specify. Whom exactly are you talking about? The first step in this process is identifying what types of young adults you are looking to minister to or evangelize.
Narrowing the term down is helpful. More specific options include college students, young 20-something singles, dating or engaged couples, singles in their 30s, young married couples without kids, young adult parents in their 20s and 30s, young single parents, and Millennials, among others.
Step 2: What’s already in place?
Once the “who” is identified, a common misconception is that the next step is to create a program or event. In fact, the next step is to take inventory of what is already in place and working in the parish, cluster, or organization that could be enhanced, expanded, or re-imagined for young adults.
For instance, are there adult-faith-formation programs that could appeal to young adults? Figuring out how to integrate young adults into these already existing programs can be just as important as creating a brand-new program for them.
In addition, consider capitalizing on the “moments of return.” Are you available and inviting young adults into a stronger connection with God and the Church on Ash Wednesday, Christmas, or Easter; at weddings, funerals, and baptisms; and when they return to church at a tragic or significant time in their life? Consider creative ways to use those moments of return to bring them closer to your parish community.
Step 3: Thinking outside the box
A number of young adults do want programming specific to their needs. Another route a parish, cluster, or organization can take is to think outside the box and determine what’s not there but could be. One really good way to do this is to invite young adults into the conversation: ask the active young adults in the parish or a focus group of young adults who are somewhat connected to church what they would like to do.
This can take a variety of forms: young-adult small groups, young-adult retreats, discussion nights on hot topics, social events, service and justice projects, trips, young-adult faith-formation classes, devotions and prayer, etc.
Step 4: Invitation, marketing, and outreach
The most effective method of marketing to young adults is personal invitation. Always has been, probably always will be. Even in the age of e-mail and text messaging, personal invitations are the best way to attract young adults.
Organize a team to identify, contact, and follow up with young adults already active in the parish and with their own friends, colleagues, family members, and Facebook friends. Initially invite them out to lunch or coffee, but include an invitation to go deeper (at an event, retreat, small group, or one of the other types of programs from step three above).
This is the “Jesus method” of organizing. Christ did not advertise in the bulletin; instead, he walked up to people personally, dined with them, and talked one on one with them, inviting them into a deeper experience of faith.
And as Mike Hayes, the author of Googling God, says: “Go where you think you should not go, and do what you think you should not do.”
In other words, like Jesus, go into the bars and bookstores, advertise in secular places, find creative ways to invite others at work, in the community, at the ballgame, or wherever young adults gather in your area. The methods that don’t always work with young adults are bulletins, pulpit announcements, or flyers in the back of church. Use technology and the virtual world in new and creative ways.
These steps are just the tip of the iceberg. For more information on how to develop a young-adult ministry outreach in your community, call Al Forsythe in the Diocese of Knoxville Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office at 865-584-3307, extension 5754, or e-mail him. You can also become a fan of our Diocese of Knoxville Catholic Young Adult Ministry on Facebook.