How to throw out welcome mat for young adults

rachellongest2    When I tell people I’m the coordinator of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, many of them want to engage with me in a serious conversation about the future of our church and how my generation will or will not be a part of it.  
    Unfortunately, there’s not always time for an adequate conversation on the topic.          But here are a few suggestions I can offer now for welcoming young adults – defined as those between the ages of 18 and 39 – to be a part of the church, present and future.
➤ Recognize the ‘low-hanging fruit’
    Some communities may quickly assert that they don’t have any young adults at their church. But once they start to look for them, they will see that young adults have been there all along.  Before we can fret about the many young adults who have walked away, we first need to pay attention to the ones still in our midst. They are the “low-hanging fruit.” Once you’ve recognized the young adults in your community, think about what the church can do for them to keep them as engaged members of the community. This will include personal invitations to be involved in the church’s ministries and may require creating or renewing the church’s Internet presence.
➤ Emphasize what the church is for
    Just as it is true that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you can attract more young adults by talking about God’s great love than about wrath and disapproval. A wagging finger that condemns is never as appealing as open arms that welcome and embrace. We must be sure to emphasize the great commandments to love God and love one another if we wish to captivate the hearts and minds of young adults. They know what the church is against. Let’s also talk about what the church is for.
➤ Seize golden opportunities
    Special events – and I’m not just talking about Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter – can draw young adults who haven’t been to Mass in months.  Weddings, baptisms and funerals can all gather people who’ve gotten out of the practice of attending Mass.  What a wonderful opportunity to welcome and entice young adults!  Think of how many 20- and 30-somethings fill a church to witness the wedding of friends.  As much as the day is about the couple getting married, it can also be directed to those there in support of the couple.  The same goes for funerals and baptisms.  With a captive audience, it can’t hurt to help people experience the church as a place of Good News, to slip in a little extra lesson on sacramental theology or at least to provide a guide to help navigate the up-down-kneel-stand-sit rigors of Catholic Mass. It can become an experience that makes them want to come back again.
➤ Acknowledge generational differences
    Today’s young adults – often called “millennials” –  are getting married later and having children later than their parents’ generation.  It’s perfectly “normal” for a millennial to change jobs and even careers multiple times.  Many remain unmarried into their 30s and do not hit the “benchmarks” of adulthood – marriage, steady career, children, home ownership – until much later than previous generations, if at all.  
    The church would do well to acknowledge these differences and see them as opportunities for ministry with young adults.  This generation longs for help in the discernment process, but also acceptance of where they are on the journey.  The church can be of great assistance by providing spiritual direction and support to those that are trying to navigate a world that is far different than they were led to believe it would be.
    For more information about young adult ministry, please see “Connecting Young Adults to Catholic Parishes” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or contact Longest at rlongest@arch-no.org or 227-3229.

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