My brother likes to say that young adults are not a field of sociological study, an observation which is especially true for people who happen to be young adults. For young adults, young adulthood is called life, and the tendency for the church to objectify young adults as a demographic to be analyzed and then "reached out to" seems a completely disconnected and sometimes even insulting endeavor.
I personally am dismayed by the almost desperate tendency to pin the "savior" lable on young adults and so-called "young adult ministries," whatever those are. It sometimes feels like church leaders think that, if we can just get enough people under 30 here, everything's going to be okay. All of the decline in membership and ministry and relevance and all that jazz will just magically go away if we can grab a hold of a few twenty-somethings and bring 'em in. My response, simply put, is that the church's approach to young adults is counterproductive. Let me 'splain:
Let's start with the premise: It seems as though there is an effort to get more young adults into the church by studying ways that the church can reach out to them. Now, do you hear that? The question on the table is how can "we" (the church) get "them" (the young adults) involved with "us" (the church again).
So, what usually happens next is that somebody who thinks they are clever says something pithy like, "The answer is to meet them where they are, not expect them to come to us." Have you heard that one before? But notice the problem with that line of thought is exactly the same problem as before - the artificial separation between "them" and "us" is still there. If "we" are metaphorically going to meet "them" where they are, young adults are still objectified and separated from the church, rather than thought of as the church themselves. This line of thinking says that young adults are a mission field, they are not part of the church.
What would happen if we started with the belief that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (i.e. Galatians 3) - and then added to that list OLD nor YOUNG? How would the church engage in ministry differently if we truly believed that and made that idea the foundation for what we do? What if, instead of "bringing them in" or even "meeting them where they are," we just let young adults (ALL adults, in fact) just be who they are and do what they do where they are, and everyone could just be okay with that.
Even my brother misses the mark sometimes. He has this big thing about bringing a rock concert experience into the church worship service. What if, instead of that, we just thought of the rock concert experience itself as worship? What if, instead of trying to find the magic program to install into our church ministry plan to attract young adults, we just gave people permission to rethink what church is all about in the first place?
Young adults, who are the church, could just do what they do, and everyone would be okay with it. Retirees, who are the church, could just do what they do, too, and everyone would be okay with that, too. Youth, who are the church, ... Children, who are the church, .... you get the idea. In fact, young adults and retirees (and youth and children for that matter) might just find themselves doing things together every now and then, and everyone would be okay with that, even.
There is no "them" and "us" - it's all us. Young adults are not the saviors of the church, they are the church, here and now, wherever they happen to be and whatever they happen to be doing.
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