NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ministry as usual will not cut it, Jason Hayes said, for the new demographic of young adults seeking depth, authenticity and answers to the hard matters of faith
Hayes, young adult specialist for the Threads initiative of LifeWay Christian Resources, was among the featured speakers at a “Connect Conference” Aug. 25-26 in Nashville, Tenn., sponsored by the Southern Baptist entity.
The conference, geared for church leaders who work with young adults, included several sessions focusing on recent statistics about young adults ages 18-34.
Hayes described the statistics as offering a challenge and an opportunity for ministry with young adults.
“I don’t view these statistics as a problem,” Hayes said, “but a chance for God’s name to be great among a generation that is spiritual, but not religious.” he said.
Hayes outlined four markers of things that matter most to young adults — community, depth, responsibility and connection. The markers were developed from an extensive eight-month survey of young adults from varied geographic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The markers also are discussed in detail in a new book, “Lost and Found” by Hayes and Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.
“What we found is that young adults desire to do life together,” Hayes said. “They desire relational equity and community that goes beyond casual hellos. They want to pour their lives into each other.”
Providing practical tips for the conference attendees, Hayes said community should hold forth a connection between a Christian’s actions and personal convictions. Community also should minimize church jargon, provide an atmosphere where it’s OK to not know all the answers, provide personal illustrations and encourage life application.
“Above all, community among young adults must be biblical,” Hayes said. “It will be a failure if we raise a generation who are just friends. Growing in the likeness of Christ is essential.”
“What we found in our research is that young adults who are churched are saying, ‘If we are going to stand for truth in a world that is not standing for truth, we want to be equipped,'” Hayes said. “The unchurched are saying, ‘We are not going to make a decision at face value. We want to make informed decisions when it comes to matters of faith.'”
To provide depth, young adult leaders must engage in theology, apologetics and offer insight on worldviews and other religions, Hayes said.
“Our God is a never-changing God, yet He is constantly relevant,” Hayes said. Noting that young adults want the opportunity to go deeper into the truths of God’s Word, Hayes advised, “Teach the whole Bible, foster discussion and answer the difficult questions of faith.” Also: “Offer quality, exegetical Bible teaching and sing theologically sound music that accurately depicts the Word of God.”
For churched young adults, responsibility comes in the form of service, evangelism and missions. For unchurched young adults, social action and global responsibility are a huge priority.
“For both church and unchurched young adults, we have found that both recognize that their choices make a difference and they want to improve the world around them,” Hayes said. “As a result of this heightened sense of responsibility, we can help create a door for service and evangelism.”
MAKE A CONNECTION
Younger adults place a “heavy value … on connecting with people who have more life experience than they do,” Hayes said. “Some would call this mentoring or cross-generational ministry. The bottom line is that they want to learn from someone else’s experiences. They’re looking for a connection with the church and a connection with people who are willing to walk alongside them and give a little advice here and there.”
Hayes encouraged conference attendees to connect personal application to convictions. “If an absence exists between what you say and what you do, young adults will become quickly disinterested,” he said. “If you desire for your church to be a healthy body that raises the banner of intergenerational ministry, you need to personally invest in this generation as well.”
Scott and Tricia Johnson, who attended the conference as volunteer young adult leaders at Athol Orange Baptist Church in Athol, Mass., said the research presented during the conference accurately portrays the young adults with whom they work.
“The young adults we serve desire community and depth,” Tricia said. “We have kids who may not believe in God but they are willing to come to social events or service events. We want to keep a relationship with them any way we can so they continue to hear the Word of God.”
Scott agreed that “the responsibility aspect of young adult ministry does make sense.”
“Young adult ministry is not about wowing this generation with the latest shows, but about allowing them to impact their world,” Scott said. “Those who come to our church are extremely interested in supporting events that make the world a better place. In providing opportunities to serve, we ultimately hope nonbelievers will make decisions for Christ.”
Randy and Lori Dongiovanni from Grand Rapids, Mich., also identified with the themes presented at the conference.
“This conference really opened my eyes to the main characteristics of the postmodern culture and how young adults view the world around them,” said Randy, young adult and evangelism pastor at Grand Rapids First Assembly of God. “As a result of this conference I will be a better listener to the young adults I serve.”
The Connect Conference also included main teaching sessions by Stetzer and others, small-group discussions and a question-and-answer panel forum.
The next Connect Conference will be Sept. 4-5 in Charlotte, N.C., followed by conferences in Jackson, Miss.; Orlando, Fla.; and Tulsa, Okla. For more information about the young adult ministry at LifeWay, visit www.threadsmedia.com.
Kelly Shrout is the employee communications editor at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.