Young Adults Need a Place in the Church
I wasn’t always a disciple of Jesus. For a significant part of my young adulthood I was, practically speaking, a lapsed-Catholic.
During this time I felt the “existential vacuum” that Viktor Frankl talks about in Man’s Search for Meaning. I was wandering without a sense of purpose and meaning. I didn’t understand the crux of my existence. My identity was tied up in what others thought of me. My relationships were broken and left me wounded and wandering. I was restless and without a sense of lasting peace.
When I was 24-years old God intervened and revealed himself to me. I encountered him, and his love gave my life a new horizon.
When I came back to faith I was amazed. It was so attractive, and finding a university chaplaincy where there were other young people navigating life and seeking the good together was an amazing discovery.
It was transformative to be part of such a community. It helped set the course of my life.
When I graduated I took a position working in the ministry that had touched me so deeply. Working as a campus minister for 7 years, I saw up close the amazing fruits of ministry to young adults. I saw people give their lives to Jesus, many who had been Catholic their whole life like me but never understood or experienced the relationship Jesus wants with us.
I saw people coming back to the sacraments. I saw people restoring broken relationships. I saw people breaking habits of sin. I saw people embracing God’s personal plan for their life and get married, join the seminary and get ordained or enter the convent.
I evangelized and discipled people and helped them evangelize and disciple others.
It was an amazing time!
Imagine if our parishes could do that.
While still working in campus ministry it started to bother me that similar communities weren’t available to the non-student population of young adults. Why is that?
I had many relatives who wandered away from the faith but would occasionally question their choices and ask: where would I go to get involved? Where can I go where I won’t be the only person like me there?
It always grieved me that I didn’t have somewhere I could wholeheartedly recommend…
I firmly believe that we are missing an opportunity when it comes to evangelizing young adults.
Here are a few stastics that should wreck us.
- Today nearly 4 our of 10 young adults identifies as “religiously unaffiliated” (aka “nones”). This is 3 times higher than the rate for those 65+ (13%).
- 50% of Milennials raised Catholic are no longer identifying as Catholic. 50%!
- 79% of Catholics who leave the Church decide to do so by age 23 (Pew Research)
Related: New Stats on Why Young People Leave the Church, by Brandon Vogt
And lest we throw up our hands and just accept these figures as an inevitable trend, the rising tide of a secular culture, we should exceptions. In addition to some campus ministries, there are some evangelical Protestant churches that are absolutely rocking it when it comes to attracting, evangelizing and discipling young adults. I can think of some local examples but the one I know best is Holy Trinity Brompton in posh London, England where the average church members is 27 years old.
The faith is so attractive, and not just to older adults!
All of this has brought me to a conviction: we need to start dedicating specific parishes to the ministry of young adults. We need to channel resources to start doing campus ministry off campus.
We need to channel resources to start doing campus ministry off campus.
Here are 6 advantages that should convince every diocese should create a personal parish for young adult ministry
1. Inculturation is necessary
One thing that is fairly obvious is that today, generations experience language barriers. The world moves fast, and differences in personal experience of the world seem more noticeable than in generations past.
The Church in her wisdom has always seen the need to proclaim the Gospel and direct her approaches in a way that is understandable to the people of a given place and time. This is in no way a compromise on the eternal messages of our faith, but a living expression of it.
It is with a mind to inculturating the Gospel that a personal parish for young adults would exist. It would seek, in its preaching, teaching, music, style, programs, events, branding, leadership, staff structure, etc., to speak in particular way to the young adult.
We shouldn’t see this as acquiescence to the culture; it is rather effective communication to a certain audience. And those who are further away will perceive such communicators as relevant even before their message is fully received.
2. Attraction is effective
As we move to a less-inward and more mission-focused approach in our parish ministry, we should always be exploring how conducive our activities are to inviting a lapsed or non-Christian friend.
Young people are attracted to social activity with peers. They are open to being part of a scene. But the average parish scene seems to be a 50+ club, with the odd young family, then it is a lot to expect them to engage.
This isn’t to criticize older demographics at all. It is just to point out that they are already well represented in our parishes. There is no culture-barrier for them to be involved.
Young adults on the other hand often stick out like a sore thumb, and they feel it.
We can remove that barrier and make church more attractive to young people when we facilitate their gathering together. Again, campus ministry was like an oasis to me.
A very attractive one!
The Church does not grow through proselytism, but by attraction.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) December 7, 2016
3. Engagement is contagious
We don’t only want people to attend Mass, right? We want them to become deeply invested in the parish church. We want them to find their identity in Christ and his mission there.
A personal parish for young adults could organize itself in a way that facilitates discipleship in the same way that good campus ministry programs do. Through great talks, retreats, small groups, etc., it would bring people in, evangelize them and entrust them in leadership roles they up until then didn’t realize possible.
This is how good campus ministries engage, and this is how good parishes could engage, too.
This also allows for great engagement with the wider culture in our neighbourhoods and cities.
4. Clarity and focus are required
One of the huge challenges I see in parishes being more missionary is the amount of services they provide. One of the beauties of campus ministry done well is that you can adopt a more clear focus in what you do. We didn’t do things like children’s liturgy and First Communion prep, because that’s not what campus ministry is for. We didn’t really do funerals because our demographic didn’t experience death. We didn’t have many of the groups that ordinary parishes do (K of C and CWL, for example) because again, that wasn’t our focus.
Because of that we had a lot of freedom to go deep into the things that were most necessary to evangelize and disciple young adults. In addition to our evangelization and discipleship groups we had programs that were extremely relevant to young adults. We had a high amount of pastoral presence and the ability to engage with students whenever they were around. Our priests heard confessions every single day.
It was a very relational ministry.
If someone asked us to start something that was beyond our bandwidth, or didn’t serve our population, we had the freedom to say ‘no’, because we had clarity and focus on what we were about.
A personal parish for young adults could have this freedom as well.
5. Vocations are possible
Once upon a time a lot of people met their spouse at a church dance. When is the last time you heard of that happening??
But if we need strong Catholic families, we need strong Catholic marriages. And if we want strong Catholic marriages we need to bring strong Catholic young adults into contact with each other.
And let’s be honest: it’s probably not happening at your parish.
I saw lots of marriages come out of the campus ministries I worked in. I think lots of marriages would come out of a young adult-focused parish as well.
By the way I also saw people discover and discern calls to the priesthood and religious life. One campus ministry program I know produces more of these vocations than most dioceses.
A young adult parish could be seen as an investment not only in the culture, but in the future of the Church!
6. Mission is urgent
Finally, my experience was that when ministering to a specific demographic like young adults, you had the ability to form them as missionaries to co-labour with you.
I would bet that a disproportionate number of the Catholic missionaries that the Church is forming today are coming out of the campus ministry scene. Groups like CCO and FOCUS are very successful at mentoring these missionary disciples.
And a personal parish for young adults could do the same.
One of the hesitations that some may have of the concept of a parish focused on young adults is that it would be a shame to take young adults away from the regular parish.
But let’s be frank here: as mentioned at the top, the majority have already left. This is a hard truth that must be faced.
But by ministering well to them, we can get them back, and eventually they will get married, have kids, and become regular members of the local parish. Or they may even become the priest of said parish.
In summary, I believe it is time to boldly explore this idea. Our young people need to be evangelized and we need them to be part of the Church. We need their meaningful contribution to the life and mission of the Church. We need them to be the strong families and vocations our world needs.
What are we waiting for?