Few attendees of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s World Mission Celebration here would be considered young adults, but there were a few offerings for that age group at the conference.
Two former Young Adult Volunteers shared their experiences in an Oct. 23 workshop titled “Engaging Young Adults Through Mission.”
Samantha Sale served in Guatemala from 2007-2008. While there, she lived with a woman and her 10 daughters, forming relationships that remain strong.
Sales worked in education, providing resources about child abuse and, later, teaching music at a middle school. Although she had no instruments, she raised money to buy some for the students.
But translating was another part of her job in Guatemala. And she translated not only across languages, but also across cultures.
“My YAV experience shaped my call,” said Sales, who is now in seminary. “I really feel called to be a translator.”
The Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan is another former YAV who spoke at the workshop. He served in Kenya from 2004-2005.
“I thought I was going to save a bunch of heathen souls,” Kemp-Pappan said, adding that when he got to Kenya, he realized that “God was here before I was.”
Now a minister at a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation in Louisville, Kemp-Pappan was also one of the founding members of Presbymergent, an online community for those who live in both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the emerging church worlds.
In the PC(USA), young adults are generally considered to be 18-35 years old and can range from students or college-age adults and recent college graduates to people early in their careers and young married couples.
Kemp-Pappan spoke about new ways of looking at mission when related to young adults. Many young adults are more interested in building relationships through mission rather than focusing only on projects, he said.
“We are more about being than doing,” he said.
Kemp-Pappan spoke about the “by and through” principle of mission. By service and through service, young adults can create relationships. Young adults can be engaged through service on a mission trip or other activity. They can be engaged by service at a Bible study designed especially for college students.
Kemp-Pappan listed several common myths about young adults and the church and then broke them down with facts. One myth: young adults are apathetic about the world around them. Actually, he said, young adults now have a passion that’s greater than it has been for the past 25 years.
Another myth is that social media like Facebook and Twitter have made young adults more self-centered and isolated. The fact is that the Internet can lead to a greater sense of global connections.
The idea that young adults will only attend worship if it’s in a contemporary style is another big myth. Young adults seek an intimate, mystical connection with the divine, and worship style is generally a non-issue.
Often, local congregations think they have nothing to offer young adults, but this is not true at all. In fact, young adults yearn for authentic relationships.
It is true that some young adults feel the church structure is irrelevant. Their faith in God isn’t decreasing, but church isn’t always accessible to young adults, Kemp-Pappan said.
There are several ways for churches to reach out to young adults. One is to include them in decision-making and leadership roles.
“The power dynamic is shared,” he said. “There must be mutuality. There must be a give and take on both parts.”
Some churches arrange for several small groups to meet regularly. Then, the small groups gather as one for worship.
“You’re going to see a radically different church because they’re radically different,” Kemp-Pappan said.
Churches can also meet young adults where they are. Find out where and with what young adults are already engaged and find mission there, even if it doesn’t look like traditional mission work. For example, charity 5K races and political campaigns are great places to start.
Other churches offer mentoring programs. Young adults have a lot of questions about life and are often away from family while attending college. They are looking for role models.
It’s also important to take another look at scheduled church activities. Try to schedule a few events for later in the evening, Kemp-Pappan said. Most young adults are unable to attend a Bible study on Tuesday mornings, for example. And by posting such events on their Web sites, churches can reach young adults in a familiar forum.