3 Creative Ways to Engage Young Adults in the Church

I remember sitting in a new office during my very first week as a young adult pastor and replaying the words that had been spoken to me just days prior: “Young adults aren’t looking for youth group 2.0.” As a veteran youth pastor of almost 20 years who came into the job with a portfolio of games, events, small group strategies, and creative messages, that statement left me wondering, “What exactly are young adults looking for?” What I’ve learned over the past few years is that young adults aren’t looking for an amazing program custom-built for them but rather they are searching for spaces where they can discover their identity, purpose, and belonging, all while navigating challenges they are facing daily.

While I’ve not discovered any “one-size-fits-all” model for young adult ministry, I do believe that we can find creative ways to engage the young adults in the context in which we find ourselves ministering. Here are three ways to start.

What I’ve learned over the past few years is that young adults aren’t looking for an amazing program custom-built for them but rather they are searching for spaces where they can discover their identity, purpose, and belonging, all while navigating challenges they are facing daily.

1. Find Ways to Leverage Stories: “Story House”

Most of us can look back to a moment in time when we heard a story that had a profound impact on our life. Stories can shape our perspectives, cause us to ask deeper questions, and help form the human connection that we long for. When it comes to engaging young adults, leveraging stories can create an avenue to do this. In our own ministry, we run a young adult gathering called “Story House.” Each month, we transform a space into a living room type setting equipped with a coffee bar and specialty snacks. We invite a story teller into the space—usually someone of an older generation—and ask them to share a story from their life that has to do with identity, belonging, or purpose. After they share, we break into groups and talk through questions that have to do with elements of the story. What we’ve found is that, not only do we have some incredible conversations, but we also find pieces of ourselves in each other’s stories. This fosters spiritual growth among our young adults and develops a deeper sense of community intergenerationally.

2. Create a Unique Space to Connect: “Space in Between”

Young adults often show up in our churches on Sunday mornings but then walk out without ever having a conversation with anyone. They long for community, but they often struggle with where and how to create that. The church can help build bridges between young adults by providing unique and simple spaces to connect. One way that has worked for us is offering our “Space in Between” on Sunday mornings. We open a room off the main lobby that is designated for young adults only. In between services, we offer a coffee bar, bagels, hot waffle buns, and fruit. The goal is to look for young adults coming in and out of our building and invite them into the space to meet other young adults. There is no program, Bible study, or timeframe in which they need to stay. It’s simply a VIP room for young adults to meet our young adult leadership and connect with others their age.

[Young adults] long for community, but they often struggle with where and how to create that. The church can help build bridges between young adults by providing unique and simple spaces to connect.

3. Keep It Simple: “Connect Dinners”

Most young adult ministries consist of a range of ages, stages of life, and spiritual journeys. It can feel like a daunting task to create a program, event, or small group where everyone uniquely finds their place. What makes it even more challenging is when the young adults we meet with connect with us as leaders, but aren’t necessarily finding community in the church at large. As leaders, we don’t have the capacity to stay closely connected and disciple every person we meet. 

Luckily, we don’t have to overcomplicate things to find a solution to this. It can be as simple as inviting 6-8 young adults into your home and hosting a “Connect Dinner.” Our goal at our connection dinners is to find a few young adults who may have something in common and get them all around the table at the same time. We keep the food simple, several of our young adult ministry team members are present, and we simply facilitate conversation. Those dinners have sparked deeper spiritual friendship that young adults continue to pursue on their own.

Every ministry context is different, but one thing is sure—there are young adults in every community desperate to find purpose, trying to understand who they are, and searching for a place to belong. Let’s not settle for youth group 2.0; instead, let’s creatively find ways to come alongside.

Andrea Sawtelle