Keeping It Real

I’ve been concerned about young adults. We tend to talk about children’s church and teens, but often we leave out those who’ve graduated from teen ministry. Many ministry leaders today are older and find it challenging to deal with the younger people in the church. I sat down with long-time World Changers, Sylvester and Ayana Abakah, who specialize in working with this demographic and lead the WCCI young adult ministry, SHiFT. We discussed best practices for ministries to use to engage this group and the couple gave strategies for navigating across generations to engage young adults.

Keeping it Real and Life Skills

According to Sylvester, young people can easily spot a fake and tend to look for transparency to build trust. If a minister is not living what he or she says, there’s no reason to trust what they say. Young adults need consistency and are always watching to see if the man or woman of God is “keeping it real.” You’d better be telling them the truth and be able to back it up because this generation is really quick to fact-check. If you have a listening ear available to young adults, they’ll tell you what they want and need. This generation doesn’t just want to only know the Bible stories—they want to know everything from budgeting your finances to having a real relationship with God. We make a mistake sometimes of just telling them what they need to do without listening to them. That sends the message that they can’t find the answers they seek in the church, so they look for answers in the world. They go online or find other people who resonate with them in some way. The church looks at that and says, “They’re running away.” They say, “I didn’t run away; I wanted to be there. You just never tried to reach me.” Young adults simply want to be accepted for who they are.

Finding Connections

“One thing we definitely encourage is connections,” said Ayana. “There are a lot of relationships and friendships that have been established within SHiFT, so there’s a lot of accountability.” When one of the young adult members don’t show up, someone from the group misses them and calls or texts to check up on them and make sure they’re okay. This practice says, “We care about you, and we miss you.” A practical way of creating a community for them is through small groups. “We’ve found that they want to be able to speak out; they want to be able to ask questions; they want to be able to engage and interact with other young adults,” Ayana informed me. Monthly meetings, or “meet-ups,” are good tools to engage young adults in small groups. Prior to COVID, SHiFT loved the monthly meet-ups, gathering to just talk and share a meal. This became the platform through which to explore the lesson plan or topics of interest to them.

Transparency, a listening ear, and a place for connection and community can make all the difference in the world to a young adult who’s simply experiencing life. It’s called life, and there are no exceptions—everyone is affected by it. God says He’s given us everything that pertains to life and godliness, and grace and peace can be multiplied in the knowledge of Him, so if you don’t quit, if you don’t cave in, you will win in this goal of reaching young adults.