You’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity. You’re antsy and even a bit sweaty. You’ve replayed this moment countless times in your mind. The minutes crawl, your heart races and your mind wanders. What will it be like? How fast will I actually go? What if I throw up?
Suddenly, you realize … it’s time. There’s no turning back. Everyone is watching. Come on, you can do this! Don’t chicken out. Just get in, buckle up, and pray…
It’s time for the young adults fall launch.
I’ve journeyed in ministry with young adults* for 15 years and I experience the same feelings every year when the calendar hits mid-August. I feel like a wide-eyed teenager standing in line to board a roller coaster. This isn’t your average roller coaster, either. It’s a stand up, faster-than-the-speed-of-light, multi-loop ride that seems to laugh at the laws of physics. Every year it’s exhilarating, overwhelming, and sometimes it upsets my equilibrium (and my stomach).
And every time I think I’ve mastered the ride, I’m proven wrong. I’ve learned it varies from year to year, sometimes from semester to semester. But the one certain thing about reaching young adults is this: it’s uncertain and unpredictable.
That being said, I have learned that there are a few “best practices” when preparing and queuing for the fall roller coaster ride with young adults.
Disclaimer (imagine this is in fine print): This list is not comprehensive nor do I believe that everything on this list will be useful for reaching young adults in your context. Think of these as a bit of sustenance to help you prepare for the fall launch (sort of like a gloriously greasy amusement park funnel cake). Much like amusement park food, you’re advised to consume this list at your own risk.
1. Don’t you forget about me!
(Shout out to all of the Gen X’ers who got that pop culture reference!)
First and foremost, stay connected with young adults throughout the summer season. Yes, schedules change over the summer and many students and young adults leave the area. They may even be prone to forgetting about you for several weeks. (Remember that phrase, “out of sight, out of mind?”)
Let them know that you certainly have not forgotten about them! Find ways to stay connected using social media, groupme, and other means. Many young adults are completely “zoomed out” but they often are willing to chat, text, or exchange memes. Host meme contests or incentivize posting pics of themselves wearing your ministry’s t-shirt on a road trip. Challenge them to share images of themselves serving in ministry – wherever they may be this summer. They’re more likely to show up and connect in the fall if you’ve stayed connected over the summer.
2. Not everyone leaves!
Some students and young adults will stay around your area this summer (and you might be able to even meet some new folks who are in the area for the summer).
Offer a few low-key get-togethers and maximize what the summer season has to offer. Consider hosting a campfire or fire pit hang. Gather on someone’s patio for brunch. Meet up and visit your closest farmers’ market together. Find a slip-and-slide or kiddie pool and have some fun! Ask your young adults how they’d like to stay connected this summer (both in person and via technology). Get your leaders involved in the fun and the planning.
3. Speaking of leaders
Intentionally schedule some quality time with your leaders this summer. You may have a well-established team that functions like a well-oiled machine, or a loosely connected team that resembles the land of misfit toys. Either way, get your leaders together over the summer, if at all possible. Plan some fun, mid-summer connection time then go ahead and plan a leadership retreat about a month later, in mid-August (or early fall). Focus on strengthening relationships and building key leadership muscles.
4. Connect with young adults you haven’t met (yet)
Use your networks and detective skills to find out names and information for young adults who may be coming to your area this fall. Contact these students this summer using direct message, email, or text (if appropriate). Invite them to kick-off events. Offer to meet for coffee when they arrive. Connect them with an older student in your ministry (peer mentoring is an amazing thing!) Let them know that a supportive and vibrant community is waiting to meet them!
5. Clean up your calendar
We get it – it’s highly likely that you’re trying to breathe at the moment and you’re triaging many important matters. However, if possible, try to spend some quality time with your fall calendar. Schedule those regularly occurring events that you can anticipate and automate, and leave space for new ideas. Many campuses require space reservations ahead of time, so if you want to reserve spaces on campus, figure out when and how to do that (and ask about their cancellation policies).
Our calendars can be amazing truth tellers. They can let us know when we’re over scheduled, they can tell us when we need to pace ourselves, and they’re good at predicting when we’ll be prone to burn out. They also can let us know when we might have space for joyful creativity!
6. Go where the young adults are!
Lets face it, whether we realize it or not, many of us expect our young adults to come to us, in our spaces and on our terms. We need to change our mindset. The fall season is dripping with opportunities and it’s a rich invitation to enter into spaces where young adults gather in their “natural habitats.”
So, get out of your office and work in local coffee shops. Figure out where your young adults gather and meet them there. Remember that it’s important to be an authentic version of yourself in these spaces. Young adults will sense inauthenticity immediately and it’s typically a turn off.
Ross, Chandler and Rachel were right: sometimes, you need to pivot! You can plan on one thing when you’re in ministry with young adults and that’s the reality that things often will not go according to plan. The aforementioned suggestions matter (and preparation matters) but remember that circumstances and plans often will change. Trust yourself, trust your leaders, and, most of all, trust the Holy Spirit! Wonderful things can happen when we pivot.
8. Know your local resources
Most of us are well aware of the mental and emotional health challenges facing many of our young adults. Truth be told, this item should have been listed first. I cannot overstate the importance of developing relationships with local therapists and familiarizing yourself with mental health resources in your area. Learn everything you can about journeying with traumatized young adults. Find trainings and attend them (and attend with your leaders, if possible). Prioritize this. You will need these resources and this knowledge.
Here are some helpful resources to get you started:
- National Institute of Mental Health: Find Help
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Find Treatment
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: People Seeking Help
9. You’re not alone
Ministry with young adults can be really hard. We know that’s quite the understatement. Just as we remind our young people that they are not alone, please remember that you are not alone. Take care of yourself! Your ministry will only be healthy if its leaders are healthy. Reach out to those around you and reach out to us at Ministry Architects as you need support.
Whether you’re looking for coaching, a friendly cohort, or just some free resources, start with a Free 30-minute Coaching Call and get the support you need.
10. I have to add a number ten for reaching young adults
Who creates a list of nine “important things you should know?” Who makes a “top nine list?” No one does that. So, here’s my tenth and final nugget of wisdom: remember to laugh.
This journey of ministry is supposed to be joyful. Laugh at yourself sometimes. Life is too serious to take it too seriously. Also, God is funny. If you need proof, look at the duck-billed platypus. Seriously, take a moment and go look. Ok, my work is done here. You’re welcome.
*The term “young adult” can be used to describe persons ranging from 18-30(ish). For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use this term to describe people who are college-aged and right out of college (age 18 to mid 20-something).