Young adults bring their unique experiences of faith and life into the church. Young people reflect their unique culture in how they express themselves. They may wear formal or informal clothing, have dyed or unique hair, piercings, or culturally express themselves in other ways. They may address you formally or informally. They desire authentic relationships, deep conversations, and honesty from individuals as well as organizations like churches. With intentionality, we can help one another understand the broad range of experiences and cultural influences that contribute to wholeness in the body of Christ.
The following suggestions are just that, suggestions. Each young adult is unique as a child of God and deserves to become known individually, honoring the context and culture where he or she lives. There is no magic word, no code, no amount of hip lingo that will automatically engage a young adult in conversation…and that should be a comforting thought! The content of what is shared in a courageous conversation is much less important than the simple act of sharing.
For a young adult, the courage in “courageous conversation” comes from the willingness to communicate authentically. The courage has nothing to do with discussing a controversial topic. The following suggestions should help a person or a church engage young adults in courageous conversations by addressing foundational elements to building relationships.
Conversations have to begin somewhere, so be proactive and start! Keep your eyes open at church gatherings for young adults, think of the young adults currently in your life, or at activities shared with young adults outside the church as opportunities to introduce yourself and be courageous. By talking about who you are, your experience of faith, and reflecting on any shared experiences (a worship service, mission project, etc.), you can lay the foundation for many conversations to come. Start by sharing those things that you care about; these are often the easiest things to discuss. Volunteer information about yourself before asking questions. Accept a young adult as a fellow child of God. Recognize him or her as your peer in the Christian journey toward perfection, and share your story. Building up relationships and trust by authentically sharing and listening will allow future conversations to be deep, honest, and come from a place of care.
Affirm the presence of young adults as full members in the body of Christ. The prolonging of adolescence and explosion of language including the term ‘young adult’ can create the underlying effect of young people not being sure when they reach maturity or full adulthood in the eyes of the community. Church communities have the opportunity to see spiritual maturity in others and, in doing so, welcome young adults as full peers in the body. Speak, using words and phrases you normally would, adult to adult. Avoid terms of endearment such as “honey,” “sweetie,” and “baby” in conversation. Such words marginalize and disempower. While young adults may be young enough to be your children or grandchildren, they are equals as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Affirm a young person’s presence and contribution in the church by giving him or her your full attention in conversation. Your acceptance and openness to the young people who are present will create openness to understanding and respect that allows everyone to work together for the future of a church with more connections than barriers. Be an active listener and provide thoughtful responses. Your responses can be in the form of questions, or you might share some of your own experiences; but be authentic. Keep the relationship you are forming with the young adult at the heart of your replies. Seek to understand and be understood; keep the conversation moving in both directions.
Recognize that the use of electronic devices does not mean a lack of engagement in a particular conversation. In fact, it could be the exact opposite. A young adult might be using a smartphone to look something up, write down a note, or ask a social media contact for ideas.
Don’t make assumptions about young people, and avoid preconceived notions about young adults due to their age, ethnicity, cultural background, geographic location, and so on. Every conversation with a young adult is a chance to create cultural exegesis. In other words, talking with a young adult creates opportunities to make sense of the culture around us from a Wesleyan perspective. Some topics may seem too sensitive to discuss without an established relationship, trust, and connection. In bringing up potentially divisive topics, reaffirm that the conversation is brought up in care and mutual respect. It is okay to disagree. John Wesley said “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” in his sermon on the Catholic spirit, as well as “as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” This spirit of care and intellectual variety should carry over into our conversations with young adults.
Developing a relationship and connection takes time, energy, and willingness for both parties to contribute. You have the opportunity to be proactive, to initiate conversations, and to share generously in conversation. Recent research on social media platforms shows that a person must give seven things before asking for something back. (Think of a company giving away seven items/quotes/links before asking for something in return from its followers.) Be prepared initially to share more than you expect to receive.
Conversations can begin at superficial levels, but should grow deeper as trust grows. Ask and be willing to answer meaningful and thought-provoking questions about the broad nature of the church, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and your experience of faith. Do not limit your questions to issues specifically targeted toward young adults. Don’t expect an individual to be the voice and expert for all young adults and matters that pertain to that age group. Like most groups, there is a variety of thought among youth and young adults. Be open to the spirit working and living in young adults, and talk about how the spirit has worked in your own life.
Questions and Phrases to get Started
- What did you think of the service (lesson, project, etc.) today?
- I don’t think we’ve met. My name is…
- What brought you here today?
- So, tell me about yourself.
- May I introduce you to my friend?
Some Interesting “Deeper” Questions
- If you could start with a blank canvas, what would church look like?
- Tell me about Jesus.
- How have other communities outside the church solved the problem/issue that we are discussing?
- When was the last time you felt truly inspired?
- What is your deepest missional passion?