COLUMBIA—Reaching young adults spiritually is a huge challenge because they are so varied in age and life experience.
Paul Jarzembowski, executive director of the National Young Catholic Adult Ministry Association, led a workshop on “The Nuts & Bolts of Young Adult Ministry: Connecting the Church and Young Adults,” Sept. 11 at St. Peter Church. The goal was to help those involved learn more about the people they serve.
Jarzembowski said many in the church consider the young adult community to be ages 18-39, a demographic that includes college students, single professionals, married couples and families, and a large number of people in the military.
But the age range also includes members of Generation X — those born between 1965 and 1980 — and the following generation of Millennials.
Young adults can be a challenging group for whom to plan, Jarzembowski said, because of the generational traits that some bring to their worship of God.
He said some consider themselves more spiritual than religious, embrace technology in nearly every facet of their lives, and think of themselves as followers of Jesus but not necessarily the teachings and authority of the church.
Young adults are also more likely to parish hop, searching for something they like, and also frequently need help dealing with stressful life transitions.
He said most ministries involve separate programs intended for and focused on young adults, ranging from Bible study groups to social organizations.
One problem with this model is that it tends to wall them off from the rest of the parish community, when they need to become more involved in it, he said.
Jarzembowski suggested other models that include providing pastoral care for the special needs of the age range, integrating them into parish programs, reaching out to people inactive in the church and developing leaders.
He said a successful young adult ministry can only begin when organizers toss any mental stereotypes they might have about the group.
He suggested they follow the best practices of Jesus drawn from the Gospel, which includes laying out a vision and a direction, going where others fear to travel, and beginning each new venture with prayer and contemplation.
“Beginning in prayer allows us to let the Holy Spirit surprise us,” he said. “We need to look at the young adults that might approach us, and ask, ‘What kind of church am I trying to bring to them?’”
Studies show that more young adults attend Ash Wednesday services and take part in Lenten rituals than at any other time in the liturgical year.
Jarzembowski said this shows their longing for both meaningful traditions and a way to live out Catholic beliefs in daily life.