By Gennie Callard
There are many ways for a parish to view young adult ministry. In this article I am going to talk about viewing this ministry as an extended family and put forth some ideas to intentionally include young adults and others without family or without family near-by.
Inter-generational communities are shrinking in our society. As children and youth are spending more time in activities, adults are spending more time at work, and college students in studies. Church is one of the few places where people can interact with those who are both younger and older than you. We need to take advantage of this.
College students are pretty much cloistered - you eat, socialize and study with other students, most of whom are the same age as you. And young adults spend time working and hanging out with their friends of similar age. Whether it's recognized or not, many of young adults miss seeing and spending time with people who are parents, grandparents and even children.
So how can a church become an intentional extended family?
I often speak against seeing church as family and prefer the term community - an place where people gather by intent rather than obligation and where newcomers are invited, welcomed and included (which isn't the case in many families). But in this case I want to look at extended family - one filled with uncles, aunts, godparents, grandparents and children of all ages. A place where we welcome someone's new boyfriend and make sure that both granny and the new baby have a comfortable place to hangout. And this is something that many young adults miss as they move to a new town and away from their family of origin. The church can take note of this need, for a place where people feel welcomed into a home and made to feel comfortable, and find ways to meet it.
With the following kinds of activities, the church really needs to look at it as primarily an outreach activity as opposed to a church recruitment activity. We're doing it to fill a need and serve God's kingdom, not necessarily fill our pews.
Holidays are an anxious time for people without families, as holidays are so family-centric. This can be especially true in west Michigan where there aren't a large number of singles.
To meet the needs of people without local families you can hold a Thanksgiving dinner in your parish hall. Get a big turkey and ask people to bring a dish to pass if they can (and if not, make sure there is extra food and ask them bring themselves and a friend). Or an Easter Sunday brunch with ham and side dishes. With an extra invitation to the young adults in your parish (even those who've only been to church once), this can become a fun extended family tradition.
If you don't want a parish hall holiday meal, do what you can to make sure that everyone has a place at a table in someone's house. Ask people who are already hosting the holiday if they'd be able to set another place or two at their table. Then ask people what they're doing for the day. If they say they don't know make a note of it. Contact a host and ask if they have a space and if they'd invite this person.
Sunday night dinner
Many colleges in the area don't serve Sunday night dinner, from what I understand. Invite students to come to the church, and to bring a friend. And ask one of the church ladies or men to come in and help cook something simple like spaghetti.
If you invite one or two families each week to come and host and help supply the food and stay for the meal, it truly becomes an inter-generational community building activity.
Once you start getting consistent young adults, ask them if they'd like to make the meal - with you supplying the ingredients (ask for a shopping list a few days ahead and get everything they need). This is wonderful for students who are international, as they can share food from their home. Be sure to still invite the others from the congregation to join.
Adopt a young adult
This takes a little match-making, but students and young adults who move to the area can truly get the experience of an extended family if one family in the church takes them on. Things like holiday meals, inviting them for movie nights and remember birthdays are involved.
The families can be those with young children or empty-nesters or anything in between. I'd recommend staying away from single person house-holds, because that could be a little odd.
For other ideas, think about which times you gather as a family, or think back to when you were away from home for the first time and started to become homesick.
If you have students who have moved away from your community, remember them with a care package from your church. Include non-perishable food, fun books and a hometown newspaper - and personal notes from parishioners. This is a great way to stay connected and remind them that the church is still there.