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Three things to help engage young adults

By Coaching Coordinator Jeremy Suisted

In 1964, Bob Dylan crooned that “the times they are a-changing.” In a world of nuclear missiles, television, jet-travel and a growing consumer market, Dylan recognised that the world he was part of was wildly different to the environment his grandparents were accustomed to.

45 years later and we would think that Dylan’s sentiment was a little too conservative. The times don’t seem to just be changing—they seem to be constantly in flux, with new trends, technologies and attitudes rising and falling by the month. As much as we like to think that we may be immune to these changes, the truth is that as we plan and shape our culture, so our culture shapes us.

One example of these changes is the new generational category of young adults. In the past, the transition from child to adulthood was through one stage of adolescence. In this issue of Rongopai we’re turning the spotlight on the very beginning of the young adult phase of life: Students—particularly those who are leaving school and/or home for the first time.

Today’s students are part of a group of young adults facing a world of rising living costs, amidst a cultural milieu that favours experience over possessions, intimacy over power, and advocacy over involvement. The Church has a growing age category of 18-30 year-olds, who appear to have both a lot of free-time and a lot of involvement in a world that seeks to delay ‘growing up’ for as long as possible! In many ways, this age group is caught in the middle and likely has a presence within your church. 

It can be tempting to resort to complaining about this generation; pointing out the flaws in their thinking, bemoaning that they are not like you, and constantly lamenting that they are not ‘getting involved’ with church and ministry.

One such complaint was captured as “Young people are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances… They think they know everything and are always quite sure about it.” This was spoken by Aristotle in the 4th century BC, so complaining is nothing new!

However, complaining about any group within your church is a sure-fire way to continue building the divide between you. Additionally, this is not the way of the cross, as Paul reminded the church in Corinth to “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

So, how might we better engage with young adults to create unity and a oneness of mind?

1. Learn their names

Researchers have identified a common need for young adults across the West. They have strong desire to be individually loved, and to be known by those around them. This is not a love that merely means you put up with them or are happy they come to church. This is a love that knows their stories, their names and their pains.

Over Labour Weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at Word of Life’s youth camp at Finlay Park. What surprised me was the huge amount of young adults who volunteered to organise games, run sessions, care for youth and provide practical care for the camp. Many of these young adults had taken leave off work to serve in this way—and every single one of them pointed to the fact that Tom McIvor had invested in their lives.

If you don’t know Tom, the National Director of Word of Life, he has lived by his saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Tom has learnt the names of hundreds of young adults, encouraging their journeys, challenging them in times they have gone astray—but always from a place of specific, personal love.  

Young adults have spoken to me of their yearning for this connection from their churches. They want to be known—and to know they are cared for—rather than being seen as a resource for the youth ministry. 

So, spend time talking to your young adults. Learn their names, their jobs, their hopes, their struggles. Invite them around for a meal. Encourage them and love them in a personal way.

2. Practice wise authenticity

As a general rule, young adults don’t value power, position or qualifications from their leaders half as much as they desire authenticity. Behind it all, they want to know who their leaders are as people and despise leadership as a performance.

This makes sense—as young adults have often come to the point where they recognise that living a hypocritical life is profoundly unfulfilling. Perhaps they attempted this through their secondary school years, but many enter the young adult stage recognising that they have struggles and sin they need to confront. And they desire to see how others are doing this.

See, it is in the young adult years that big decisions and big mistakes can often be made. Whether financial, sexual, relational, career, personal—all of these domains can be powerfully shaped in these times, and young adults want to hear how others have navigated this time. 

When I look back on my twenties, my most significant moments of growth did not come about from hearing a sermon (and I say this as a preacher!). Instead, they came when older guys and couples practiced courageous honesty, and shared moments from their life with me. They explained their struggles, their battles with sin, and the consequences of their choices. They shared how God’s grace sustains them, and how the Spirit guides them. They talked about how faithful Christ is. 

3. Train them for leadership

We’re often told that the early Church was led by young leaders. Additionally, we look back at church history and can recognise that many of the powerful movements that led to reformation were led by remarkable young adults. Francis of Assisi was 24 when he became a ‘fool for God’. Billy Graham was 28 at the time of his first crusade. Elizabeth of Hungary, a powerful leader in the development of care for the sick and poor, developed her first hospital at the age of 20. 

It is easy to read this and lament “Why aren’t our young adults doing this?” We forget that many of these leaders had training at the hands of a strong mentor. Jesus invested three years in the young disciples before commissioning them to witness and plant churches. They learnt conflict resolution, theology, preaching, financial wisdom, ethics… And then, full of the Spirit, they were equipped to lead.

Several churches in New Zealand are taking this leadership training seriously, and choosing to invest in their young adults. The Street has a two-year leadership program for young adults they identify for ministry. Papatoetoe Gospel Chapel has identified and invested in several young adults, using Knowing God as a conversation text. Botany Life has run a two-year servant and leadership training program for young adults. 

This investment has seen new preachers, elders, ministry leaders, entrepreneurs and more rise up. This has not come about due to chance or luck; but due to a decision to invest significant time, love and energy into developing their young adults into leaders. As these churches have followed Paul’s command to “equip his people for works of service”, they are seeing vitality and maturity grow from and through these people.

There are a range of exciting stories of how God is working amongst young adults across CCCNZ churches, and a group of strong leaders who are experienced in helping churches understand and engage with their young adults in a meaningful, gospel-centred way. 

If you’d appreciate ideas or guidance as to how better to connect with your young adults, please contact to identify and arrange for a coach to help you along this journey.


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