Friday, May 24, 2013

Ministry Among Millennials: To Change the World

Jason Evans
Last week, I had coffee with a young man who is part of the Episcopal Campus Ministry at American University. A student in the School for Intercultural Services, we discussed all that he is learning in his studies for his degree in social enterprise. Throughout our conversation, what impressed me was his desire not simply to be successful in life but to take the best of business and technology and use it for the common good.

In his book, “Makers,” editor-in-chief of “Wired” magazine Chris Anderson writes that more and more people are looking not only for profit-making opportunities in life but “meaning-making” opportunities. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, holds the same argument in his book, “Emerging Adulthood.” Arnett conducted hundreds of interviews with emerging adults and found a consistent desire for more than just an income out of a career. Young adults wanted to discover purpose through work that was an expression of their personal identity. A generation is coming of age that wants to change the world. 

I have conversations with Christian leaders who want help attracting young adults to their churches almost daily. Frequently, I ask why these leaders want to attract young people. Every once in awhile, I’m told it is because new tithing units are needed. But here rests the challenge: Young adults aren’t interested in financing institutions, nor can they. This generation has already accrued more debt and lower career-starting wages at their age than several generations to precede them. But, like I said, they want to change the world.

In my last article in this series, I mentioned The Millennial Impact Report, which stated that millennials “want to know what your organization is doing, how they can participate, and how their participation helps the cause.” What millennials may not be able to contribute financially, they make up for with energetic volunteerism. The report also found that “by a margin of more than two-to-one, millennials who volunteer… are more likely to make donations.” 

As you consider how you might engage the young people living, working, studying and playing in the neighborhood around your church, consider a few things:

Just ask. Forty percent of Millennials surveyed did not volunteer simply because they were not asked. Provide short and long-term opportunities for young people to serve. 

Be transparent, communicate well. Of those surveyed for the report mentioned above, the biggest deterrent to giving–whether of time, talent, or treasure–was a lack of organizational transparency and communication. Young people want to know how their involvement makes a difference.

Let young people lead. Seventy seven percent of those surveyed wanted to volunteer in a leadership capacity. Young people want to have a voice–what they give their time to, they want to help shape. Invite those who have shown commitment to serve on vestry and committees–or just take them out for coffee and ask what they think about things in the life your church.

Jesus was a young man when he began his ministry. One day, he walked into a worship space and read from the prophet Isaiah before a room of listeners. He read a passage that spoke of God’s dream for the world: relief for the poor, healing of the sick, and freedom for prisoners. That’s what the Savior came to do–change the world, fulfill God’s dream. This is an enticing dream to a generation looking for a good cause. Just as Jesus invited young men and women to come and join him in changing the world, you have the opportunity to do the same.

In brief, we have an opportunity to make disciples. Jesus did this by first doing ministry while his disciples observed. Than he invited them to do ministry while he observed. In the end, he sent them on to reproduce this process with others. Remember: just ask. Invite young people to come serve with you, watching you go about your ministry. Then give them the opportunity to take the lead, while you watch and coach them on. And just as Jesus has commissioned us, send them out to go and do likewise.

Jason Evans is the Diocesan Young Adult Missioner. This blog is part of a series on ministry with young adults that we will be featuring on Saturdays in May. Share your thoughts and reactions on Facebook.