5 Tips for Engaging Young Adults

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A professor at Loyola Institute of Ministry offers advice


It’s a refrain heard repeatedly in Catholic Church parishes across the country: “We would like to start a ministry for our young adults, but no one will show up. So few of them are in the pews. Why bother?”

“We think we’re doing young adult ministry — we think we have this great idea and throw a Scripture night — but no one shows up. So it becomes defeatist; it becomes frustrating,” said Tracey Lamont, an assistant professor of religious studies at the Loyola Institute for Ministry. (Visit CATmag.us/2IUAdpy to learn more about the Institute.) While young-adult mixers and well-crafted programs are great, Lamont said they neglect what this quickly maturing age group really craves: someone to listen to them, answer their big questions, advocate for them, and help them identify ways they can put their faith into action.

But how can parishes locate these young adults? What are the keys to a successful young adult ministry?

Lamont offered five tips, ideally carried out by a trained, full- time, parish-based lay ecclesial minister for young adults in collaboration with the pastor:

1. Assemble the group you want to serve.
■■Begin by identifying four or five of your parish’s very active young adults and ask them to invite a few of their friends to your first gathering. Ask these young adults what they would like to see added to parish life and which leadership roles interest them. This group could have a monthly cup of coffee with the pastor.

■■Find ways to plug this core group into existing parish ministries. For example, go to the DRE with a name of a young adult who expressed interest in becoming a catechist, or encourage someone who enjoys singing karaoke to join the choir.

■■Recognize that the lay ecclesial minister is only one person and cannot be the sole recruiter/evangelizer of young adults. “We want lay ecclesial ministers who are able to identify leadership, gifts, and potential in other youth and young adults, so that those young leaders can also go out; so that we have a network of mentors, leaders, and partners in ministry,” Lamont said.

■■Locate former teens whom you have not seen in church for a while, whether they live locally or out of town. They can be found through social media networking, “but there’s also just picking up the phone and calling them if they were once registered, ever,” Lamont said.

■■Parents often will go to a priest (or would go to the lay minister for young adults if the parish had one) with concerns about their adult children’s faith lives. Get to know these young adults in informal settings.

2. Find out where young adult Catholics are spending their time and go there.
■■Local programs, such as Christ in the City, Theology on Tap, and Young Catholic Professionals, attract young adults in droves. “We already know they’re there. So, if you’re a lay ecclesial minister or a pastor, go there [too]!” urges Lamont. “Tell them you care for them. Tell them how excited you are that they’re there and that you need them in your parish. You need their vibrancy. You need their gifts in your parish to set your parish on fire. They need to be welcomed, and they need to be needed!”

3. Use the resources of Catholic student centers.
■■Build a relationship with the Catholic student center at the colleges your young adults are attending, even those located out of state. Keep in touch with your young adults and help them match their talents to a ministry that needs them. Follow up with the campus chaplain.

■■Meet young adult Catholics at events and liturgies held at local Catholic student centers. Invite them to an occasional Mass in your parish. Even if they don’t end up attending Mass there every Sunday, they might show up for an occasional parish event or become involved in a ministry. If the ministry of interest doesn’t exist, encourage the young adult to form his or her own.

■■Look for other ways to spur collaboration between your parish and local Catholic student centers. For example, your pastor or parochial vicar could visit campus to celebrate Mass or give a talk; or your Men’s Club could invite the college students to work with them on a service project. Conversely, the parish could seek out young adults who need service hours, research materials, or professional experience.

■■Reach out to young-adults Catholics whose college or trade school might not have a campus ministry and to those who entered the workplace directly after high school graduation.

4. Remember: Hospitality is key as young adults form their identities apart from their parents.

■■Alert your parish’s ministers of hospitality to expect some new faces at Mass, give the ministers their names, and ask them to welcome them by name. Ask your pastor to introduce them at Mass.

5. Don’t be afraid to find and serve Catholics “in the margins.”

■■There are Catholic young adults struggling with homelessness, incarceration, single parenthood, and addiction who feel completely disconnected from their faith. Encourage your par- ish’s young adults to form a ministry to assist them.
■■Ask those who operate centers of art and music if they have noticed anyone struggling in their lives who might want to have coffee. “[The conversation] doesn’t have to be about faith,” said Lamont, citing one group of young adults dedicated to mentoring their peers at music clubs. “[The lay ecclesial minister for young adults] will hit dead ends, but always say, ‘Where am I going to go next? Where did Jesus go next?’”


Beth Donze is a staff writer at the Clarion Herald, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

This story is reprinted from the Clarion Herald and used with permission.

Image credit: iStock 998442670

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