Young adults

When the kids come home for Christmas they fill the pews that are usually half empty throughout the year. The people who track demographics in the Church call them “young adults” because they fall between the age of 20 and 35, but that may be the only thing they have in common. The Church wants these people to be active members of our parishes, and experts have filled reams of paper with insights and strategies to get them. Seeing these young adults out there at Christmas time only heightens the reality that they fall out of reach when the holidays end. Parishes need a strategy and a paradigm shift to reach them. 

Those who work with and study young adults in the Church know the challenges they face when it comes to living their Christian faith. Their cultural environment is not open to living as disciples, and in some cases they feel unworthy to be in a relationship with the Church. Their lifestyles and their search for meaning in life have not caught up with Church teaching and they feel like they should keep their distance. They may not be interested in joining a particular parish because their Spiritual journey is not bound by geographical orientation, but this should not be seen as a sign that they do not care about their faith. This is a great challenge to a parish if the young adults do not choose to be card-carrying members, but there may be more of them out there than first recognized.

The usual suspects when it comes to young adult ministry are the singles who have graduated from college and are now living in large cities with neighborhoods that are magnets for young professionals. Parishes that are fortunate to be within the geographic cluster of post-college young adults have easy access to this low-hanging fruit. Places like South Boston and the North End have regular gatherings of young adults that feature Mass, faith sharing, Adoration, community and good food. Unfortunately, there are no natural young adult stomping grounds in the Diocese of Fall River. 

Young adults are not easy to lump into a single age-based demographic, nor can they be defined by their economic independence. Our young adults may be the ones who come back home after college to solidify their financial situation. Our cities are not magnets for young upwardly mobile professionals, but for young people just out of high school who have entered the work place and are scraping together a living. They are single mothers; engaged couples; recently married with babies and toddlers; and young families whose children have captured every minute of time in their parents’ busy schedules.

When young adults are viewed through the lens of their life situation it is much easier to build a strategy for evangelization. The material needs of these groups may be very different, but Spiritually they have in common the desire for an opportunity to encounter Christ, and guidance for their vocational discernment. Parish vocation committees that offer young adults opportunities to accept their universal call to holiness can build on this to help them discern their vocation as single, married, religious or ordained. 

Evangelization often happens when a person’s material concerns are acknowledged and addressed. Young adults may be facing economic insecurity, violence, addiction, and raising children. This should be the concern of our parishes and could offer a way to gather young adults within church walls in order to offer them assistance and guidance. This is a Christ-based model of ministry: take care of the physical needs and the Spiritual will follow. 

The Spiritual growth of young adults is the responsibility of all faith-filled parishioners. Ministry is relational, and this is even more important for the young adult seeking credible witnesses of how to live the Christian way of life. Engaged couples, on the threshold of building their Domestic Church, are wide open to hearing from married couples who share their stories of building Marriages and families on the foundation of faith. Young adults with babies and young children fly across the radar of parishes when they come forward seeking Baptism, and fly right off the screen before the water dries. Parents of infants should not be left floating between the Baptisms of their babies and registering for First Communion. This is a time when couples struggle to figure out how to be a family; what better time to help them to infuse their family with faith.

Parishes should not see young adults as yet another difficult group to evangelize, for they want to be partners in the mission of the Church, too. When we engage young adults in the missionary work of the Church they will be the best evangelizers to their peers. They want to engage with a Church that is centered on the charitable outreach to those in need, and that models the teachings of Christ. Even though they might need space to learn what it means to be a disciple, they want to be a partner in the mission.

Merry Christmas to all our adult kids who have come back home; come and join, we have work to do!

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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