Engaging Emerging Adult Leaders in Congregations

Three young adults at a cafe table working.

Imagine if you will… in your home congregation...that emerging adults (age 18 - 24) are fully integrated into the life of the church, and have strong connections with each other. They are involved in both intergenerational and age-cohort activities that satisfy spiritual and social needs (mixing and huddling). They are in positions of leadership throughout the church, and their perspectives and voices are valued, not just because of their generational lens, but also because of their leadership abilities. Their leadership is felt in many aspects of congregational life. Young adults are (becoming) a large part of our identity as a faith community, it is truly their congregation, too.

Are you interested in making this vision a reality? Well here are some guiding questions and tips that we hope you’ll consider:

Guiding Questions

  1. In what ways are you currently ministering to 18-24 year-olds? Has the congregation meaningfully stayed in touch with their youth group alumni / emerging adults? What does multigenerational ministry look like in your congregation? Are all ages and stages involved in worship? RE? Stewardship? Governance (Yes, even governance!)?
  2. Is ministering to emerging adults a priority? If so, is it something the congregation does well, or does it keep getting pushed down the to-do list? What might need to get bumped to make this keystone cohort a priority? What pastoral care offerings exist for youth and young adults? Does the minister make an intentional connection with youth and young adults at least twice yearly? How are emerging adults invited into service and leadership?
  3. Is your congregation focusing on multigenerational ministry? Are you meeting the needs of families through life transitions like bridging and entering emerging adulthood? Pacific Western Region’s Re-Imagining Bridging Playlist and Karen Bellavance-Grace’s work on Full Week Faith are a great resources!
  4. Are you reaching out to emerging adults? What programs, offerings, and outreach are you making to young adults from your community? Your families? Your young adult families with children?
  5. What does justice and inclusion look like in your congregation? Is it integral? Is it spiritually grounded in our faith, with meaningful reflection both before and after? Identities matter. Honestly… How interculturally competent is your leadership and laity when it comes to race? To gender? To class? To age? How might you promote communication and an atmosphere that aligns intent and impact?

Ideas and Best Practices for Emerging-Adult-Friendly Congregations

  1. Stay in touch with your bridgers, like many of our congregations do. You can send care packages if they’ve moved away or drop one off if they’re still in town. Invite them into fun leadership roles that match their interests such as teaching RE or leading a multigenerational activity or doing a reflection or music in worship. If they’re out of town, you can invite them as guests when they’re home.
  2. Host youth group reunions. We do have congregations who do this well! Summer and winter holiday season are good times for these events. Make sure they have some food, some fun structured activities, and some spiritual component. You can invite current youth and bridged youth or just the alumni, depending on the size of your program and the bonds folks share.
  3. Work on making your congregation more welcoming to young adults or think through starting an emerging adult ministry. You might want to try a small group using Becoming Together or offer a program like Young Adult OWL.
  4. Offer support to local UU students, whether they grew up in your congregation or not! Many congregations support local campus ministry efforts and you can too. There are differentlevels of engagement if you’re not ready to go all in. Look at this handbook for some steps on getting started.
  5. Support emerging adults in your network attending intensive UU experiences such as camps, conferences, Leadership Schools, General Assembly, Meaning Makers, or GROW Racial Justice. These important experiences carry emerging adults through when they’re struggling to stay connected. You can make sure your bridged youth know about these options and you can also offer money to support them attending!
  6. Help bridgers plug in if they moved away. A great way to do this is to sit down with them and look over the HubMap to see if there are young adult ministries in their area. If not they can fill out the HubMap form to get on the map so others can find them.

Above all, don’t be afraid to engage in this critical ministry. Do everything in your power to answer the questions above, create an action plan (evaluate and revisit), and reach out and welcome emerging adults, and who knows...?

You just may find glimmers of the vision painted so eloquently above beginning to emerge in your own congregation.

Curious where your congregation stands? Complete the Young Adult Ministry Self Assessment.

For more resources go to Young Adult Ministry for Congregations or reach out to your Congregational Life Staff Contact for more support.

Blessings on the journey!

About the Authors

Eric Bliss

Eric Bliss, Pacific Western Region Youth and Emerging Adult Ministry Specialist, is a native of Knoxville, TN, where he grew up attending both Westside Unitarian Universalist and Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Churches.

Sarah Gibb Millspaugh

Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh serves on the Pacific Western Regional staff of the UUA.

Annie Gonzalez Milliken

Annie Gonzalez Milliken and Elizabeth Nguyen worked in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Association. Annie supports young adult and campus ministries while Elizabeth serves youth and young adults of color.

For more information contact .