The Challenges of Young Adulthood

One of the early defining questions of this project was whether to use the term Millenial or young adult when referring to our target demographic of 23 to 29-year-olds. We even floated 20-somethings as a possible primary label.

In the end, we landed with young adult, even with its murky definition. I will list the reasons why next, but then I will also seek to demonstrate why that term is helpful in identifying the particular struggles that we think are most prevalent for contemporary young adults.

Why not use Millennial(s)? Early on, we attended a consultation meeting at The Lilly Endowment along with the 11 other institutions participating in this inquiry. During one presentation, the researcher argued that, in one sense, a lot of what was being said about the Millennial generation that was coming of age was similar to what had been said about the Gen-Xers before them, and even the Boomers before them. In other words, older generations tend to criticize and misunderstand younger generations, regardless of who they are. Since this wasn't a new phenomenon for the Millennial generation, perhaps we needed to focus more on the phase of life rather than the distinctives of Millennials.

Why not 20-somethings? Often when we start engaging with a congregation, they will tell us about the group they have that best resembles young adults, and this doesn't always fit the 20-something description. It can look like a cohort of a few couples, new young families in their early 30s, or highschoolers fresh into college who happen to be attending locally and not in a new city. Given that in some communities adolescence is delayed, while in others teenagers grow up very fast, it's hard to say at a glance who best bears the standard of young adult.

If we err as a team, we would prefer, in most circumstances, to err on the side of being inclusive and working with whomever is present. We believe this models the very flexibility that we think young adults want to see in the church. Allow those with gifts to serve the community with those gifts. Also, simply by asking this question you begin to define the issues particular to young adults: first job or first step in the career; first rental or purchase of a home; first time out of a structured educational environment; first time paying one's own bills; first time making decisions about faith involvement outside of the home or structured environment (like college); maybe even first romantic relationship or first time that dating might lead to marriage; or first attempts at starting a family.

As you can see, young adulthood is full of firsts and could almost be compared to the amount of firsts someone has prior to starting school. As numerous people in our church interviews have pointed out, many of these firsts happened under the care of a local congregation, sometimes even directly aided by the congregation. Young adults might find a job or network their way into a career through someone at church. Or they might meet, marry, and start a family with someone they met in a ministry setting. Maybe they rented a room from a family in a congregation, or found out about a wonderful home coming onto the market through a real estate agent with whom they worship. Or perhaps, in the less sunny times, their church community helped them through a tragedy like a miscarriage, car accident, or relationship falling apart.

The point being, young adult problems can be Millennial problems, and can be problems synonymous with being in your 20s, but they aren't one-in-the-same.

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