Making a Safe Space for Young Adults

What does making a safe space for young adults in the church look like? This is an interesting question for churches to consider.
 
When this project started, the churches that applied and were accepted had the initial task of taking stock of their resources.
  • Did they have young adults? 
  • If they did have young adults, was there a critical mass? 
  • Did they have leaders in the group of young adults or people who had leadership calling and talent? 
  • Did they have older adults who wanted to come alongside young adults? 
  • Were there obstacles to young adults operating safely in the congregation? 
 
Clearly there is a spectrum of situations and variations, given this set of questions and others like it.  
 
More often than not, the choice of what action to take came down to two options: Create a nested young adult group that is largely autonomous and somewhat protected from the congregation, or invite young adults to be involved in the congregation in a more integrated way right out of the gate.  

No matter how the start of a ministry to and by young adults happens, the end goal is always the same: Integrate young adults fully into the life of the church.*  
 
Often, the question the congregation must ask itself is how equipped are we to help young adults thrive in our community culture? If the congregation is well prepared, then the invitation to integration can happen sooner. However, some congregations that earnestly want to welcome young people have certain expectations stemming from their church culture and tradition about how these newcomers should be formed. While they have good intentions, expecting young adults to fit their mold can cause the church to become a hostile environment for young adults who are trying to adapt and integrate faith to their own experience and time (Kairos). If this is the case, then a longer period of identity and support building with young adult peers and a more careful integration plan might be in order.  
 
The big question our churches seem to be asking is whether it makes more sense to usher young adults into the congregation as a group, depleting the culture of a safe young adult space and rebuilding from scratch, OR try to maintain a separate young adult space where future young adults can land more softly in a congregation. If they choose rebuilding from scratch and each young adult group reflects its constituent young adults, then it can become a cycle that can adapt to each new group of young adults—though possibly an exhausting one. If they choose to maintain a constant young adult group presence, it could become another church program that doesn't change fast enough to adapt to newcomers, and waxes and wanes with organic growth and depletion.
 
The end analysis suggests that trying to decide between these various approaches is probably too systematic for something as dynamic as a group of 20-somethings in settings as varied and fluctuating as the local church. Rather, a posture of adaptation seems to be the best one. No matter what is "chosen," adaptation must characterize the process, given that not adapting—a choice too often chosen by the church when it comes to young adults—isn't an option.
 
For many churches, having two models that are both upheld as good and productive is still vocabulary broadening, given how much the imagination of healthy young adult spaces has shrunk over the decades.
 
*The only difference here might be a church planting church that is interested in nurturing and sending out groups of young adults to plant churches, which is more an aesthetic issue than a qualitatively different pursuit. 

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