Last week I attended the Minneapolis Area Synod Ministerium at River of Life Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis. The topic was “Does Church Really Matter? What Young Adults Want You to Know.” We had a presentation, a panel discussion and a Q & A Session. The presenter was Dr. Jeremy Myers from Augsburg University’s Riverside Innovation Hub. The Riverside Innovation Hub is a 5-year project designed to help congregations innovate new connections with young adults at the intersections of their faith and their public lives. It is a collaborative effort sponsored by Augsburg University’s Christensen Center for Vocation and supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc. The main thrust of this research project was training nine young adults to work with 16 congregations which had the reputation of doing ministry well with young adults. What they found is that “Young adults are seeking vulnerable and authentic communities that are explicit and intentional about living out their values and beliefs in the public square for the common good.” Young adults are wanting congregations which hold four different characteristics: 1) Placesharers: These faith communities have found ways to effectively enter relationships with young adults by engaging in the real joys and struggles of people’s lives. These congregations are not afraid of tough conversations or hard questions; they allow people to bring their real selves to the table. 2) Rooted in Theology: These faith communities are clear about their beliefs and practices. Their theological convictions shape their lives together. Their sense of mission is clear and compelling and is reflected in what they do. 3) Community: These faith communities are intentional about building community and bringing young adults into that community; there is a palpable sense of family and support, and young adults are instrumental leaders. 4) Public: These faith communities empower their people, including adults, to actively live out their faith in their public lives in a variety of ways. There is a high value placed upon the community gathered for worship, but always with an eye/ear towards those beyond their faith community.

The panel for the discussion consisted of the nine young adults trained as coaches for participating congregations. The most profound thing I heard was said several times by several panel members: “Listen and get to know the young adults. Take them where they are.” “Do not attempt to do a young adult program or target young adults like customers.” “Young adults crave relationships—authentic, vulnerable, real relationships.” Encouraging young people to participate in the life of a congregation is more about setting up a culture of welcome than it is about writing young adult programs. Young adults do not seek out churches that have contemporary worship services anymore. They seek out churches that have traditional worship services. Young adults will participate in the life of the congregation that is Placesharing, Rooted in Theology, dug into the Community, and intentionally Public with their faith.

Though we have some work to do, I am confident that because of our Welcome Statement, Mission Statement, Vision Statement and articulated Core Values, we are on the right track toward creating a culture where young adults will want to be a part of who we are and what we are accomplishing. In fact, I believe we are already seeing that come to light.