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How to Start and Sustain a Faith-Based Young Adult Group
By John D. Schroeder
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2002 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Initial Decisions and Planning
Congratulations! You are about to experience the creation of a young adult group, a ready-made family of individuals who will touch one another's lives. As leader and organizer, you will need to make some decisions and do some planning in order to reach your objectives. Let's begin with your objectives.
Why do you want to start a young adult group?
A young adult group in your church should exist only to nurture the young adults in your midst. If your motivation is to love and care for young adults, you are on the right track.
Not every church should attempt to start a young adult group. Not every church has a ready population of young adults nor does every church have the time, patience, and leadership to develop a young adult ministry. Starting a young adult ministry will not necessarily bring new people into your congregation. It may not help your church grow.
Even if your heart and head are in the right places, it is not always easy to launch a young adult group. You will need to be able to interest enough young adults to allow the group to continue and be successful. A church starting a young adult group also needs a natural population of young adults in its vicinity.
Take a good look at the number of young adults who are related to your congregation and who live in your area. These persons represent your natural population of young adults. How many people are on your list? The best planned event will attract only 20 to 30 percent of the natural population. Will that number be enough to maintain interest and allow the group to continue? Some congregations find that cooperating with other nearby churches can help enlarge the natural population necessary for a continuing young adult group.
If you believe that there are enough young adults around to make a young adult group possible, look at your objectives along with the needs of young adults. You want to start a group in which young adults can find space and support for their spiritual growth. Consider making a list of the goals or outcomes for the group and individual participants. Put your vision in writing.
Think about how you will meet the needs of those who will become members of your young adult group. It is important to remember that people join groups in order to have their needs met. They come to a group for a reason and with an agenda.
Participants also have different needs from one another. One person may join solely for friendship (to make new Christian friends) while another might attend in order to have his or her spiritual needs met. A young adult group can satisfy multiple needs, but these needs should be considered in your initial planning.
In considering needs, it is important to look at where young adults are at this point in their lives. Most young adults are at a stage where they have moved from their parents' households to college dorms, apartments, or houses of their own. They are becoming independent from their families and are on their own for the first time. They are becoming adults in their own right.
Young adults are dealing with many issues, including independence, identity, and intimacy. The loneliness of being on their own may cause them to yearn for new and intimate relationships. In addition, some may be starting their first jobs and are now responsible for paying rent, making car payments, and buying food, clothing, and furnishings for a home.
Young adult ministry provides opportunities for persons to share their struggles. Young adults often seek a community of friends, peers, and mentors as they search for answers. They are looking for direction in both the secular and spiritual realms.
Young adults also have spiritual concerns. They are questioning, exploring, and experimenting. They have moved away from their parents and are beginning to make their own world of meanings. Some may leave the church during this time while others may attend Sunday worship on a regular basis.
It is normal for young adults to question matters of faith. When they do so, however, they do not necessarily reject the faith of their parents. If young adults reject anything at this point, they reject a naive acceptance of parental authority as the guarantee of faith. Young adults need to "own" their understandings of faith. And so they question.
The best responses that older adults and friends of young adults can have are to accept the questioning of young adults, to accept their questions, to allow them to try answers of their own without condemnation, and to model with integrity and consistency their own set of faith understandings.
Once you have some idea why you want to form a young adult group and have thought about their needs and how you might meet them, it is time to make some decisions about your prospective participants. One decision is the number of participants to have.
There are several factors to consider when determining the size of your young adult group. First, you will want to look at the amount of space available. Are you planning to have your activities in a large room, small room, gymnasium, or outdoors? Will the young adults need space on Sunday mornings, or will they be meeting on a weekday evening?
You may want the group to be small enough so everyone gets a chance to participate, especially if you are having a Bible study or small group discussion. One option is to break down a large group into a number of small groups for some events. Remember that some people will be absent from time to time. Think about seating, comfort, and the ability to hear each other.
Many young adult groups have no restrictions as to the number of people. They welcome and accommodate everyone who shows up. These groups have both large and small group activities when they get together. Gymnasiums and large and small rooms within churches are often used.
The type of people is another consideration. Is your young adult group open to singles, married, or both? Will participants be solely members of your church, people from the neighborhood, or anyone who wants to attend? And there is also the question of what age group constitutes a young adult. Normally, young adults are ages 18 to 39. Some groups could be composed of men and women in their twenties. It is important to establish an age range early in the planning process.
The next step in the creation of your young adult group should be some research that can add to your potential for a successful ministry. Using your list of potential members, conduct some personal interviews. Get to know your potential group members. Meet them face-to-face. Learn about their situations, their interests, and their needs. This is your opportunity to become an "expert" on young adults.
Prepare some appropriate questions in advance concerning their needs, interests, and ideas on scheduling events. Ask them if they think they would participate in a new young adult group. What would they like the group to do? Give them some possible activities as examples. Would they be willing to attend on Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour? Would they prefer a weekend? What time is best? You might also ask them if they know other young adults who would be interested in this new group.
Interview as many young adults as possible, then sit down and review your findings. Learn from what you were told. What programming received the most positive response? Were they interested in attending on Sunday mornings or on a weeknight? Would they invest one, two, or three hours of their time on a weekly or monthly basis?
* Leadership Options
Now that you are ready to make some initial decisions, it is time to focus on the question of leadership. You have several options open to you including a single leader or a leadership team. Consider the qualities you are looking for in a leader.
You want a person who relates well to young adults and has a knack for young adult ministry. One of the most important traits of a young adult leader is to be a good listener. Young adults need accepting, patient people to hear them out. You want someone who can invest the time to launch a program and then do what is necessary to keep it operating. If the group will be meeting weekly, a leader's schedule must be free so he or she can be there each week. Another quality needed in a leader is creativity. Are they able to conceive and sustain activities that keep the interest and meet the needs of young adults? A leader also needs good organizational ability. This is the ability to delegate or handle a multitude of tasks, making sure all the details get covered. You also want a leader who is reliable to do the work necessary while being responsive to the needs of the group.
Group leadership involves a number of responsibilities. Beyond the tasks involved in starting a group, a leader is often the facilitator of each meeting and each small group session. The leader also keeps track of individual members. Small group members may call the leader if they are unable to attend. The leader is responsible for notifying members if a meeting is canceled. Some responsibilities of the leader can certainly be delegated.
The leader is the shepherd of the group, looking out for his or her flock. If problems develop within the group, the group leader deals with them. If a small group discussion is offered, lesson preparation is involved each week as well as any afterdiscussion group activities or social events.
Another duty of the leader is to initially decide where and when to meet. Normally, a young adult group meets at a church, but some meet in the homes of members or in rooms at public libraries or restaurants.
The criteria for deciding on a location include lighting, size of the group, comfortable seating, privacy, and closeness to the members' homes. Availability of the proposed location is a first concern. Is there available parking, and is it in a safe area of town? The leader also needs to check that there are no scheduling conflicts with other groups for the facility.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the question becomes can one person fulfill all of these traits, or is a leadership team required? Here are a few options to consider:
The leader could be the youth pastor of the church.
A seminary student could be utilized in the role of leader, either as an internship or on a salary basis.
The leader could be a member of the congregation who has the time and interest to coordinate a young adult ministry.
Another option is to set up a leadership team if you are older than the young adults you are leading. Young adults want to take part in making decisions that affect them. If you are a young adult yourself, set up a leadership team anyway. The diversity present in a group of three to five will add knowledge and skills to what you offer as an individual.
If you are responsible for establishing a leadership team, recruit carefully. Do not simply ask for volunteers. You could end up with a group of persons who lack the combination of skills required to meet the demands of a young adult ministry.
* Costs and Funding
It doesn't take much money to start a young adult group. The only costs involved would be for a text for small group discussions, costs for promoting the group, snacks, and supplies for activities, such as volleyball equipment. If the leader is being paid for his or her time, that would be an added expense.
Normally the cost of the materials, such as a textbook for group discussions, would be covered by each of the participants. Refreshments could be a shared expense by members of the group with each person taking turns bringing a snack for the week. The cost of other items would need to come from the church budget, or perhaps a member of the congregation would donate funds.
Another alternative for funding and meeting the needs of the group could be to seek donations from local businesses. A business owned by a member of the congregation might donate the cost of pizza for a special event. A business might sponsor your softball, bowling, or volleyball team.
When scheduling your initial programming, it pays to ask your prospective members for their advice. Many weeknight groups begin at 7:00 or 7:30, allowing people to get home from work, eat, and get to church. Some groups run activities from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. Ask your members for their input on when to conclude activities.
Ask for suggestions on what night is best. Many churches have Wednesday night or Thursday night activities for all members of the church. Is there space to accommodate a young adult group with other groups? Other churches have young adult activities on Sunday mornings or Sunday nights. Take a good look at all your options. If it doesn't work, change to another day or time.
The other scheduling decision is which activity to schedule first. If you have only one activity, such as a Bible study, there is no decision to be made. However, more than one activity creates questions. Do you have a Bible study followed by volleyball, or volleyball followed by a small group discussion? Look at all your options and weigh the benefits of each.CHAPTER 2
Activities and Options
After making some initial decisions about a young adult ministry and obtaining some feedback from prospective participants about their interests and needs, you should have some idea about what type of activities and programming you intend to offer.
There is a full range of options available to you from a weekly one-hour informal discussion on young adult issues to small group discussions, Bible studies, recreational activities, social events, special events, and retreats. You can offer as little or as much as you want. Your selection of programming will be determined by your number of participants, available space in your facility, the needs and interests of your young adults, and finally, how much time the leader has to invest in this ministry.
Programming may seek to meet the spiritual, social, or recreational needs of your group, but not necessarily all three. Again, it depends on the needs and interests of your young adults. It is wise to listen to your prospective group members before making any decisions. You can also be experimental in your programming, keeping what works and changing what doesn't. There may be a period of trial and error for up to a year before you find programming that meets needs and generates attendance.
* Quality Programs
Young adults choose the activities in which they want to take part. If they do not find an activity worthwhile, they will not come back. Quality is essential. When starting out, it is vital to be organized, have the necessary materials in place to offer a program, and offer a welcoming and accepting atmosphere.
You should also think about the activities against which your young adult group competes. Your competition could include everything from staying home and watching television to going out to a play, movie, or restaurant. One major plus you have going for you is that attending your young adult group will be cheaper than going to a movie or out to dinner. Money does matter. Some times, even the weather will be a factor and compete against you. In the end, however, the question remains, what would cause the persons you hope to attract to choose your group instead of some other activity?
If your group meets on Sunday morning, how can you help young adults choose to get up early enough to attend instead of sleeping late? When you invite young adults, you are asking them to give up some of their limited free time. What will be in it for them to be there on Sunday morning or to drop by church on a Wednesday night after a hard day of work?
Preparation pays big dividends. The more preparation you do, the easier it will be for you to get your group off the ground. Do your homework. If you are leading a session, prepare well in advance. Have adequate copies of materials available. If you are unsure how to carry out an activity, try it out on family members or friends.
Pay attention to your meeting room. Some of your young adults will be brand new to the congregation. Look at your meeting room as if you were seeing it for the first time. What is your first impression? What can you change to make it more inviting? Can a new person find it easily? How can a young adult coming into the church for the first time know that a group of persons of his or her age is meeting in your room? If you want young adults who are parents to come, child care is another issue. Will you offer quality day care, or do they need to make their own arrangements?
Excerpted from How to Start and Sustain a Faith-Based Young Adult Group by John D. Schroeder. Copyright © 2002 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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