Seven Keys to Ministering Effectively with Young Adults

Seven Keys to Ministering Effectively with Young Adults

Keith Nisbet

Seven Keys to Ministering effectively
with Young Adults

by Keith Nisbet

.Keith recently did some study leave on the topic of ministry with young adults. Here’s a sample from his report…

I see seven practical areas that are keys for the church to minister effectively to young adults today. These are not new areas. Jesus worked in all of these with his disciples as did Barnabus and Paul with two young men, Mark and Timothy. I believe it is high time the church rediscovered them.

The right attitude
We need to begin by accepting young adults for who they are. These are young people in transition who are still “making meaning” of the world. They have enthusiasm and drive but are still working on responsibility and commitment. In terms of Generation X this means accepting that many young adults are broken, that they need huge amounts of care and encouragement, that their sense of commitment will need to be developed, that they don’t care much for the corporate culture or the institutional church, and that they are pragmatic rather than idealistic. Some of this generation’s attitudes are not good and will, over time, need to be challenged. The key is that we don’t expect young people to change before they can be part of the church.

Personal Friendships
Personal, real, authentic relationships are crucial. Young adults, and especially Generation X, are not interested in being part of a program for the program’s sake. They want to build genuine relationships with others who will support them and be part of their lives. To do this requires the right environment of trust, care and possibly instruction as to what makes a good relationship work. It means becoming involved in their lives, visiting their work places, celebrating their successes and mourning their tragedies. It means attending ‘twenty firsts’, cappings, and their friends’ funerals with them. It is hard work and takes heaps of time yet personal friendships and small communities (below) are two of the primary ways this generation will experience the Christian faith and come into the church.

Real communities and relational small groups
We need to develop strong, caring communities for young adults within our congregations. These won’t necessarily be bible study groups, they can be support groups, activity groups, recovery groups or any other sort of small group. For my wife and I these groups have taken the form of music groups, bible study groups and Operation Jerusalem outreach teams. The key is that the relationships are honest, open and real, and that the groups are supportive and caring.

It is worth noting that with all this generation’s emotional baggage these groups can be difficult to maintain and require dedicated, caring and wise leadership. There are also many in this generation who need specific counselling and professional care and this will often come out in these groups.

Opportunities to participate and practice faith
In many churches the unspoken rule is that you can participate in church life when you are old or experienced enough, which effectively puts whole areas of ministry out of reach of young adults. Instead of this young adults need opportunities to try, opportunities where they are challenged in their faith, using their gifts and attempting new things in a supportive environment. I learnt to lead and to minister to others as I was given a small group of thirteen year olds to disciple, camps to run and leadership teams to work with. At Saddleback Community church, Doug Fields helps his young people to be involved by giving them spiritual gifts tests then, if need be, creating a ministry for them!
Leadership development
This area links into the one above. Quality leaders don’t just evolve, they are nurtured. We need to develop new leaders by challenging them to lead, by adequately training them in the role, and by giving them the opportunities to lead others.

Mentors and fellow journeyers
Developmental theorists and commentators on Generation X both agree that young adults are looking for role models, for people they can emulate, for elders to walk the journey of life and the Christian faith with them. I remember being given a name-tag that read “Keith Nisbet, Spiritual Director” by a young friend at his twenty first birthday party. Why? Because he saw me as one of his mentors. We, as the church, need to be proactive in helping young people find mentors who they can relate to, emulate and journey with.

Genuine worship and relevant teaching
This generation views church and worship differently from others. An assistant pastor with a thriving young adults ministry recently said to me,

“The older generations need to take their hands off this generations worship and let them do it as they want”.

Generation X majors on contemporary music, the use of media and images, congregational involvement, informality, and the use of different styles and formats of service from week to week. They minor on the sermon, tradition, structure and order. They desire teaching that they can relate to and is relevant to their lives from real preachers. In short, young adults are looking for worship that is real for them, enthusiastically led, relationally based, and varied.


Effective ministry with this age group does require change and innovative thinking, but in the end I think both the young adults and the church are winners.