The following is a guest post by Tim Atkins.

Tim is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, is 28, and has been a UU for the past five years.  He is a proud and active member of the 20/30s group at the Unitarian Univeralist Congregation of Atlanta, in addition to having served on the Stewardship Committee and served as a RE teacher, youth adviser, and greeting team leader.

Why even bother with Young Adult Ministry?

by Tim Atkins

The future of our faith is at hand, here and now.

That may sound like hyperbole to some, and it may sound scary to others.  But it’s the truth.  Young adults represent the future of our faith, the future of our denomination. In the years and decades to come, the strength of our denomination will come from the labors that we put forth now.  If we want our denomination to have a sustainable future, we must grow sustainable young adult groups within our congregations.

Far too often, young adults walk through the door of a congregation, see no one like them, encounter subtle but significant resistance to their desires of community building and deepening their faith, and don’t return.  Their spiritual needs are not met and they look elsewhere.  They feel isolated, they feel like a token, and they feel unwelcome in the congregational clique that has developed.

They are yearning for a community of like-minded people to bond with, to grow with, and to worship with.

Young adults need this spiritual connection to a community that we can provide. All signs are pointing to the current generation of young adults being among the most disconnected from society in history.  We may have a lot of Facebook Friends, but we are looking for a true, deep, beloved community.  And the place we look for it?  At church.

Yes, there are some congregations with a thriving Young Adult ministry program, but they are in the minority of our Association.  Our congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, is a large congregation with an active Young Adult group that is fully integrated with our congregation.  In the years 2007-2009, 131 out of 240 new members of the congregation were in their 20s or 30s.  Our congregation’s growth is in part tied to the growth of our Young Adult

Research is beginning to show that our faith is in a great position for Young Adult growth.  The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s report, “Religion Among Millenials,” shows a number of interesting trends for young adults nationwide.

“According to the 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, almost twice as many young adults say homosexuality should be accepted by society as do those ages 65 and older (63% vs. 35%). Young people are also considerably more likely than those ages 30-49 (51%) or 50-64 (48%) to say that homosexuality should be accepted.”

Unitarian Universalism is in a unique position to establish itself as a meaningful religious movement for the Millenial generation. Because, in part, young adults are more progressive with their social values that other generations.

According to a study done by the Center for American Progress in 2009, 67% of respondents aged 18-24 and 59% aged 25-29 believe that “religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.”

Young adult values are more in line with traditional Unitarian Universalist values than any other age cohort.  But they are among the least represented in our congregations.

The report from the Center for American Progress also states that,“research on the Millennial Generation shows that, like previous generations, they value spirituality and faith but are far less likely to embrace organized religion.”

Young adults are intrigued by our creedless nature, and young adults are looking for a faith community where they are encouraged to find their own spiritual path.  We have something to offer young adults, and young adults have something to offer to us.

We aren’t living up to our promise if we exclude, intentionally or unintentionally, young adults from meaningful participation in congregational life (ranging from worship to committees to leadership.) We aren’t building a community if we aren’t welcoming to all members of the community. We aren’t making sure our denomination is sustainable in the future.

Young Adults want to belong.  Isn’t it high time we let them?

We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of the merger between Unitarianism and Universalism.  Fifty years from now, what will our faith look like?  If we don’t make the commitment today to build up young adult programs in our congregations, our faith will look, well, empty.

What will you do, what will your congregation do, to make sure our faith is stronger than ever in fifty years?

In this post Tim reminds us of the critical need for Unitarian Universalist congregations, clergy and lay leaders to work to integrate Young Adults into their ministry.  And while they are at it, youth!

Our association is in desperate need of a leadership & ministry make-over.  No small patches or quick fixes, but serious, comprehensive reform.  Many youth and young adults have expressed to me that they wish there would be more national initiatives.  I think our success will come from more people like Tim sharing ideas, connecting, inspiring and leading the way.

  • If you have questions on starting up a Young Adult group, Tim invites you to contact him at atkins.timothy at gmail dot com.
  • If you are a youth or young adult leader and have ideas and opinions to share, please join our conversation.  We can’t have a comprehensive UU growth discussion without you.
  • Check out the “Generation Yes: News & Spirituality for Unitarian Universalists Under 40” blog by Jen Shattuck, my district’s young adult ministry consultant.

– Peter