Young adulthood (college-age into thirties) is really the time where many people either choose the Faith for themselves or walk away entirely. This is an age where many of us are seeking truth, community, and fulfillment. For this reason, young adult ministry can be life-changing.
As a young adult, myself, I can say whole-heartedly that being invested in young adult ministry over the past few years has made all the difference in my walk with God. I felt called to give the same opportunity to others, and so I’ve taken a position in Young Adult Ministry at my parish and have built a program from the ground up.
Tips for Starting a Young Adult Ministry at Your Parish
If you are feeling called to start a young adult ministry—whether it is a monthly Bible study, women’s fellowship group, or weekly co-ed meeting at your parish—here are some things that have worked for me so far.
The first and probably most important step for you to take in starting any ministry is to pray about it. Ask God: what He wants you to do, where to start, what needs need to be met in your community, etc. Have open communication with God continuously throughout the whole process in order for the ministry to be fruitful.
Remember, this is ultimately His work, and we are here to be His hands and feet!
2. Gain support from your pastor and/or parish staff
If this is going to be a parish-based ministry, get the go-ahead from your pastor, even if this is going to be a volunteer position. I have found that things flow so much more smoothly when I am on the same page with my pastor. This also makes things much simpler when it comes to planning and finding a location to gather.
If for some reason there is no support here, there is a possibility God is calling you to develop a home-based ministry, or a small ministry that meets in a public setting, such as coffee shop.
3. Get input from other young adults
Before setting up a group structure that you personally find appealing, get together with young adults 1-on-1. Give them an idea of what you’d like to start, and then listen. Listen to the needs and desires of the young adults around you, and from this, you can see what would feed them best.
I found that young adults in my parish were wanting fellowship and discussion on the Faith in our modern culture, group Rosaries, and Bible studies, and so I developed our group accordingly.
4. Create a structure and stick to it
This may take a few tries and a few adjustments. But once you have a format, location, and dates for your group, do your best to stick with it. Life happens and the Holy Spirit happens and sometimes things get changed up a bit, but overall consistency is good for multiple reasons.
It shows commitment to those around you, people who hear of it and don’t RSVP won’t show up on a night where nothing is happening, and having a specific structure to work with will help things to flow a bit more naturally during the meeting.
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5. Reach out by advertising and personal invitations
Be fishers of men! Make sure that people hear of this ministry and know that the invitation is there. People may hear of your new ministry by word of mouth from others, but you need to put the work in to make sure the information is out there for people to spread.
There are two main ways that you can spread the word: advertising and personal invitation. General advertising will be by social media, the church website, the bulletin, fliers, speaking at Masses, or tabling outside of Masses with information printed out for people to take. This lets young adults know there is something out there for them. Then we pray that God does the rest.
Personal invitation is probably even more important. Jesus reached out to many people individually. This is how many people feel most welcomed and inclined to go. Once you reach out to a few people, encourage them to reach out to others in the same way they were reached out to.
6. Meet people where they are
Not everyone is going to be a solid theologian when they walk through the doors. Maybe you’re not one, either. Some people may be questioning if God exists. Some people might be well-educated in the Faith but have no clue as to how to connect with people around them. People will be coming from many different places.
Jesus meets people where they are, and we are to do the same. The goal is not to “fix” people; just be Jesus to them and to share Him with them.
7. Food, food, food!
Nothing quite says, “You’re loved and cared for,” to young adults who are often low on money or live on their own like food does. I am a huge advocate for providing a meal whenever possible. It provides a physical need and creates a warmer atmosphere. Jesus provided for physical needs before spiritual needs because they are also very important.
You may not have a lot of money and your parish may not have money to provide you with for a huge meal, but do what you can. Depending on the size and structure of the group, see if anyone would like to take turns bringing a meal. Or just provide snacks and drinks. I am someone who gives and receives love through food, and I truly believe it is an extremely helpful tool in building a ministry, particularly young adult ministry!
8. Create opportunities for individual growth
Create opportunities for service. Ask people to take turns reading when doing a Bible study. Ask for the input and thoughts of those who are not usually quick to speak up (I’ve found that often times people like this have great things to share). Challenge people. Strive not only for communal growth, but also individual growth.
9. Open your doors to others: all are welcome
It is important to spiritually feed those in your direct reach, whether that is in your parish or in your friend group. Along with that, though, I encourage you to open your ministry to those from other churches. I am a firm believer that young adult ministry is essential and not every church is able to offer it, so I’ve opened it up to those throughout my Diocese. We don’t have a very large group, but at least half of our group drives about an hour just to be a part of our community.
Also, don’t be selective with those you invite/allow into your group. God is for all and we should strive not to be picky and choosy with who we allow in.
10. Allow for individuality
We have a diverse Faith with members who have various styles of worship and ways they connect with God.
Try your best to incorporate those differences so the group can be an accurate representation of its members!
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Jessica Gettings is a lover of Jesus who doubles as a full-time Coordinator of Religious Education and a part-time Young Adult Minister for two different parishes within her diocese. She partakes in women’s ministry by being a Catholic member of an ecumenical women’s small group, and also by leading a Blessed is She young adult women’s group. In what little spare time she has, she enjoys spending time with loved ones, cooking (especially for said loved ones), being in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, solid praise and worship sessions, all things Disney, eating (probably too many) tacos and lots of chocolate, and finding the Lord deeper through Catholicism.