The 20-Something Question Local Churches Struggle to Build Vibrant Ministries for Young Adults

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Byline: Beth Sneller Daily Herald Staff Writer

Darrell Cloud has a vision.

The director of young adult ministry at Evangelical Free Church of Naperville sees hundreds of young people, all in their 20s, worshipping and studying the Bible together.

It's a place where seekers would be welcome, and people in that age group would feel comfortable growing in their relationship with God.

That, in his opinion, is what a vibrant young adult ministry in a Christian church should be.

But it's easier said than done.

In the suburbs, especially, church leaders say it's difficult to keep momentum with such programs. Whether they're for singles or married couples, groups aimed at that age group often fizzle.

Part of it, leaders say, is a differing view of what that group should be like.

"A lot of young adults want it to be like youth group, except older," Cloud said.

The 20-somethings, he said, remember their high school years at church, when they socialized with other teenagers at water parks and bowling alleys. They would attend the occasional Bible study, but the real draw was all the things they could do to make friends.

Now that they're older, these young people need to find opportunities to grow in their faith and become mature Christian adults, Cloud says.

And the church wants to provide those opportunities.

"We want to help them catch the vision for how they can minister to each other and to the community," he said.

Matchmaking

One challenge leaders face is how to address the dating scene.

For young single adults, it makes sense to seek connections through church.

"Personally, I'd love to find somebody in my church group," said Jessica Bontrager, 25, of Westmont, a member of Evangelical Free Church of Naperville. "Meeting someone at a bar just doesn't seem possible."

Cloud says he accepts the inevitability of love connections forming at church.

"There's a lot of stigma around 'singles ministry,' " he said. "A lot of people try to resist (dating) in singles ministry, but that's like trying to stop a tidal wave. It's going to happen.

"If you can help someone find a good mate, God bless you."

Yet others, like Sara Gmitro at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Naperville, prefer to shy away from what they call a "matchmaking service."

"We get phone calls periodically from people interested in joining a group," said Gmitro, who is the Our Saviour's director of lay ministries. "I think the biggest challenge is, do people want some sort of growth opportunity, or are they just looking for a singles group?"

Gmitro said her first priority is to help young adults grow in their faith. If they meet someone with whom they're compatible in the process, that's great.

False starts

No matter what their philosophy, church leaders still want to answer the question: How do you sustain an active young adult program? …