Teaching Our Faith — Young adults and the church

In these teaching editorials on evangelization, the authors will present information, inspiration and witness about areas of Church ministry that provide opportunities and challenges to our mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This editorial reflects on young adult ministry as an opportunity for evangelization. 

Young adult ministry is a tough nut to crack. After 15 years in the field, I still cannot identify one fail-safe way to reach out to all young adult Catholics and help them fit seamlessly into a parish community. It can be frustrating, but we need to get beyond that. Why? Because we are not whole.

According to the U.S. bishops document on young adult ministry, “Sons and Daughters of the Light,” young adults fall between the ages of 18 and 40 and are in every life stage and vocation. This is a huge group to reach.

While challenges exist, the surest way to fail at reaching young adults is to fail to try. Evangelization speaks of the need to reach out and keep trying. The Lineamenta, written in preparation for the Synod on the New Evangelization, identifies evangelization as “… the opposite of self-sufficiency, a withdrawal into oneself, a status quo mentality and an idea that pastoral programs are simply to proceed as they did in the past. Today a ‘business as usual’ attitude can no longer be the case.”

This does not require adding all new programs or giving more jobs to our over-worked parish staffs. Instead, we must shift the way we view young adult ministry.

Evangelization offers us three lenses through which to look at young adult ministry: faith, worship and witness.

Faith as a deepening relationship with Christ requires personal and meaningful experiences. Young adults seek these. Some may not have the words for it or may have sought things to take its place, but we know everything else will fall short. How is our enthusiasm for our faith so contagious that young adults cannot help but catch it?

Worship in the form of a vibrant community and sacramental life is essential. How do we welcome those among us who don’t have their own pews?

The public witness to Jesus Christ is realized in our personal and communal lives. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a tremendous example of this, and the young adults I know are taking notice. They are inspired by his example, in everything he does, of witnessing the love of Christ. What does our own witness inspire in those who encounter us?

We can use these lenses of faith, worship and witness to assess our readiness to reach out to young adults, but how do we make this reflection tangible? The easiest and most frustrating answer: it depends. It depends on the type of young adults showing up in our pews and those who could, but aren’t. It depends on the parish’s character, resources and location. It depends on whether there are people in the parish who really care about young adult involvement and who will see that it happens.

Take a look at your community — who is there and who is missing? Don’t try to reach all with one magical program that answers every need. Take one step, one piece of the demographic, and move forward. When you do, here are some good approaches to keep in mind:

  •  Use technology. Technology in ministry is not optional. It is essential to speak the cultural language of young adults. Keep an updated website, use social media, provide online registrations and other resources. Start now.
  •  Foster peer ministry. Find young adults, train them and give them resources to do ministry. They can, and they will participate. They need you to believe in them.
  •  Look around. You can find young adults hidden in plain sight if you look in areas such as sacramental preparation, school, religious education and the military. Talk to them and form relationships.
  •  Reconsider the definition of young adult ministry. It can happen in lots of ways, not only in the traditional “group” of singles. In fact, it is already happening when young adults are integrated into the parish. Think of how your community can deepen these existing connections.
  •  Provide childcare. If you want them to come to you, make it possible.
  •  Do not give up! The body has many parts, and all are essential. If young adults are not a part of your faith community, those young adults are not the only ones missing something.


Sarah Fellows
University of Louisville Catholic Campus Ministry Director,
Consultant for Young Adult Ministry, Archdiocese of Louisville

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