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Commentary: Young adult crisis needs church's response

10/3/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This commentary may be used as a sidebar to story #469. A photograph of Ciona Rouse is available.

A Commentary By Ciona Rouse*

United Methodists can handle a crisis.

We may not be prepared for every crisis. After all, the spontaneous and critical nature of a crisis usually implies some lack of preparation. I have witnessed, however, that United Methodists are some of the first people who respond by rallying rescue teams to the scene, combining our resources and offering prayers and ministry to people in hardship.

So when I see our response to a crisis among my peers, I know we are equipped and must do more.

This is the crisis of the young adult population. Cleverly termed the "quarterlife crisis" by writers Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner in their book Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, the period of life after high school or college can cause absolute shock in a young person's life.

Maybe it comes as no surprise that young adults experience difficulty during this time of new responsibility, decision making, career uncertainty, relationship changes and self-discovery. My mom reminds me that she, too, was there years ago. It's just a process of life, she tells me.

This may be true. As young adults today experience this phase of life, however, cultural changes have heightened its critical nature. Young adults may find themselves confused and frustrated. As my mother went through this time, she had a community of faith to support her. I am afraid this is not true for many young adults today.

Though we still have room to grow in youth ministry, the United Methodist Church has learned how to provide ministries that meet high school and junior high students where they are.

Older adults also seem to find Bible studies and other ministries shaped specifically for their spiritual needs.

But what do we have in between? Usually there is nothing. In fact, we lose many active youth who graduate from the youth group and do not return to church until after they are 30.

Young adults who do stay connected to the church often try to fit into older adult ministries or volunteer to work with the youth in order to find a place in the church. Still many find very little fulfillment.

Some congregations have singles ministries and encourage young adults to be a part of these programs, where marital status - not age or life experience - is the only common denominator. Then married young adults still feel disconnected as their situations differ from those of older married couples.

The problem is not that young adults do not want to interact or worship with older adults. We learn from each other across generational lines, and ministry is done regardless of age. In fact, the Sunday school class I attend is a group of young adults who look forward to the time we spend with our partner class, a group in which nearly every member was born before 1945.

The reality is that young adults have specific needs and ways of approaching faith that the United Methodist Church must meet, or we will find a generation of people disillusioned by faith and disconnected from church communities.

The solution is not to create gimmicks or make drastic changes in an attempt to market to young adults. The solution lies in the church saying to young adults that they matter to the life of the church, and we are going to make the Gospel relevant to their life and culture. It's the church creating ministries addressing the varied and changing realities of young adults. It's saying that our gifts and graces are important to the life of the church.

It's saying that the church realizes young adults are in a critical period of life, and the United Methodist Church is going to respond.

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*Rouse is the director of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People, an initiative of the United Methodist Church.

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