Young Adults and A Season of Life

There is a lot of information about young adults leaving churches, leaving organized religion, or changing religious traditions.

Research from Pew, stories in The Atlantic, and others tell us that the numbers look bad, and what the human part of those numbers feels like. Research from Barna others try to give a more complete picture of the experience of young adults through this time and all the decisions that come with it. In a time of life that can include decisions about education, work, relationships, families, moving away from home, and so many more, our hope is to create a space where people can explore whichever of these questions they may be thinking about and how faith might impact those choices.

In the book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Christian Smith introduces six major religious types among emerging adults:


It is worth noting that this distinction of emerging adults denotes a smaller group than the young adult age group that we hope to be in ministry with. These categories, however, provide a useful framework to talk about how we can best be in ministry with different groups.
Our hope is to provide ministry resources to intentionally invite the middle 75% of these types into faith-based conversations. Smith provides short phrases that each of these types might say:

  • Selective Adherents (30%) say, ” I do some of what I can.”
  • The Spiritually Open (15%) say, “There’s probably something more out there.”
  • The Religiously Indifferent (25%) say, “It just doesn’t matter much.”
  • The Religiously Disconnected (5%) say, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

…to any of which we might explore how we can say, “Let’s talk. Tell me more about that.” Our hope is to create a safe space for young adults and others to share genuine pieces of their own experience, so that others may be more able to share their thoughts and experiences with their peers. If two young adults both think “it just doesn’t matter much,” let them think through that and discuss why or why not. Give them an example of another person who has considered that thought.
If one would say, “There’s probably something more out there,” and another, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” let them discuss together also after hearing the same person’s example. In the safe space for, and the invitation to this conversation can be an opportunity for growth and greater understanding regardless of where a person is currently.

We have left two groups out of this explanation.
For those Spiritually Irreligious who might say, “Religious just makes no sense,” it may be more appropriate to have a conversation about the fundamentals of faith, or share an example of why I chose to be a Christian.
For those Religious Traditionalists who might say, “I am really committed,” it may be most appropriate to have them be some of the people sharing their experience, and encouraging others in the discussion.

What might be the strength of this story-sharing and peer discussion approach?

In the book, downloadSpiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry, David Setran and Chris Kiesling use the analogy of the board game LIFE. In 1960 the Milton Bradley company developed the game to reflect the way that people moved through adult life in that time. Your game piece (a family car inviting more people to join your lone character inside) begins moving through a series of life events beginning with the decision to go to college or start in a career. Later stops include getting married, having children, and buying a house in that order. Then your family game piece continue through a series of events, good and bad, that ultimately lead you to retirement at either the respectable “Countryside Acres,” or if you were particularly successful, “Millionaire Estates.”
Contrast that with the 2007 new edition of the game, LIFE: Twists and Turns. The board is no longer a linear path, but four distinct loops titled, “Earn it,” “Learn it,” “Live it,” and “Love it.” Players no longer use a family game piece, but rather an individual on a skateboard as they determine which loop they want to move through, how many times they do, and from which portion of the board they will acquire their “life points.” The endpoint is no longer a desired retirement, but a comparison between each player’s total “life points” to see who has the most.
While both of these games depict only one possible way of going through life in each time period, the contrast between them shows the new possibilities and increasing number of decisions that happen at the beginning of adult life. Without a more linear path, how do young adults know if they are going in the direction they want?.. in a direction that is beneficial to themselves or others?.. in a direction with others that they would want to go with?.. or in a direction that is in line with their chosen spirituality?.. when there are so many direction to go?

In conversation with other people experiencing the same dilemmas, people asking these questions can find reference points. They can find commonalities, and learn to express differences. They can find friends and partners for the journey, and examples they wish to follow. They can find people who point them onward to a greater example, and determine which course they want to follow. Our hope is to create the space for all those things to happen.

Young Adults and A Season of Life