From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] In-betweeners

Date Thu, 21 Aug 2003 17:05:38 -0500

Note #7890 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

August 21, 2003


Church doesn't do enough for 18- to 30-year-old believers

By Melissa Minnich

Once there was a family - mother, father, son and daughter. Their favorite
day of the week was Sunday, when they attended a Presbyterian church.
The children thrived in Sunday school. By the time they entered their teens,
they were part of a youth group with 60 regular members. When they reached
high school, they were amazed at the options available through the church:
worldwide mission trips, youth conferences, in-depth Bible studies, rap
discussions and weekend retreats. After four wonderful years of this, they
graduated and left for college.

And the church door was slammed in their faces.

Too old for youth group and too young for the buildings and grounds
committee, they faced a void in their spiritual lives.

What next?

In today's Presbyterian church, that is a question on the lips of thousands
of young adults 18 to 30 years old. What does the church have to offer them
at this critical time in their lives?

Sunday School and discussion groups for young adults have become more popular
lately, but beyond that, the situation is bleak. Bible studies designed for
college students don't appeal to young men and women who have outgrown
late-night cram sessions and pizza runs. Seminars for married couples aren't
appropriate for young singles. There is nothing that addresses their
interests - such as the ethics of dating, the challenges of beginning a
career, and the difficulty of discerning God's call in their young lives.

Is this a local problem, or a national one? Is it the responsibility of
individual congregations, or of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a

"It all starts at the congregational level," says Rob Anderson, a 20-year-old
senior at Colgate University. "I think the attitudes of the ministers and
elders and leaders - how they choose to conduct themselves - (is) what the
involvement of any young adult or any member will depend on."

In the opinion of Kevin A. Thomas, 19, of Bethlehem, PA, congregations can
approach the challenge of getting young adults involved in one of two ways:
Either create programs specifically for them, or integrate them into the
business of the church.

Thomas, who plans to attend a Presbyterian seminary after college and then
serve as a full-time pastor, thinks the problem is a lack of PC(USA)
resources for people of this in-between age - an apparent lack of care. He'd
like to see more Bible studies and discussion guides designed specifically
for young adults.

Cynthia Betz, 20, of Mendham Township, NJ, says she thinks it's mostly a
communication problem. "I think the ministry is alive and active, if young
adults know how to get involved," she says, "but ... too many young
Presbyterians are unaware of the great opportunities for ministry, spiritual
growth and new friends that can be found through PC(USA) programming."

Bethany Benz, of Decatur, GA, says the PC(USA) has to do a better job of
making those resources available at the local level. "Local congregations
should be responsible for making sure these opportunities are announced," she
says, "and that any person eligible knows about them."

Anderson agrees that a dearth of resources is only part of the problem.
"There's more than most people know," he says. "It's still not really enough;
and I would say that part of the problem with programs is that people really
aren't sure what to make of them."

What can be done at the national level?

"I think there should be more participation, especially at the General
Assembly," says Benz. "Most young adults are not elders, and therefore will
not be able to attend General Assembly until they become elders, usually
later in their 30s ... and the youth numbers will be cut in half when
biennial assemblies begin. I think an effort should be made to keep these
crucial groups ... involved in the government of the church."

Benz, a Youth Advisory Delegate to the 214th General Assembly in Columbus,
OH, says youth and young adults "love this church - they are the church, the
future of the church and the present of the church. They should be given the
opportunity to be involved in the church they love."

Many younger adults would like to have access to more theological study.

Anthony Lorenz, 21, of Warsaw, OH, says people of his age have a thirst for
"progressive and free-thinking theology," adding, "Unfortunately, (there is)
not enough to really 'feed' people."

Lorenz, a Youth Advisory Delegate to the 215th General Assembly, adds: "Young
people today want borders and boundaries. Unlike their 'hippie' parents, they
want things to be clearly defined and laid out. ... We have lost our
inquisitive nature, by and large."

If the problem is simply that programs designed by older Presbyterians aren't
connecting with young adults, it should be fairly easy to fix: Recruit men
and women from the target age group and let them design their own Bible
studies, discussion programs and other activities.

Ethan Boehm, 19, of Asheville, NC, says: "My home church is Warren Wilson
Presbyterian Church and College Chapel. Even though it is located on the
campus of Warren Wilson College, it has no programs available that are
specifically geared toward college students. For this reason, not many of the
college students attend church there."

Boehm, a sophomore at North Carolina State University, adds that he thinks
the PC(USA) is "in deep doo-doo in the college realm."

"We are deprived," he says. "If the PC(USA) can't fulfill our spiritual
needs, we will search elsewhere. We are tied to Jesus Christ, not tied to the
Presbyterian Church."

Melissa Minnich, 19, is a student at Messiah College in Grantham, PA and a
member of Harundale Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie, MD.

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