Five Ways for Young Adults to Get Involved in Your Parish (and for Your Parish to Welcome Them)
By Wayne Topp
For many young adults, parishes are an enigma. They experience them as young children, and some may have been involved in their high school youth group. Then they went off to college. Half of those involved teenagers stayed engaged in their faith, while others simply “took a break” from parish life all together and came to believe that the Church had very little to say that was relevant or realistic in their daily lives.
Throughout that process, these young men and women were rarely asked to take part in parish life. In fact, if you were to ask a young adult, “What is a parish?” They would probably struggle to answer.
Young adults are seeking more, and they deserve a community that is seeking them. So, for those young adult seekers, I offer these five ways to get involved in your parish, coupled with five ways parishes can involve young adults.
1. Pray regularly with your parish. Go to Mass every week and participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. Join in opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly.
2. Find your niche. Most parishes offer a variety of ministries, committees and councils that do good work in the community and for the parish. There is almost always some ministry that will truly speak to your heart and fit with the type of person God has made you to be.
3. Volunteer your expertise. Sometimes, the work you do outside the church is needed within the church. Volunteer to lead a project repairing something, planting, weeding a flower bed or maybe even teaching as a catechist or coaching the youth sports teams.
4. Make friends. Many young adults feel alone until they look around at Mass and find people in the pews like them. Stick around for the donut social after Mass, say hello and invite them to your place for brunch, or just start with exchanging phone numbers. And if that doesn’t work, then sit closer to them at next week’s Mass and catch them before they fly out the door.
5. If it isn’t happening, make it happen. Churches do not need to encompass all that is going on in the life of the parish. If you don’t see something you would love to see happen, start doing it! Start a small group at your home, begin a sports club with fellow young adults at a local park, develop a running club or begin doing regular ministry for the homebound at your parish. Start doing it, and invite others to join you.
Now, for those who don’t fall in the young adult category, but want to see more young adults active in the parish:
1. Make them feel welcome. Take the time to notice the single young adult when he or she walks in on Sunday morning, and notice them again when they sit in your pew. At the end of Mass, include them the in conversation, the invitation to the donut social or Sunday brunch. Initially, they will probably find it a bit awkward and will likely decline the invitation for breakfast, but they will feel welcomed and noticed. That’s good!
2. Invite young adults to have a voice in parish ministries. Do you see the great gifts young adults can offer to the parish? Take the time to personally invite the young married couple to join in witnessing to those couples who are newly engaged. Invite the single young woman to share her insights on the parish council. Help those who will one day be the “elders” of the Church to have a hand in guiding her into that future.
3. Trust the Holy Spirit. Pray to the Holy Spirit that He will enkindle in these young men and women a zealous response to the great plan He has for your parish and for the Catholic Church. Don’t doubt the desires of our young adults to help the Catholic Church to be the kingdom of God on Earth.
4. Provide opportunities for connection. Young adults may not see each other at Mass. After all, there are three or four Masses each weekend, and there are hundreds of other people around. There isn’t a designated “Young Adult”section in our parishes, so think creatively about events directly focused at getting young adults connected with one another, and plan those events with at least one young adult!
5. Be open to new apostolates. Not everything within the parish has to be put on by the parish. The goal of every parish community should be to encourage every person to be a missionary disciple. We are fed by the Eucharist for the purpose of being sent out. Encourage that, especially in our young adults! Allow them to run personal apostolates that come from the unique vocation each of them has been given, and cooperate to make the apostolate grow into a real movement led by the Holy Spirit.
Young adults are a great gift to our Church. While they may be struggling to understand their path in this world, our cooperation with them and our willingness to be attentive to them and the movement of the Holy Spirit within their hearts will only help our Church to do the work of Jesus Christ across the world.