As college students head back to campuses across the country and local churches gear up for fall programs, more than 300 young adult advisors will draw upon their learnings from the second ecumenical young adult ministry training event, held in Chicago at the end of May. The event, called "Come to the Feast," was sponsored by the National Council of Churches' Young Adult Ministry Team.
At the opening worship all the elements to appeal to today's young adult worshipers were there: soft lights and candles, a message delivered from an on-stage podium, high energy contemporary music led by a live band, lyrics projected onto a big screen.
The crowd that packed the hotel ballroom—most of them 18 to 30-somethings—stood and rocked to a pop tune adaptation: "I just want to thank you, Jesus. How sweet it is to be loved by You!"
Then it was time to share Holy Communion, and participants found themselves squarely within mainline church tradition, using familiar words of the liturgy.
The event drew participants from more than a dozen different denominations and Christian ministries. More than a third of them came from from the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), each of which had more than 50 participants, a significant increase from the previous event two years ago in Atlanta.
"This event provides an opportunity for UCC young adults to interact with and learn from others in the wider ecumenical community," notes the Rev. June Boutwell, UCC staff for youth and young adults. "This is helpful, because all of them confront similar issues."
The event featured daily worship, plenaries, small group meetings and a veritable smorgasbord of workshops that both discussed and modeled ministry "how-tos." Other offerings included service opportunities at two Chicago shelters.
Content was a mix of "techniques" and "values" undergirded by cultural analysis of today's young adults, the "Gen Xers," "Postmoderns," "Baby Busters" and "Thirteeners" born between, roughly, 1965-1980.
"It's the least churched generation in our nation's history," said Rodger Nishioka, a Presbyterian who is associate professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.
Nishioka acknowledged that most of the denominations represented at the event have lost members, or at the very least "aren't attracting people in their 20s and 30s" by and large. "What's at stake isn't denominational membership," he said. "Our goal isn't to make more Presbyterians or Episcopalians. What's at stake is the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
During the four-day event, leaders shared practical tools for evaluating young adults' needs, starting and maintaining a young adult ministry, incorporating a broad range of music and worship expressions, leading a mission trip or work camp and using new technology, including e-mail and the World Wide Web.