Lessons from a successful young adult ministry gathering
Lessons from a successful young adult ministry gathering

Commonplace canvas

I recently attended the Commonplace young adult ministry gathering in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Participants gathered from across the judicatory for a night of storytelling, fellowship, and prayer. I came away energized about the work the Spirit is doing in our area and with some ideas about the best practices for young adult ministry that I saw in action there:

Start with stories

The major portion of the evening was given over to invited participants sharing personal faith stories. Each speaker was encouraged to make sense of the idea of “resonance.”
They had obviously each decided for themselves what that meant, which gave each period of sharing an obvious authenticity and gave the night as a whole a needed variety. I was struck in particular by those who offered reflections from the perspective of their work vocation: music, technology, teaching.
The sum of these parts was the clear proclamation that God is present and active outside the church as well as within. That’s an essential message for an age cohort that is skeptical about the value of institutions.

Get creative

The storytelling wasn’t the only way participants were encouraged to flex their artistic muscles. Musical and visual arts were incorporated into the evening, principally through worship and prayer.

The musicians who were gathered for the evening played traditional hymns in non-traditional arrangements on some instruments I had never seen used in worship (including the harp!). Prayer stations allowed us to share our intercessions and thanksgivings with God through drawing, writing, and sitting with images.

My favorite aspect of the evening was a peculiar live note-taker’s work drawing together the evening’s themes; he stood up front and painted an entire canvas in the span of our time together. I enjoyed taking in the result during the closing worship as a way of resonating, in a new way, with what had been shared.

We millennials are an expressive bunch. It was a holy thing to see the fruit of our creativity laid before God as an offering.

Follow up

I’ve been learning a lot about ministry follow-up from the event’s organizer, who has become a good friend of mine. As a young adult missioner, he understands the challenges of our divided new media attention and provides as many avenues as possible to connect.

In addition to posting a semi-formal reflection on the evening, he sent out a call for photos to just the right places on Facebook and Twitter, tagged everyone who helped lead the event in a big public thank-you note, and—of course—collected participants’ feedback with a short and focused online assessment.

Technology offers tremendous opportunities to stay connected after gatherings like this; I’m sure I’m not the only young adult who came away from the evening with a few more Facebook friends—and a commitment to deepening my relationship with friends old and new.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, a writer for Faith Formation Learning Exchange (where this post originated), and a panelist on the new Easter People podcast.

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