We have spent some time delving into the formal moments of return for young adults, but what about the informal interactions we have with young adults at our parishes? We cannot underestimate the incredible opportunity that lies in these casual day-to-day interactions with young adults.
There are many moments within our ministries when a young adult comes in to ask a question, to ask to talk to someone, or when someone asks us to meet for a cup of coffee. Each of these moments holds the potential to be a moment of return for a young adult. Often it has taken a young adult awhile to get the courage to seek someone out to talk to, whether it is a priest or someone on the parish staff. What can appear to be a simple request for a meeting could be the beginning of, or return to, a faith life. These moments of face-to-face time with young adults capture the essence of pastoral ministry as we sit and listen to the stories of their lives, the holy questions, and their joys and struggles.
Sometimes our first interaction with a young adult comes via the world of technology, such as Facebook or a question through our Web site. Mike Hayes, author of Googling God, captures the importance of our technology presence for young adults when he says, “If you don’t exist on the Internet, you do not exist at all.” When young adults reach out to us via the world of social media, we can turn a simple status update or question into a relationship that leads to involvement in our community.
An example from my own ministry life occurred when a young adult woman posted on our parish’s Facebook page, asking for a ride to Mass. I replied, and suddenly the entire sweater unraveled. This young woman was reaching out because she needed help that went far beyond needing just a ride to Mass. Our parish stepped in to help her find the resources she needed at the time for her mental health and physical living needs. She is now involved and active in our faith community.
A final example of an informal moment of return is a young adult showing up at an event or parish group for the first time. As faith formation leaders, we need to have a watchful eye to notice new faces so we can welcome them. I always ask, “What brought you to this event?” or, “What was it about this event that intrigued you?” Taking the time to talk to the young adults and hear their answers creates a window into what they are seeking. With that knowledge, I can quickly connect them to others at the event, and I can also extend invitations for other ways to stay connected.
While technology is an important tool in ministering to and with young adults, the power of personal invitation to participate, to engage, and to belong is still the best and most effective tool in helping informal moments of return for young adults become moments of return that are long-lasting.