Honest Conversations

Tim Ling

Is mission with young adults really ‘Not as difficult as you think’ as the title of our research report suggests?

With the help of the Church Commissioners we have recently brought together both researchers and practitioners in order to explore this question and the opportunities and challenges of mission with young adults.

Our report drew attention to the importance of developing:

  • Spaces to belong – Chany says: “People really cared about how your week was and how you feel”
  • Spaces for exploring faith together – Amy says: “I’ve had these thoughts and questions for years but never had the confidence to say them out loud before”

The report also reflected on the observations of research participants, that whilst challenging, it may not be as difficult as you think to engage with this generation. Daniel Layzell from DNA Football noted: “What we do here isn’t rocket science.”

An observation echoed by Kat Cowan on BBC Radio Sheffield when interviewing Andy Wier, our lead researcher on the project, when she reflected: “It also seems, I don’t want to be rude, but quite obvious, Andy, that actually sort of being welcoming and saying, ‘Here we are. Here’s a safe space for you to come and we’re going to look after you’ seems to me something that the church should be doing automatically.”

Yes! But as a recent article ‘Losing My Religion: Millennials and Faith Loss’ by Ruth Perrin underlines, we are not quite there yet. Ruth has spent the last 18 months talking to young adults about how their faith changed over the course of their twenties.

Her findings of why young adults lose faith are an inversion of the means by which they come to faith:

  • Isolation and personal difficulties
  • Exposure to alternative belief systems

Young adults struggle to find places to belong and lack the spaces to wrestle with the new ideas they are being exposed to. Both our report and Ruth’s article use the phrase, and advocate for the importance of, ‘honest conversations’.

So what does this look like? Well some answers can be found in our case studies. One great example is that of Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries.

We also tried to model this in our seminar discussions where we consciously explored the interplay between hope and honesty.

“The journey of faith from ‘I love the community, people here’ to ‘I love Jesus’ is costly and hard.”
“They’ve taken the journey, love the community and now love Jesus, but don’t love the constructs of the formal church, i.e. what’s offered.”

“Seeing a small number of young people really being willing to tackle their own personal discipleship and become consistent Christ followers, gives me hope that it must be possible to see a greater harvest in the future”
“It is possible for young adults to come to faith!”

If you haven’t yet heard about Church Army’s fabulous and free resource Faith Pictures now’s the time to take a look. In light of this research it’s a timely resource. It’s designed to help us give an honest telling of our faith journey, for all its mess. Help is at hand, it might not be as difficult as your think! Take a look and take part.

As this research suggests by opening our front doors to such honest conversations we may also be able to close our back doors, keep and deepen the faith of our young adults.

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