Invitation to a Journey

A Road Map for Starting a Young Adult Ministry

By Jason Bowman


Every church has young adults who desire more influential fellowship with other Christian young adults. Before a pastor simply implements a program to reach young adults, however, he must assess why he wants to develop this program. Young adults detect authenticity; if they sense you want them to attend to prove your new program a success, they will be gone. But if they see your genuine love, passion, and friendship, they will work to see your dream come to life.

By following the simple steps below you will be on your way to beginning a fruitful ministry for young adults.

Ask Questions

Ask young adults what they look for and what it will take to reach others like them. If they assess your motives are only to grow your church and ministry, you will have difficulty connecting with them. If they see a heart that loves them, they will overlook miscalculations and will work with you to see your dream accomplished.

Asking questions and listening build ownership. Young adults have access to more information than any other generation. They have thoughts and opinions on almost every topic. By asking them what they are looking for in a church and in a ministry, you will unlock a wealth of knowledge, engage their interest, and build a friend. By listening to their passion and implementing their ideas, you will create a ministry together. If it is their ministry, they will advance it, advertise it, and own it.

Create a leadership team of young adults. Some pastors have given certain young adults the opportunity for creative input and critical assessment of their sermons. Having this feedback can help you relate your messages to the needs of young adults already attending your church.

Teach with questions. Get young adults to think by asking the right questions. When you ask questions, you create an approachable atmosphere. Often discussion does not work because the leader already has the answer to the question he asked. Prepare only questions. Have young adults first discuss your questions among themselves in groups to get them talking and then report their answers.

Appoint a Leader

Allow someone the privilege of serving as the leader of this ministry. This will communicate to young adults that they are important. This individual may even be a young adult.

Young adults long to be empowered. They may consider themselves leaders but are often without opportunity to lead. By having a chance to implement the ministry they have created they will find fulfillment and connection. Even if there are only a few young adults in your church, it is never too early to appoint a pastor to implement a young adult ministry. Maybe there are no young adults in your church because there is no young adult ministry.

Too many young adults continue to attend the youth group for years after high school. While this is a valid opportunity for some, it ignores the fact young adults face different social, developmental, and relational needs.

Challenge leaders to empower more leaders. The purpose of the leader is to prepare God’s people for works of service. The role of the minister is to get others ministering. And it is the hunger of this generation to make a difference.

Get Started

If all young adults hear is talk, then the excitement will wane. However, if you take their ideas and implement them, they will begin to see your desire to meet their needs. Here are some practical ways to get a young adult ministry launched in your church.

  • Lunch with a potential leader. Taking someone in your church to lunch to assess his or her heart for young adult ministry is a great way to build a relationship and provide an intimate opportunity for a young adult to express passion for this generation.
  • Brainstorm. Food and vision for ministry work well together. Once a leader is in place, plan an after-service luncheon to get other young adults who might be interested in a young adult ministry.
  • Plan social events. Give opportunity to connect with one another in an informal atmosphere.
  • Spend time with leaders. Encourage the young adult pastor to spend time with leaders. This will provide an opportunity to hear more of their input and for them to catch more of your passion and vision.

Resource the Ministry

A successful young adult ministry can pay for itself. Young adults give when they are challenged with passion and purpose. Some young adult ministries place a giving station in the back of their gatherings instead of passing a plate. This frees the leader to teach on giving without collecting an offering. Many young adults early in marriage find themselves in the “Dual Income No Kids” category, giving them a larger expendable income. Even those in school often have some income with most of it set aside for recreation.

Young adult ministry will propel the church into the next half century. One children’s pastor said, “Young adult ministry is job security.” Why? Because some young adults have kids, and young adults with kids are willing to serve and connect in areas of the church where they have a vested interest.

Maintain the Mission

Any young adult ministry should seek to be real, relevant, relational, and revolutionary. While the terms real, relevant, relational, and revolutionary seem subjective, they are important in the mind of a young adult.

The term real is an issue of authenticity. Young adults have a built-in authentic gauge to perceive motivation. Make sure the motive for ministry to young adults is motivated out of love. If your young adult leader or you as pastor have a challenge understanding the trends of the current culture, be honest about your inability. Share your heart for people and they will listen to your heart for God.

Relevant is quite possibly the most subjective. What is relevant to one person may or may not be to another. Regardless, it is a journey that pastors must traverse if they are to reach this generation of young adults.

If you are starting a young adult ministry, create an atmosphere that resonates with the times. You can make your church more relevant simply by changing colors and decorations.

This generation is hungry for relational ministry. Many factors contribute to this including divorce rate, detached families, and even technology. Establish these relational opportunities.

  • Social times. Some young adults find themselves without a built-in social group for the first time in their lives. The church can meet this need by creating social events: dinners, bonfires, themed parties, and small groups.
  • Food. Young adults appreciate having lunch with a pastor. Take them to lunch or coffee to connect with them on a relational level.
  • Family time. Maybe the testimony that you are not there but you are at home with your spouse and children speaks louder than if you were there.
  • Create online profiles for you and your ministry. This technology connects you with people you already know.

A revolutionary ministry is one that attracts and impacts young adults. The message of Jesus is the greatest revolutionary message of all time. Does any revolution ever begin without having something worth dying for in the minds of young adults? We have a message of revolution; when it is proclaimed in a real, relevant, and relational way, the young adults of this generation will proclaim it with all their energy.

The young adults of our time desire to make an impact. Young adults in your area are waiting for a challenge from their church and young adult leaders to inspire and empower them. Pastors can make a difference by inspiring the young adults of their churches to radical revolutionary thinking and community involvement.

The potential for young adult ministry in your church has never been greater. The national Young Adult Ministries of the Assemblies of God encourages ministry to young adults and has developed resources to meet this growing need. You can find resources online at

15 Things You Should Know Before Launching a Young Adult Ministry

If you are thinking about launching a ministry to twenty and thirtysomethings, you are not alone. There are hundreds of others around the country who share the same passion and calling to encourage and equip this generation. I interviewed several pastors, leaders, and church planters to find out what they wish they would have known before launching into ministry to young adults. Here is what I discovered:

  1. You can become so relevant you become irrelevant. In your desire to be different, cool, or hip, it is possible to lose the core message of Christ.
  2. Do not be afraid to discuss the difficulties, complexities, and even the mysteries of the gospel. Your message does not need to be boiled down to a set of steps or an easy-to-follow program. This generation is attracted to wonder, struggle, and even issues that offer no resolution. This generation can handle the truth and desires to explore spiritual paradoxes.
  3. Be your real, flawed self 100 percent of the time. Let them know your struggles, weaknesses, and failures. Do not be afraid to step off of the podium and become fully human. Your mistakes and transparency with which you experience trials become a connecting point for this generation.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. Prayer needs to be the cornerstone of your work. Carve out time between the countless, immediate demands to pray. Surround yourself with people who can pray for you on a regular basis.
  5. Be willing to learn from anyone. Look for spiritual insights and lessons from a broad range of topics, life experiences, situations, and people. Then, be willing to share what you have learned with others.
  6. Find people who can support and encourage you and be your friend. Ministry can be lonely. You need people who are not directly involved in the ministry who can support you — whether it’s your spouse, a more experienced church planter, or a veteran Christian.
  7. Do not try to compete with the world. It may be tempting to try to compete with the latest brands, fashions, film and television shows, but remember: what you have is better. Matt Carter, lead pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, says, “The twentysomethings of Austin, Texas, are the coolest, savviest, smartest young people I know … and I realized something very quickly. I cannot compete with the pop-culture in the cool department. I cannot compete with MTV or downtown Austin. But I can offer something the world can’t. I can offer them Jesus. And twentysomethings are incredibly hungry to follow somebody as real, raw, genuine, and passionate as Jesus.”
  8. Do not pretend you have all the answers, because you don’t. If you pretend to have an answer for every situation, you will quickly lose favor and reputability with this generation.
  9. Be creative. The obstacles and challenges you face — whether it’s a lack of funds or location — are opportunities for innovation. If you cannot do one thing, try another. If that does not work, try something else. Use your unique gifts and methods for sharing the gospel. Do not be afraid to try new things.
  10. Be experiential. Create environments not just where people can learn about God but where they can experience God, participate in worship, and interact in a community.
  11. Provide resources for those who want to learn more. Look for ways to equip young adults to search the Scripture and church history for themselves. Recommend commentaries and books on ancient culture. Introduce Web sites and links where people can learn more for themselves.
  12. Create an environment where organic community can grow and thrive. Encourage people to connect, to honor their commitments, to keep confidences and respect others.
  13. Experiment with ways to express ancient truths that connect in fresh ways with this generation. “I think we need to recapture the metaphor of sin as idolatry,” says Darrin Patrick, pastor at The Journey in Maplewood, Missouri. “It is important to use the biblical metaphors: missing the mark, unrighteousness, trespass, lawlessness, etc., but twentysomethings seem to identify with the idea that sin is choosing good over the best. I often say that the real struggle we have is not that we desire bad things, but rather, that we ‘overdesire’ good things like sex, our jobs, our boyfriends, etc. It is the good things in our lives that become the best things that we end up worshiping instead of God.”
  14. Dig deep into the Bible. Those who have grown up in the church have a hunger for a fresh perspective on the biblical story. The insight may come from the origins of a Greek or Hebrew word, the historical context of the time period, or a deeper cultural understanding of a gospel story. Such details invite people to dig deeper into the Bible for themselves.
  15. Never forget that you are pioneering. There are not any ready-made maps or plans for reaching this generation. Everyone on the frontlines is just doing it. They are watching God move and work in one-of-a-kind ways in their congregations. Though you can learn from others, the twenty and thirtysomethings in your area are going to respond to something completely different from those in another part of country.

Ministry Models

Pastors throughout our country currently use a variety of styles in young adult ministry. The key is to select one that works in your situation. Often a young adult ministry will be defined by the ages 18-35. Any articulation of age needs to be kept to a minimum. The following models might be right for you and your young adults:

Sunday School Structure

  • College class: Designed to reach the 18- to 25-year-old demographic, this class works with food and coffee. Finding a passionate leader to facilitate discussion on issues will also keep the class fresh.
  • Parenting class: Young adults find themselves parenting for the first time. By placing an older, more mature couple with parenting ability as the leaders of this class ,you will see many late 20s and early 30s join.
  • Intergenerational class. Young 20s have a hunger for intergenerational connection. The key to this class is a leader who can connect with the needs of all people.

Worship Night

Young adults often look for a deeper spiritual connection with God. Extended worship and prayer can be just what many young adults are looking for in their busy lives.

  • Keep these times fresh and new. Offer a different schedule and interactive elements to enhance the experience.
  • Offer food and a social time prior to the service to enable participants to feel they are experiencing God’s presence together.

Small Groups

The desire for authentic community with accountability can be created in a systematic small-group structure.

Train leaders in small groups and give them immediate opportunity to lead.

  • Elements found in small groups include socialization, food, teaching, and leadership opportunities.

Church Within the Church Structure

This structure requires willingness and flexibility from leadership.

  • Select a facility on campus not used during the time of the traditional worship gathering as a place for a young adult gathering.
  • Promote intergenerational integration through workdays, all-church events, having young adult serve on the board, and other service occasions when all groups are involved.

JASON BOWMAN, St. Louis, Missouri