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Summary of Phase One: Research

We were blessed to be invited into the lives of 12 local faith communities currently doing exceptional ministry with young adults. This post summarizes our that research and the themes which are currently emerging at this point in our analysis. The analysis is not complete and will, therefore, reveal more as the research team continues to work through it. However, we have already identified many important themes. This project takes an assets-based approach, looking to learn from what faith communities are already doing well rather than focusing on critique. Our findings, and this summary, reflect that asset-based spirit.


Study Congregations

These twelve local faith communities were nominated by their peers as communities currently doing effective work with young adults. They vary in denomination, size, context, staff structure, and in how they engage with young adults. No two faith communities are the same. They include:

  1. Bethlehem Lutheran — Minneapolis  
  2. Church of All Nations — Columbia Heights  
  3. Good Samaritan Lutheran (no official website) — Saint Paul 
  4. Grace University Lutheran — Minneapolis 
  5. Hope Community — Minneapolis 
  6. Humble Walk — Saint Paul  
  7. Intertwine Northeast — Minneapolis  
  8. New City Church — Minneapolis  
  9. Our Saviour’s Lutheran — Minneapolis  
  10. Redeemer Lutheran — Minneapolis  
  11. Sanctuary Covenant — Minneapolis  
  12. Solomon’s Porch — Minneapolis  


The Riverside Innovation Hub’s research team consists of eight faculty members from across various disciplines including Religion, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Social Work, Education, Communication, and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies. Our researchers visited the above faith communities in groups of three to conduct site visits, focus groups, and interviews with senior pastors and young adult leaders. These focus groups and interviews were recorded and then transcribed. The Riverside Innovation Hub staff identified key themes emerging from these site visits, focus groups, and interviews. The research team then coded these transcriptions using key themes (listed below). 

Curious about the research/studies we used as the background/foundation of our research? Go to our Resources on Young Adults page. 


Characteristics and Values

We discovered some fascinating and helpful characteristics which we are excited to share. The following nineteen values were present in our study congregations in various levels, amounts, and combinations. We have organized them into four characteristics to help us imagine how these values shape the character of a faith community. If the local faith community’s call is to proclaim good news into people’s lives to displace their bad news, then what we see below are the various ways in which these faith communities are doing just that. They do it through unique and context-specific practices, but these context-specific practices share the following characteristics.



These faith communities have found ways to effectively enter relationships with young adults by engaging in the real joys and struggles of people’s lives. They are not afraid of tough conversations or hard questions. They allow people to bring their real selves to the table.


  1. Authenticity There is no need to hide or fake who you really are. Individuals are able to be authentic because the leaders and the community are both authentic.
  2. Vulnerability Participants are welcome to share their deepest longings and their shortcomings because the leaders and the organization both model this vulnerability.
  3. Complexity There is eagerness to engage difficult issues and difficult conversations. Faith is both taught and practiced in complex ways.
  4. Energy There is a noticeable quality of connection. It might not always only be lively, it could also be reflective. It matches the place where the young adults find themselves.


These faith communities are clear about their beliefs and practices. Their theological convictions shape their lives together. Their sense of mission is clear and compelling and is reflected in what they do.


  1. Explicit — Faith community is explicit about its values, mission, and story. They know what they stand for and they are explicit about making it known.
  2. Value Alignment — The faith community’s mission, leadership, and ministries align with the young adults’ values.
  3. Wisdom — Participants are engaged in the integration of theology and real life. They value thinking theologically about the world and thinking worldly about their theology.
  4. Sacred Objects & Rituals — Important symbols of relationships and transitions are present in important artifacts and actions. These help participants make meaning and help give shape and identity to the community by creating collective awareness, experience, emotion, & energy.
  5. Good News/ Bad News — The articulation of how young adults are experiencing suffering or bondage in their lives (bad news) is present as well as ways the faith community is working to accompany them and/ or provide relief and freedom.

icon_human symbols standing in a circle embracing a heartCHARACTERISTIC #3  COMMUNITY

Faith communities are intentional about building community and bringing young adults into that community. There is a palpable sense of family and support and young adults are instrumental leaders.


  1. Social Networks — Young adults find their way into these faith communities through their social networks.
  2. Participatory Young adults are resources, active in the life and leadership of the faith community. There is noticeable representation of young adults within the faith community.
  3. Relationships Meaningful relationships with peers, mentors, across generations, and across other differences are valued and nurtured with intentionality.
  4. Leadership These communities value their leaders for their vulnerability, accessibility, and relationality. They are seen as strong preachers, teachers, and caregivers.
  5. Belonging There is a sense of solidarity and “we-ness”.

icon_three arrows going outwardCHARACTERISTIC #4  PUBLIC

These faith communities empower their people, including young adults, to actively live out their faith in their public lives in a variety of ways. There is a high value placed upon the community gathered for worship, but always with an eye and ear towards those beyond their faith community.


  1. Vocation Tangible action for the good of the neighbor is valued and expected, but as an expression of freedom in Christ rather than legalistic acts to appease God.
  2. Inward/ Outward The needs of the individual and the gathered faith community are met while simultaneously being open to and engaged with those beyond the faith community.
  3. Context The location of the faith community is an important factor in the faith community’s identity and the young adults’ experience with the faith community.
  4. Social Justice The faith community and/ or the young adult lift up social justice as an important component of the life of faith.


There was no special program or approach that made these congregations successful. We believe their success with young adults is related to their clarity of conviction and intentionality about engaging their young adults in leadership roles so that they might lead the faith community into living public lives of faith that matter.