Our research team will seek a deeper understanding of how congregations and other faith communities are effectively engaging young adults. Our hope is to learn from those who have developed effective practices, systems, and communities in order to share what they have learned with other faith communities who are seeking to improve their ministry with young adults.
Before we begin to define effective engagement and describe our methodology, it is important to highlight our team’s commitment to interdisciplinarity. The life of faith cannot only be studied theologically, nor can the dynamics of a faith community or congregation. Christianity confesses belief in an incarnational God. Jesus is God’s word become flesh. God’s word lives and moves among us, in this physical world. Lutheranism confesses a belief in the Deus Absconditus or the “hidden God”. This is the belief in a God whose revelation is not obvious but hidden. It is the belief that God reveals Godself to humanity in, with, and under the physical realities of life. This nature of God’s revelation demands that our inquiry be interdisciplinary. God is to be found in the stuff of this world – nature, human community, struggles, etc. – and therefore the other disciplines shed light on the substances and phenomena in which God is present. Second, because God is hidden in these phenomena and substances, our inquiry must be theological otherwise our interpretation of the thing will be incomplete, from a theological standpoint. Therefore, in order to fully understand how communities are effectively engaging young adults in a life of faith, our inquiry must be interdisciplinary – theological and scientific (for lack of a better term right now).
We have allowed our commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry influence not only our interpretation of the data we will gather, but also our definition of important variables on the front end. Some Christian faith communities might consider effectiveness to mean large numbers of participants, large numbers of conversions, or assimilation to a particular lifestyle condoned by the specific faith community. Our team’s understanding of effectiveness is shaped by the following commitments, which grow from our own discipline-specific theories as well as the teaching and learning culture at Augsburg University.
Our intent is not to eliminate faith communities who hold a different definition of effectiveness, but to offer other explanations for why what they are doing with young adults seems to be working and in what capacity is it (or is not) effective. A system will always behave the way the system is designed to behave, but that does not always mean the system’s effectiveness is optimal or healthy.
Therefore, effective ministry with young adults will . . .
- Reflect an ethos, or spirit, of effectiveness indigenous to the community.
- Take place at the intersections of faith and the arts, faith and political activism, faith and environmental stewardship, and interfaith engagement as well as other places where faith is wrapped up in active, public lives.
- Listen deeply to their life stories in order to hear and understand the “bad news” in their lives so that “good news” might be proclaimed in word and deed. It will provide a promising alternative to a personal theory that is no longer working for them.
- Weave together text and context in a way that results in deeper understanding of both the text and the context.
- Learn from them, equip them, and empower them for active discipleship that is theologically aware and publicly engaged.
- Be developmentally appropriate for those in this age category (i.e., relationships based on values, not activities; right and wrong is easier to determine at this age than in adolescence, questions and answers are more relativistic).
- Have a strengths-based perspective that enhances the strengths that are already present in individuals and the community.
- Produce grassroots interaction rituals, which results in “collective effervescence,” or an intensification of collective awareness, attention, experience, emotion, and energy.
- Clearly communicate these rituals as well as the community’s stories and values along to the participants.
- Will balance the desire to address the needs of the individual while simultaneously addressing the needs of the larger context and the world.
- Will demonstrate a desire and ability to adapt to new members and maintain a cohesion between its inward identity and external identity.
We assume any congregation currently engaged in effective ministry with young adults has already incorporated many of these things, whether they know it or not. Effectiveness is very contextual and we try to leave room for that, but at the same time we hold some commitments which we believe should always be present. Our working definition of effective ministry will continue to grow and change throughout this study.