The Belonging Article
New Young Adult Ministry in Northeast Ohio
In Northeast Ohio we are trying to reverse a problem that many of our congregations have been facing for years: young adults leaving our congregations and/or feeling like they don’t belong. There are a number of reasons for this trend, but a large one we’ve found is that once students graduate from high school, many churches don’t have a plan for those who don’t go away to college or make a move for a job. Young adults are left feeling isolated and forgotten about—they are no longer a student, but don’t always feel ready for our existing adult programming. Before we graduate, community is mostly created for us. School, youth groups, sports teams and our parents’ friends’ children are all options. Once you take the step into adulthood, you have to be more intentional to create community or find it. Many of our young people don’t find it in our churches and are unsure on how to create it, yet we all long for it.
Further, if churches do have a plan, half of the young people leave for college, so the community in the young adult age group is cut in half. If they had a small youth ministry to begin with people leaving can be devastating to a potential ministry. In Northeast Ohio most of our congregations are small to mid-size congregations. Therefore, we struggle to make young adults feel like they are with peers who support them and are going through similar life transitions because there simply may not be many around. Like anyone else, young adults need the community that we are created for and to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
These problems that our churches are facing caused Brandon Schmidt from Forty Corners Church of God and I to start talking about what we could do to help. We concluded that most of our churches do not have large groups of young adults, but if we were able to gather the collective small groups, we could do something significant with the collective. We began to envision a worship night or a night of fellowship to let people know that they aren’t alone, to provide opportunities for them to make connections with other believers from sister churches, and not to give up on starting a young adult ministry in their own congregation. With this vision in mind, Brandon and I reached out to young adult leaders from across the region to plan a gathering for young adults in NEO.
That group gave birth to The Belonging. The Belonging is a quarterly worship night for young adults (ages 18-39) from churches all across Northeast Ohio. Our first worship night was on May 17, 2019 our second on August 16. We began with over 100 young adults from the region who came to worship, be encouraged by a message and fellowship. We also provide childcare so that young parents can easily attend. The band leading worship, as well as everyone else involved in the services, are young adults from the area, and the messages have addressed two important elements of Biblical belonging: fellowship and being known.
After each worship service, we have had a bonfire with s’mores, hot dogs and lawn games. Most of those who come stay for the fire. There is a deep desire for genuine fellowship, and this ministry is helping to provide that. A goal of ours is to show that young adults can find the community that we all need in the local church. One of the testimonies we have heard coming from The Belonging is, “I was struggling to decide whether or not to lead a young adult small group in our church, but God made it clear to me that now was the time to start. We are now meeting every week!” Perhaps after reading this, you will also decide to start a ministry for your peers or young adults in your church. They, like everyone else, need a place where they know they belong.
By Pastor Josh Deeter