While emerging adults will be home for Christmas, don’t expect them to come pounding on your door to talk. Aside from endless family gatherings and catching up with high school friends, many of them will work in order to make spending money, or to stay relevant in their old job.
So how do we make the most of the Holiday season in regards to ministering to college students? (Other than asking those who are musically skillful to fill into our holiday rotations – which often speaks louder to emerging adults about what and who we value than we would care to admit.) Here are a few thoughts to get you started.
- Acknowledge them from the platform and in print. As a congregation, make it clear that you value them, and that you are glad that they are home. Run an announcement in your bulletin that communicates, “You are still a part of our community, and we are glad you are home.” During Christmas break, our church would run an announcement saying that there was a gift for every young adult in attendance. As the pastor of young adults, I would hand out candy bars to those who stopped by (whether a student home from college, a regular attender, or a visitor). It was a great chance to say thanks for coming, and to reacquaint with them as adults.
- Ask good questions. The worst question that you can ask is, “How is school going?” Remember that not all high school graduates leave town, or even attend college. Don’t assume that the reason you haven’t seen them is because they are away at college. Due to society’s expectations, those who are not taking classes feel embarrassed, and rather than stick around, they will stop attending. While many more graduates are attending college, many drop out due to a variety of reasons including: finances, family, illness, or lack of motivation. Ask general questions, and allow them to steer the conversation.
- Allow them to change. There is inevitable awkwardness. You haven’t seen them, and they haven’t seen you, and so there is a need to reacquaint yourself with each other. As you catch up, realize that they are not the same person as when they left. They want people to see a difference and treat them as adults. We need to communicate to emerging adults that they are free to grow and change within fear of rejection from our community.
- Plan a gathering (using social media) where they can reunite with church friends. Someone on our youth staff would host a college party over Christmas break each year. Many Christian camps hold retreats for young adults over Christmas break which are inexpensive and a great way for them to connect with other Christians.
If you church is serious about connecting with Millennials, then you must take advantages of every opportunity – including breaks in the academic calendar. As they come home for Christmas, I pray that you will be ready – with a purposeful greeting, a Spirit-guided conversation, and a warm embrace.
Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip parents and churches to minister to emerging adults. He writes and teaches regularly on spiritual formation, delayed development, and emerging adulthood at www.earesources.org and www.morethanabeard.com. If he can help your community, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.