The Future is Among Us

UU Youth

       Over the years that I have been a Unitarian Universalist minister I have heard people in congregations say that religious education and inclusion of youth and young adults is an important value to them.  I also have observed how often the actions within our congregations speak louder than those words of inclusivity.  The actions that I have seen tell me that children need to be strictly controlled to keep out of the way of adults, youthful opinions are not welcome, and worship doesn’t include youth and young adult needs. 

        Lest you think I am being overly harsh, take a good look at your own congregation.  Identify any way you can find where youth are included in the work of the church.  The Youth Ministry Working Group Report of 2009 lifted up some pathways that should be created, or made explicit, in congregations:

  • planning, participating in and leading worship
  • engaging in spiritual reflection and discernment through small group ministries or other programs
  • singing in the choir and providing instrumental music in worship
  • providing religious education to children
  • co-facilitating youth-adult faith development programs
  • providing and receiving pastoral care
  • serving on committees and boards (in addition to youth-specific and religious education committees)
  • helping to plan and lead social service and social justice projects

 

When it comes to our young adults, how connected are they to the life of the church?  Are there young adults on the board or leading committees?  Do they participate in the social activities and worship?  Is there programming that addresses the particular needs of people who might be entering the work world, finding a mate, starting a family, or learning how to live a moral life in a complex media-saturated environment that elevates greed over goodness? 

While it has been thirty years since I was a young adult, I do remember how I had to work at being welcomed in a UU congregation.  I was embraced by my peers and tolerated by my elders.  Is this still true for your church or fellowship?

I discovered this article at the UU Planet site.  It discusses the needs of a young adult with children in one congregation.  Perhaps it will stimulate some discussion within your congregation on what can be done to be more inclusive of young adults. 

http://uuplanet.org/2013/06/13/reaching-out-to-and-involving-young-adults-and-families-with-children/

Unitarian Universalism has been known as a faith where people have come from another religious tradition.  But we also have a solid core of youth and young adults among us.  These people are our future and are with us right now.  How we integrate them into our communities of faith will help determine what Unitarian Universalism will be in a generation.  If we do the right things, they will stay and prosper and bring their energy and talents to strengthen our faith.  If we ignore them and do not provide their needs, we will follow the path of other major denominations and sink into oblivion.  It is your choice.  What will you make?

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

Who Will Lead Us?

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Have you looked around at your congregation lately?  Have you noticed a perceptible graying of the membership?  If so, you are not alone.  I recently came across this from a Methodist source.

“Most leaders need only look around their own congregations to see the statistics compiled by The United Methodist Church play out.  Too few young adults are taking on ministry roles.  Only about 5 percent of UMC leadership is younger than age 35.

That is a slight increase over three years ago when just 4.69 percent were younger than 35.

Yet, a little more than 20 years ago, the young adult numbers were significantly greater.  In 1985, 15 percent of deacons and elders were younger than 35.  The challenge is clear and one The United Methodist Church has recognized.  Churches need to involve younger leaders. It can be a chicken-and-egg thing. Which comes first—more young adult leaders or more young adult congregation members?”

I expect that our statistics mirror those of the Methodists and the Baptists, and the Episcopalians.  When was the last time that you elected a person under thirty-five to the board of trustees?  If we are to have the leadership that we need for the future we must do a better job of encouraging, training, and nurturing newer and younger leaders for our congregations. 

Some things that might work to bring a new generation of leaders forward include identifying, training, and supporting younger people who would like to take on more responsibility in the congregation.  Here are some thoughts that will allow congregations to accomplish these things.

1.   Identifying new leadership:  Look for people who have a talent for working well with others.  Use survey instruments to gather information on skills and abilities from your members.  Some congregations create a database of skills and abilities that are used for finding new leaders.

2.  Training: Younger members might not have the experience of working as leaders of groups.  Every congregation should develop a process for training new leaders on an annual basis.  If your congregation is too small to do it alone, pair up with other nearby congregations to offer it jointly.  Invite the district to bring a leadership development workshop to your location and invite surrounding congregations to attend and bring their new leaders. 

3.  Support:  Find out what newer, younger potential leaders need to succeed.  It might be re-writing the job so it is more manageable.  It might be dividing the job into two or more portions so that a new leader can fit the work into a hectic schedule without feeling overwhelmed.  Check in with the new leader after they have been in the position for a little while and find out what additional support might be helpful. 

I was a young adult when I first encountered Unitarian Universalism.  I became a young adult leader because someone took the time to educate me about the inner workings of the congregation where I was a member.  I was nurtured and supported as I grew into my leadership potential. 

If each congregation were to identify just two young people a year to cultivate into leadership, we would stop the graying of our congregations because these younger people will know what their age cohorts need in ministry and programming.  They will bring more vitality to our congregations and would help reverse the slow decline that faith communities are experiencing today.