Catholic clubs don't cut it for young adults

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Young adults will be a part of the church, a national leader on ministry says, if we can provide what they are seeking.

Guest blog by Paul Jarzembowski

When asked if young adults will be connected to the church in the future, many people look downcast and reply sheepishly, "I don't really know." There is an unspoken yet nagging uncertainty about the presence of Generation X and the Millennial Generation in the future of the Catholic Church. But I refuse to sink into despair. 

Things are certainly changing, though. As I continue to work with young adults, I have learned that old models of connecting with them simply won't do anymore.

Right now, we rely on a "Catholic club" mindset in the way many of us engage in ministry. We post something in the bulletin (or even in an email or the website) about an upcoming Catholic activity and wait for people to show up. But Gen Xers and Millennials don't operate that way. In an increasingly busy and choice-heavy world, the "Catholic club" approach is just not working with younger people. 

If we were to take a time machine into the future, I don't think that the church would engage adults (young and old) in the same way.  

Instead, young adults today and almost all adults in the future will connect with their faith based on relevant needs, not to fill their diminishing amount of free time. With the decline in the economy and rising unemployment, as well as the growing divorce rate and a global fear of terrorism (see the essays at www.changingsea.org), young adults are not seeking "Catholic clubs," but pastoral guidance and answers. 

When looking at this new world, church leaders have two choices: to be overwhelmed and frustrated that the "Catholic club" model is not working so well,  or to look at this situation as an opportunity to put forth a pastoral, compassionate, and need-responsive image of church to these emerging generations. I have a deep hope that we will choose the latter option--and with that hope in mind, the future ahead is far from despair. 


Guest blogger Paul Jarzembowski is the executive director of National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA), and diocesan director of Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.