This past year, we’ve been busy looking at ways that youth engage with their congregations, Unitarian Universalism and new trends in youth ministry. We surveyed over 350 youth about their favorite parts of church and how their congregations could better serve them. At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers interviewed their fellow youth. This is what we’ve learned:
Youth want to connect with their congregations
Our survey showed that youth want greater ways to connect with their congregation. We know that one of the major markers of future religious participation is increased connections between adults and youth. The National Study of Youth and Religion tells us that 81% of youth have never shared a personal problem with a member of their ministry team. Anecdotes from Unitarian Universalism lead us to believe that the vast majority of pastoral care for youth in our congregations is provided by other youth.
Youth invest in their congregations
At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers asked their peers to share their personal UU history. Almost every response began with some form of “I have been a member of my church since I was two” or, “My family has been members since before I was born.” For those who grow up in a congregation, who grow up in Unitarian Universalism, they are innately invested in their congregation. A large number of our youth go through intensive UU identity curricula like Coming of Age and Our Whole Lives. They claim membership because they are invested deeply in their congregation.
Youth want their congregations to invest in them
From Almost Christian, “The more available religiously grounded relationships, activities, programs, opportunities, and challenges are for teenagers, the more likely they will be religiously engaged and invested…Stated negatively, churches that do not invest in their youth find that youth are unlikely to invest in them” (203). From our survey, youth want “more opportunity for youth leadership” and “[more] teen-based sermons.” Youth are members of your congregation just like any other and they have needs that need to be met as well. If you invest in your youth and their leadership, there will be an exponential growth in volunteer capacity.
Youth want their congregation visible in the world
For a large majority of our youth, when they tell someone they are UU they get this look. A great way to break that trend is for your congregation to show up in your community. Your youth will join you on the frontlines because challenging racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and ableism is important to them. They and/or their friends face oppression every single day. Already doing justice work in your community? A service trip is a great way to deepen youth’s faith.
Check out: Youth Ministry at its Best
Share: Our more in-depth Youth Ministry Survey with the youth in your congregation! This time, we are more interested in how youth connect with UU theology and values.
Bart Frost serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the UUA. As a raised UU, Bart’s passion is creating opportunities for younger leaders in our faith to share their skills with the world. When not at 24 Farnworth St working for the UUA, he is usually in New Orleans (where his partner Amelia resides) snuggling his two cats (and being harassed by the third) while watching hockey.