Hearing directly from young people about how to better include them is an important step for a church whose median age continues to increase. And a group of 30 or so Mennonite Church USA 20-somethings is willing to talk. The group offered reflections and suggestions for the church to Ervin Stutzman, MC USA executive director, on July 3 during the convention in Kansas City, Mo. They compiled the same in a report to share with the Executive Board in August.
In the document, they say young adults want more opportunity to find community — and, specifically, community with likeminded peers or potential life partners.
“This can be particularly difficult for those of us in congregations with few or no peers,” the report says. They suggest creating fellowship spaces or online events involving neighboring congregations or conferences: hymn sings, Bible studies, meals, activism or educational outings.
Recently, Mountain States Mennonite Conference leaders found some success in creating community that appealed to young adults. They attracted many more young people than normal to their annual assembly Aug. 7-9.
Annie Lengacher Browning, who led the planning for the conference and began as interim conference minister for Mountain States on Sept. 1, described a few of her perceived reasons for the conference’s success.
They chose a planning committee made up entirely of younger adults. The group had a retreat weekend to get to know each other before beginning nearly monthly planning sessions, often over video calls, she said.
The committee also included young Mennonites who aren’t currently part of a church.
“Because we engaged both Mennonite young adults who are in the center and on the fringes of our conference life, it assisted in naturally spreading the word about our weekend,” Browning said.
They wanted the weekend to be family friendly, to serve all generations and foster new relationships. So they moved the conference to the mountains of northern New Mexico, on a ranch so beautiful its views can be seen in Georgia O’Keefe paintings.
Activities for all ages were “side by side in a way that provided a seamless sense of worship and community,” Browning said. There was singing around a bonfire while others took an outdoor watercolor class nearby. Swimming, a ropes course, hiking and yoga were available in addition to worship and prayer times.
Mountain States’ efforts align well with the desires voiced by the group of young adults. It should serve as an example for other conferences wanting to reach this demographic.
Taking a cue from the document’s authors, conferences can start by viewing their own young adults “as equal brothers and sisters with you, as capable as you are of communicating, teaching, organizing, studying, serving, encouraging and leading.”