Interested in figuring out how to get young adults to church? Start by listening to them. That’s the advice of four leaders from Encounter Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Kentwood, Mich., who spent a year writing curriculum geared toward discipling this age group. Funded in part by a grant from the Fuller Youth Institute, Paula Englin, Britten Docter, Robin Bupp, and Justin Ellison developed [RE]FRAME, a five-session course combining personal stories, small group discussion and responsive “dares.”
Running Sept. 25 to Nov. 20, the course features five speakers from within the Encounter congregation and had 112 people register between the ages of 23 and 29.
Having listened to the stories of young adults, Englin, Docter, Bupp, and Ellison found there was a great sense of unsettledness, particularly around identity, longing, and purpose. Elgin said the compiled stories revealed two narratives: a “flawed narrative—‘I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing with my life or doing it with the right people. If I work hard enough I can get to where I need to be.’ And a Jesus narrative: ‘God has placed me in my current circumstances, to love and serve those around me.’”
[RE]FRAME’s purpose, she said, is to bridge those two narratives, to have young adults consider what it looks like to work as a people who are called into the “dailiness” of life.
To help them through that, a speaker presents once each week on five topics: hopes, dreams, and expectations; gifts and passion; calling; people; and work. After a meal, participants join “Table Talk” discussions to reflect with a group facilitator, and through the week they work through a portfolio on the same topic.
The last component of [RE]FRAME are dares—actions that relate to the topic—that participants can pick up at church each Sunday, to complete before the next Wednesday night session. For example, one of the dares is to set a phone alarm to go off every 90 minutes, so that participants can stop and contemplate the statement: “I am called to this.” They then consider how they can follow Jesus in that exact moment. This can lead to prayer, action, and finally, reflection on the dare. Participants can journal about their experience, and hang up their entry in the [RE]FRAME space at church.
The program allows young adults to stop and think, a practice many feel they don’t have time for. Pastor Dirk vanEyk, who volunteers as one of the Table Talk leaders, said one participant told him that he feels like he’s, “flying through life all the time,” and that [RE]FRAME gives him a chance to slow down.
Englin, who is the connections director at Encounter, emphasized “this is a ministry with and not for” young adults. “It’s important to continue to ask and listen and hear their story.”