Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in partnership with Lilly Endowment Inc., is engaging in a bold initiative to help churches launch new ministries that will attract young adults – a population that congregations today are struggling to reach. Garrett is one of 12 innovation hubs around the country participating in Lilly Endowment’s Young Adult Initiative (YAI) that will help churches create innovative and meaningful ministries that appeal to millennials.
In recognition of the outstanding contributions made in helping congregations strengthen their ministries and outreach to younger adults, Garrett has received a renewal grant in the amount of $1.25 million!
The Garrett YAI Innovation Hub has four objectives:
For the past five years, the Garrett YAI Innovation Hub has done deep and intentional listening in a series of interviews with young adults. Through that process seven themes emerged and a curriculum for training teams at thirteen congregations was created. What resulted at the congregational level was new experiences and events, new ministries, new spaces, and an entirely new focus which centers the spiritual lives and yearnings of young adults.
What we know is that churches in every denomination and theological tradition are being called to do a new thing with God, and we trust that God is already doing a new thing in the world, with or without us.
Reflecting on my participation in Phase One of the Young Adult Initiative, two repeated and associated observations have endured and have a chance to guide our work toward reinvesting in young people going forward: testimony and surprise.
Thanks to the renewal grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc, the initiative is now moving into Phase Two. In Phase Two, we will focus on sharing the seven themes uncovered with a broader audience while continuing to partner with six of the original congregations to disseminate learnings and further develop young adult leaders. Specifically by:
CityPoint Community Church in Chicago demonstrates one model of deploying young adults as change makers within congregations by making small grants to context-specific missions! They also employ an effective low-cost way of sharing a project idea via social media and/or church websites using a short, entertaining video.
Young Adult Initiative Events by CityPoint Community Church
Gilead is a church for and by people who have been left out or pushed out of the church. It’s also a church for and by a lot of people who live on different kind of margins – because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, mental illness, or socioeconomic status. Our primary concern from the beginning of the pandemic was to keep our folks safe, which for us meant checking in a lot, going on a lot of walks, finding ways to give artists and musicians within the congregation work and money, and doing as much in-person programming as we could.
While “welcome and accessibility” came to mean digital access for many congregations during the pandemic, we knew that caring for our folks meant giving them reasons to get out of the apartment and giving them ways to see, and taste, and touch, and hear the real community that supports and loves them.
Gilead is also a church that takes as one of its core practices, throwing parties and making friends. We think that the world-as-God-imagines-it is made known in loving human community. So when we weave our lives together in real ways, when we love and serve alongside each other, deepening our connections and becoming real friends, then the Beloved Community comes into being.
We believe that in many places the church has a dearth of joy and celebration. We believe the good news of Jesus Christ should sound like good news. That it should leave us singing, and dancing, and feasting together. We practice celebration, especially in difficult times, as an expression of praise and gratitude for creation and for the good things of life, and as one of the ways we fuel ourselves for resistance to the powers of evil in all their forms. The church needs to party to remind itself of the goal toward which it is heading and to steel itself to work for justice in a world that quashes joy.
Redeemer Church Chicago opened a brand new site with support from the Young Adult Initiative. Third Place Chicago is a gathering place for all ages, focused on conversation and leadership. Third Place hosts events like Land of 1000 Conversations – an opportunity for community members to connect over casual conversation that bridges divides. Individualized spiritual growth coaching is also offered to those who are looking to go deeper in their life of faith.
In 2021, our leadership team made a significant pivot to respond to a new opportunity. Through our ministry outreach center, Third Place Chicago, we connected with a small group of Christian young adults in the neighborhood who had taken some early steps to reach out to the surrounding area to build a community accessible to people who might be unlikely to walk into a church building on a Sunday morning. They had been trying to build community by hosting small events in their home, but they sensed that Third Place Chicago might be a more conducive venue, and they asked if we’d be open to hosting them. Our congregational leadership team decided to redirect funds we had been planning to spend on advertising to instead support this group of young adults who were in a position to build something that fit our mission (and the vision of the Young Adult Initiative) so well. In conversation with these young leaders, we developed a plan to use expanded financial resources and the new space to reach out and build connections. Our church staff offered conversation, support, and coaching, but we made our best effort not to micromanage, realizing that this had to fit the authentic vision of these young adult leaders.
Our project for the Young Adult Initiative is entitled, “The Toolkit” and is designed to address Young Adult (18-35 years old) programming needs but equipping them with the “tools” necessary to facilitate growth spiritually, socially and practically. Our aim has been to do this through learning, experiencing and the life application of biblical principles. Our ministry was originally comprised of only Second Baptist Church (SBC) members, but over time has grown to include members also from First Church of God Christian Life Center, Faith Temple Church, Bethel AME Church and Bethany Baptist Church. Amid the shift caused by the pandemic, we were forced to shift all our programming virtual and be creative in our efforts to reach Young Adults.
In March 2021 we launched the Second Season of “The Beacon,” our digital conversation series highlighting Young Adults who serve as “beacons” in their respective field of profession OR can shed an authentic, insightful light on given topics.
The evidence is overwhelming on how many young adults desire to be in spiritual community but how “institutional” forms of church are not the places they feel they can connect. As a result there are increasing numbers of young adults not connecting with a church but who desire to connect with God. We must find innovative ways to connect with young adults that more traditional forms of church are failing to connect with.
Urban Village Church set out to go to the spaces where young adults meet. We asked our young adults to go and form micro-communities that were intentional in building relationships with other young adults outside of our four walls.
Program Director and Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Formation, Leadership and Culture
Associate Program Director and Post-Doctoral Fellow
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grant-making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes. More information can be found at www.lillyendowment.org.