We need to get to the point where we “presume nothing” when it comes to how well Episcopalians are evangelized or catechized regardless of whether they are old or young. Yet, once engaged by the church, young adults have often said that they began as a Christian “on the outside,” and were little more than an atheist “on the inside.” That shows us that our challenge is to present a compelling message that allows young adults to experience the church as a community of believers who are followers of Christ both on the inside and outside.
Our church is no longer a church of “cradle Episcopalians.” The Episcopal Church is increasingly a church of diversity. WE must dispose of many presumptions about the make-up and character of our church. Over the last few decades, we have become a community with members that come from many different religious experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, career paths, vocational journeys, and ethnicities. Most, but not all, grew up in one or another Christian denomination, not a Episcopalians. Some have been very well “formed” (i.e. with a solid religious education background) but lack a personal relationship with the Lord, others are simply culturally Christians, and still others come from non-Christian experiences.
Because of this increasingly diverse environment, our first aim must be not simply to start an Episco-centered young adult group (which is usually the answer to the question: How do we get more young people in our parish?). Our fundamental aim must be broader: to evangelize young adults leading them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and into a life of discipleship within a faith community. For those of us who were schooled in a traditional theology of evangelism, we are talking about the fundamental role of the "first announcement" of the Good News. Often called the “kerygma,” this effort needs to be the center of all our evangelizing activity and all efforts at renewing our parish life.
This leads to lesson number one: we need to place first things first when it comes to reaching young adults. How do we do this? By constantly trying to create an evangelizing environment where the aim is a conversion of heart. This conversion is something that every single person -- from cradle Episcopalians to non-Christians -- needs. It is a reorientation of life to place Jesus Christ at the absolute center, to invite Him to truly be Lord of our lives. We need to have regular opportunities for people to hear this “first proclamation” of the Good News and to respond by surrendering their lives to the Lord.
Moreover, we must understand fully the importance of evangelizing the whole person by touching people’s minds and hearts, stir their consciences and engage their energies. This is the model we are experiencing in our Inquirers’ Classes. For seven consecutive weeks we have promised to welcome everyone warmly and begin with a meal. (Sharing a meal touches not only our bodies but also our hearts.) Then we move to a brief time of singing and prayer. (Singing together and worshipping touches our hearts and engages our energies.) After worship we move into a presentation that aims to touch and form people’s minds and invites them to learn something new. Finally, a small group discussion -- whether formally with a group or just turning to the person seated next to you -- helps people to personally relate to the content of the teaching. Throughout the meeting, we engage one another in fellowship, which fosters the growth of community: a key dimension in the lives of all people, especially youth and young adults. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a model we can use ever more effectively in announcing the Good News that Christ bids us to share as we live into our future vision!