michelle07.jpgReligious extremism is often conducted via disaffected youth searching for meaning and looking for a community to serve as an extended family. To that end, a group of Unitarian Universalist religious educators, ministers, youth advisors and others engaged in youth or young adult ministry gathered over a weekend to explore how can we tip the balance and get more youth and young adults involved in celebrating religious pluralism instead of standing idly by while more and more youth are pulled in the direction of fanaticism.

Led by facilitator Tera Little, particpants at this year’s Religious Education and Lifelong Learning (REALL) weekend engaged in small group activities, worship, discussion and other collaborative efforts to discover and determine how we can fire up our youth about becoming involved in social change as well as attracting other youth to our faith – youth who are searching for identity and affirmation that is too often found as part of radical fundamentalist movements who preach division and hate.

From early adolescence, when the focus is upon experiential learning activities interspersed with community-building through later adolescence when youth need to be encouraged to taken on leadership roles and given real responsibilities – our youth have diverse needs and interests but they all have a need to belong and feel a part of beloved church community.  Our Unitarian Universalist congregations can provide this if there is an intentional commitment to engage in youth work and meeting them where they are at.

Young adults may have more life experience than youth, but they struggle with their own growing edges and depending upon their life circumstances, require different things from the church community they choose to be part of.  From the "Explorers" (young adults usually 18 - 22) who long for independence and need to be taken seriously as they actively pursue their faith development to the Pioneers (young adults age 22 - 30) who have assumed greater responsibilities in their own lives and may be responsible for young children and the Householders (age 30 - 35) who have learned the value of a church community in their life and need a growing faith identity and social action to solidify their beliefs; young adults need our religious communities to offer them an extended family of support as they move into new life stages. 

Recognizing that youth and young adults are not one homogenous group and have a myriad of different life circumstances is the first step toward meeting their needs.  Then intentionally offering programming to meet their needs and inviting them to participate fully in the church community, we can incorporate more of them in our faith movement and through these efforts, engage in the most effective social justice efforts we can -- firing up the generations of young adults who are already full of enthusiasm to change the world.  Youth and young adults are not just the future of our denomination, they can be the present leaders as well -- if we allow them to soar and connect with their best selves.