First-time poll surveys Young Adult Volunteers

A group of Young Adult Volunteers walks through the convention center during their two-day training before the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering in New Orleans. (Sherri Littlefield/LCMS Youth Gathering Media Team)

A Young Adult Volunteer Poll took place for the first time at the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering, providing a glimpse into the lives of some of Synod congregations’ most active young adults.

Some 512 took the poll last year, among the 582 Young Adult Volunteers at the 2016 Gathering — the largest such group of volunteers since Young Adult Volunteers first served at an LCMS Youth Gathering in 1998.

The poll was a shortened, modified version of the Lutheran Youth Fellowship Youth Poll which has surveyed information about teen participants at all past triennial Gatherings that go back to 1980.

A Jan. 24 Reporter Online story, “LYF Youth Poll results reflect headlines, scriptural stance,” covered results of the 2016 Youth Poll. 

Referred to as “Orange Nation” and accented by orange shirts, pants, shoes and flair, Young Adult Volunteers applied in advance and paid most of their own expenses for an opportunity to aid participants on Gathering servant events, engage them on the event’s Experiential Floor, guide pedestrian traffic and much more.

The Rev. Mark Kiessling, director of LCMS Youth Ministry, and Julianna Shults, LCMS Youth Ministry’s program manager for the Lutheran Young Adult Corps, shared insights from an analysis of last year’s Young Adult Volunteer Poll results.

“Our Young Adult Volunteers are wonderful young people who give of their time and talents to serve the youth and adult participants of the LCMS Youth Gathering,” said Kiessling. “One of the greatest joys of the experience is to watch these volunteers first arrive for their training and to witness the skill and energy they bring to the event and our churches, college campuses and communities. We are thrilled they were willing to provide their insight to us.”

Young Adult Volunteers are from 19 to 25 years old. For last year’s Gathering, three-fourths of them were ages 19-21.

In the poll, 91 percent reported attending worship at least a few times a month and more than half reported attending Bible study at least once a month.

At the time they took the poll, 38 percent of the young adults lived with their parents, the same percentage lived on their school campuses and 13 percent shared living quarters with roommates.

Service and leadership

Young Adult Volunteers were asked if they felt equipped for service and leadership. In response, 91 percent reported feeling equipped to serve their community and 92 percent reported feeling equipped to serve in their congregation. Only 25 percent reported that they had a leadership role in their congregation.

“Young adults are often still learning to manage the demands of college and work,” said Shults. “This, coupled with the transient nature of young adulthood, could mean they are less likely to make long-term leadership commitments to their church.”

“It is positive to see the regularity [with which] these LCMS young people are in worship,” Kiessling observed. “Congregations can build connections with these young adults who are starting new careers and phases of life by providing opportunities to serve inside the Church and as a witness in the community. This engagement in Christian community opens doors for older adults to be mentors in matters of faith, vocation and career, and brings new ideas and leadership in the current and future life of local churches.”

Support and connection

The poll used a series of questions to gauge how supportive young adults’ congregations, pastors, parents and friends are of their faith. They responded, as follows:

  • 87.8 percent said their congregation was supportive.
  • 94.4 percent said their parents were supportive.
  • 81.3 percent said their friends were supportive.
  • 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their pastor cares about them personally.

“It’s not surprising that young adults who are active in the church also show high levels of support from parents, pastors and congregations,” Shults said. “The better the support system is for a young person, the more likely they are to continue faithful worship and pursue faith-growth opportunities.”

“As we see in other national data,” Kiessling added, “many post-college young adults surveyed [41.6 percent of 22- to 25-year-olds] live at home with their parents or close to home. Parents, home congregations and church workers and pastors who sometimes have long-term relationships support and influence young people in their walk with Jesus, even though some life circumstances have changed.”

Risky behavior

Young Adult Volunteers reported low incidences of risky behavior, especially in comparison to other, broader studies of this age group.

The Gathering poll found the following among young adults who took it: 

  • 1.2 percent reported living with a significant other.
  • 4.3 percent indicated occasionally or regularly using marijuana.
  • 2.4 percent have tried other drugs.
  • 2 percent regularly binge drink.
  • 4 percent regularly view pornography, though 11 percent of men reported regularly viewing it.

“Overall,” Shults noted, “these numbers are well below national norms. It is encouraging to see that young people in our church are choosing behaviors that reflect their faith. They struggle with sin like we all do, but their active faith lives do have a strong, positive impact on their choices.” 

Top concerns

The Young Adult Volunteers were asked to identify their three top concerns, from a list provided.

Those aged 19-22 reported their top concern was the future, followed by college, terrorism, abortion and personal faith.

Those 23-25 reported their top concern was personal faith, followed by money, dating relationships, cancer and the future.

Young Adult Volunteers also were asked to list three issues they wished the Church would talk about more often. While all respondents voiced similar concerns, the order of concerns most pinpointed changed dramatically between the age groups.

Those who were 19-22 reported that the topic they most would like the Church to talk more about was LGBT/sexual-orientation issues, followed by outreach/evangelism, sex, current events/politics, and dating and relationships.

Those 23-25 reported that current events/politics was the topic they would most like the Church to address, followed by outreach/evangelism, theology/Bible issues and LGBT/sexual-orientation issues.

“Young adults of this generation often say they are looking for authenticity,” according to Shults. “One of the best ways for the Church to show that authenticity is to openly discuss what God says about difficult issues and point young people back to Scripture.  Young adults are struggling with what the Church believes and what they hear the culture teaching. These results should empower churches to deal with these topics head-on.”

“Some of these issues of concern and for discussion such as sex, sexual orientation, relationships, abortion and terrorism were consistent with the poll we conducted with the high-school participants,” Kiessling recalled. “Parents, young people and churches can together engage with the truth of God as we wrestle with our concerns and questions in our daily life and celebrate our hopes and Christ’s victory for us.”

More research on the way

Kiessling and Shults indicate that — based on the success of the 2016 Young Adult Poll — LCMS Youth Ministry is pursuing further research this spring and summer. For that research, select congregations have been asked to provide insight into past Confirmation classes whose confirmands are now young adults. That will be followed by a longer survey in late spring for young adults previously and currently connected to the Church.

“The Church has not always done well in helping support the faith lives of teens as they transition to adulthood,” said Shults. “We were pleasantly surprised at how much we learned from this short [Young Adult Volunteer] poll. It highlighted for us just how much the Church could benefit from more information from this age group, both from those inside the Church and those who have left our church body.”

Posted April 25, 2017 / Updated April 27, 2017

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