First Third Conversations

Young Adult Resources, Installment #1

QuestionA blog post by Terri Elton

Over the next several weeks, we will share with you some resources that might help you understand some aspects of what’s going on in the lives of people in their 20s and 30s. This first installment address these three questions: Who are they? Why is this so important? What is their main “task”?

Who are they?

Demographics are helpful to a point. They do at least two things -- for those who know nothing about a population, they offer some insights, and for those who know something about a population, they put their experience in conversation with a larger group. Robert Wuthnow offers a very helpful piece that gets at both of these. He begins by saying people in their 20s and 30s are already changing the religious landscape and then he helps church leaders understand this change more deeply.

Wuthnow’s book, After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, studies the often over looked demographic of people “on the other side” of the baby boomers, adults in the first half of adulthood or from 21-45. Wuthnow’s research asks these questions: What are their churchgoing habits, spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? What can we learn from them?If you are looking for a book which lays out the landscape based on demographics, this is a good read.

Why is this so Important?

While the demographics state that adults are marrying later, are more educated, and are changing jobs more often, it doesn’t offer the perspective of what this all means for their emotional and relational sense of well-being. Quaterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner, is one attempt at helping “outsiders” see into the lived experiences of people in their early to mid-twenties. Mobility and instability are themes of their life, and finding one’s way in the midst of such insecurity is hard. If the church is going to walk alongside people in this period of life, it’s helpful to explore and listen to their stories.

Robbins and Wilner call attention to the difficult transition period twenty-somethings face following their college experience, a transition that is largely misunderstood by society. They name this period “quarterlife crisis”. Both Robbins and Wilner were twenty-somethings at the time they conducted the approximately one hundred interviews on which this work is based. While Robbins and Wilner could not provide an answer to overcome one’s “quarterlife crisis,” they argue that the “only way to begin to alleviate it is to acknowledge that it exists,” both personally and as a larger society. By addressing it they hope to help twenty-somethings see that they are not alone in their crises and that society might begin to find ways to understand it.

What is their main “task”?

So how can we (leaders and congregations) help? Well first, it’s good to know what the “task” at hand it. Sharon Parks names this task as helping emerging adults discover their adult vision. No, this vision will not be “done” or static, but crafting a life for one’s self is hard, and there are less and less organizations/institutions in society accompanying people in their 20s to engage in this work. So, people of faith, might we help young people ask big questions, and pursue worthy dreams? I hope so.

Sharon Parks wrote a book related to this: Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith.Through interviews and personal observation, Parks determines that emerging adults possess unique characteristics and are asking big questions and crafting worthy dreams. The book invites its readers into thinking about what it would be like to accompany and assist these twenty-somethings during their transition into adulthood.

For more about understanding emerging adulthood, see the work of Jeffery Jensen Arnett. He is a psychologists working with this concept of emerging adulthood, saying there is another developmental phase emerging. His writings can be found at:

Thanks to Kelsey Battleson, Alyssa Fitzgerald, Corey Lange, Kinna Nordstrom, Sara Quarberg for gathering and reflecting on these resources.

Terri EltonAuthor Bio:
Terri is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change. She also serves as Director of the Center for First Third Ministry and hopes to help ministry leaders create environments that cultivate a faith that matters. Growing up in southern California, Terri discovered her love for the city, cultural diversity and the beach. You can usually find Terri running or biking the streets of Minneapolis/St. Paul, or wherever she happens to be. When not moving, she's watching a movie with her husband or traveling with her two young adult daughters.

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