Keynote presentation: Who are young adults?

 The Rev. Amy Thompson Sevimli, Assistant to the Bishop, introduced the day’s keynote speaker by reminding the assembly that it is still the “Year of the Young Adult” – the synod’s theme. She reported that many young adult small groups are happening around the synod in congregations. Many congregations are reaching out to make young adult outreach part of their ministry.
 
100925keynoteDr. Rodger Y. Nishioka’s presentation was titled “Who are these young adults?” He teaches in the area of practical theology at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Ga. Echoing the bishop’s report before his presentation, Dr. Nishioka began by saying that the church is in a time of “disorientation” – between times of orientation and re-orientation.
 
All mainline denominations – including the ELCA and Dr. Nishioka’s own (the Presbyterian Church) – are struggling to hold on to their own people – those who we baptized and confirmed. Why is that? This is a question he is struggling with.
 
Dr. Nishioka talked about recent research that explored why new members of congregations have joined the church. The top reason people have joined a congregation is that it is warm and friendly. After sharing many humorous anecdotes about the sharing of the peace, Dr. Nishioka quipped, “You cold Lutherans, you can’t do just three [greeting only three people during the passing of the peace].” He encouraged the group of Lutherans, many of whom are introverts, to at least fake some extroversion. He then made the assembly practice this by getting up and talking to people they did not know.
 
Continuing with his presentation, Dr. Nishioka provided a frame of who young adults are (some words below are taken directly from his PowerPoint slides, and some are notes from this blogger).
 
Definitions:
 
19-35 years old (in practice: 20s and 30s)
21% of the U.S. population at 56 million
 
The fastest-growing faith group is the “Nones.” But these people, he said, have Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, etc., background.
 
How would you describe them?
 
Tend to view the world as ethnically diverse (majority are non-Anglo)
Experience greater class polarity and educational discrepancy (average age of ELCA is ~20 years higher than average age of general population; ELCA members are also, on average, very educated)
Most mobile of any generation (they move for jobs)
Half have experienced divorce as children
Latest marrying and least child-bearing generation (members of this generation may not get married, but if they do, they will have kids later)
 
Dr. Nishioka’s ways of describing young adults:
 
Postponing generation: Put off making decisions in the interest of keeping as many options open as long as possible.
 
Paradox generation: Able to hold with ease what might seem like contradictions to others.
 
Pragmatic generation: Self-preservation as a goal leads to a new pragmatism. Do whatever it takes as long as you are safe and secure.
 
Performance-driven: Sense of self-worth dependent on how well you perform in school, work, relationships.
 
Consumer culture: You are what you buy, what you wear, what you listen to, what you drive…
 
Tech generation: More than any other, technologically and visually oriented and sophisticated. Early adapters.
 
New sexual ethic: Difference between nudity vs. sensuality vs. sexuality vs. sexual intercourse vs. intimacy
 
Experience is paramount: A new dependence on what you experience. If you do not experience it, it does not count.
 
Institution ignorers: Rather than opposing institutions, most young adults simply ignore them and do not even see them.
 
Spiritual but not religious: A prevailing sense that one’s spirituality has little to do with one’s participation in religious communities.
 
Dr. Nishioka’s presentation was full of his own stories and experiences, full of humor, and full of poking fun at Lutherans and other Christians. The audience responded with lots of laughter.
 
In his afternoon session, Dr. Nishioka will talk about three things to be looking for and what we can do in response.

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