By: Pete Ascosi
This post is the first of a two-part series, so check back next week for part two. The posts are drawn from my workshop, "Attracting Young Adults to Christ and the Church" at the 2016 ChristLife National Conference.
Young adulthood is a critical time of life when big decisions are made about our career, vocation, lifestyle, and values.
Fortunately I was blessed to grow up in a strong faith environment that set me on the right course. However in my late teens and early twenties I was much more formed by worldly values and a lifestyle that increasingly had less to do with God and the Church.
In God's mercy, I had an awakening in my faith in my early twenties through the witness of a number of people—both young and old—that thankfully guided me back to the "straight and narrow" path. St. Paul's words in the Letter to the Ephesians ring true for me:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved (2:4-5).
My conversion led to big changes in my life, which weren’t primarily due to my own efforts, but because of the mercy and grace of God. As a result of my conversion, I hungered for the sacraments, for personal prayer, the reading of Scripture, and to worship and fellowship with fellow young adults.
Unfortunately many family and friends in their young adult years didn't follow my path back to a whole-hearted relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. And if we look at nationwide statistics we see a great need to evangelize the young adult generation.
Dr. John Romanowsky, Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, sums up some of the key statistics on Catholic young adults:
Seventy percent of those raised Catholic will stop practicing their faith at some point in their lives. Almost 50 percent of them stop before they turn 18; and 80 percent stop before they turn 23. The dramatic exodus from our Church is overwhelmingly a young adult exodus (May 3, 2016).
In the face of this "exodus" what can we do as individuals and parishes? For those of us involved in running ChristLife in our parishes, how do we reach young adults?
While I certainly do not have all the answers I can tell the story of ChristLife Young Adults, a vibrant community of young adults in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that is helping young adults experience conversion, become disciples, and get involved in the Church’s mission of evangelization. I hope that in telling the story of ChristLife Young Adults the Holy Spirit will give you inspiration in evangelizing a generation that desperately needs the joy and truth that comes from the Gospel.
In 2005 ChristLife brought me on board as the only young adult member of a staff of four. It was the beginning of a number of intentional steps ChristLife took that would eventually lead to the beginning of ChristLife Young Adults.
In the summer of 2009, ChristLife ran a Discovering Christ course for young adults. This course was not only special because there were 40-50 young adults attending each session, but also because it was filmed and served as the basis of our first edition of Discovering Christ (of which an estimated 60,000 people have seen in 600 parishes in nine countries from Fall 2009 to Spring 2016!)
We spread the word far and wide to young adults. At the time very little was going on for young adults in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, so they flocked to the course when they heard there was something for them. Many were intrigued by the opportunity to explore the meaning of life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
For many of the young adults who attended the course, it was truly a new beginning in their faith or a first time commitment to Jesus as the Lord of their lives. The following testimonials are just a few of dozens of comments we received at the conclusion of the course:
"I felt more alive and sensed the fire that came from the Holy Spirit."
"I realized that I need people and that I can’t do it alone and that God truly loves ME!!!"
"I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and it has changed my life for the better and forever."
"I’ve met great people and have become closer to God and the Catholic faith."
"I found myself and had a real encounter with the Lord through the love here."
As we concluded the course, we began making plans to start Following Christ several weeks after the conclusion of Discovering Christ. What was immediately evident was that people were hungry for God and for authentic relationships. For the first time in many of the young adults lives they were sharing about their faith, being vulnerable with one another, praying with and for one another, and reaching out to friends and inviting them to experience what they experienced.
Little did we know the seed that was sown during these Discovering and Following Christ courses would grow to become a vibrant community of young adults where hundreds of lives would be touched by Jesus Christ. Fast forwarding five years we filmed a short video of young adults giving testimony to the impact of the young adult community upon their lives:
Part 2 of this post dives into greater detail into how we fostered the growth of ChristLife Young Adults over the years and unpack specific lessons learned in evangelizing young adults.