8 Amazing Things a Church for Young Adults Can Do

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8 Amazing Things a Church for Young Adults Can Do


I wrote an article recently arguing for the need for parishes dedicated to evangelization and discipleship of young adults. You can catch that article here.

It drew some really interesting responses, positive and negative, prompting one of my friends to ask if I just enjoy lobbing grenades intro Catholic discussion groups. (Maybe I do?)

Maybe the most intriguing responses were from Catholic young adults who gave a sort of aching “AMEN!” to the post. I heard from faithful young Catholics how hard it can be to feel connected to their parish even when they desperately want to. How it can really feel that their parish is just meant for someone other than them.

If it’s difficult for the passionate young adults to connect, how could we possibly expect to attract the lukewarm or disaffected?

If it’s difficult for passionate young adults to connect, how can we expect to attract the disaffected?

Emboldened by them I will try to paint a clearer picture of what a parish for young adults could do (that I never see an ordinary parish doing). Let’s name this imaginary parish after a saint who really pushed boundaries out of love for the youth, St. John Paul II.

Here are 8 things that a parish totally dedicated to young adults could do (that your average parish probably doesn’t)

1. Youth-focused liturgy

St. John Paul II could celebrate a liturgy that is both reverent and attractive to young people. Like a World Youth Days Mass it would be both full of tradition and full of freshness. Its music would be attractive and singable. Its preaching would be intentionally evangelistic and aim to speak to the realities and challenges that young people experience and the decisions that young people make. It would utilize young people in visible roles like music ministry, lectors, greeters, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, etc.  

As the summit of the Christian life, a liturgy at St. John Paul II would never be an "in-and-out,” “one-and-done" experience. There would always be opportunities for refreshments and fellowship, time to meet peers and converse. (I have seen on campus how hungry young people are for this kind of fellowship.)                                                                                                         

2. Availability and accessibility of pastoral staff

I spoke with a young priest recently about how exhausting his parish work is. Between weddings and funerals, Masses and children's sacramental prep, “you begin to feel like a sacrament factory.”

An apostolate like St. John Paul II would not be orchestrated like this. Not focusing on some of the categories necessary for other demographics (funerals, visits to the sick, children’s ministries, etc.), a premium can be placed on pastoral availability.

This means ample time for pastoral counselling, hearing confessions, outreach, special events, evangelization and discipleship.

With both priestly and lay staff, St. John Paul II would offer to young people an exposure to the different vocations to which they can be called.

St. John Paul II would feature an attractive, cafe-style drop-in centre. It would be open afternoons and early evenings and lay staff and pastor(s) would be usually present, coordinating programs and being available to talk to young people as needed (which is more than you’d probably think).

3. Peer-to-peer evangelization

St. JPII would have a process of evangelization for young people to go through. It would seek to evangelize in a variety of ways, but particularly utilize a pipeline that involves peer-to-peer evangelization. When a young adult comes to Alpha, or a Discovery study, they will notice that their peers are in leadership of these programs. They’d be hearing from people they can relate to who have the same cultural reference points and speak the same language, making them want to stick around longer, even if they aren’t all sold on the “Jesus stuff” yet.

Young leaders at this apostolate would deeply believe and try to practice the “art of accompaniment.” They'd be on constant lookout for friends and friends of friends to engage with and invite to St. JPII.

4. Discipleship

St. JPII would place an enormous emphasis on small groups, or "base Christian communities" within the parish. This is borne out of a realization that following Jesus and modelling one’s life after his teachings is a process, one which requires time, attention, ongoing dialogue and support.

St. JPII would encourage all parishioners and those considering becoming a parishioner (or becoming Catholic) to take part in small group discipleship. Following resources developed for use with young adults on campus, leaders would meet with participants, discuss the teachings of Jesus and His Church and examine how they apply to our own lives and our spirituality. Participants would be invited to take up challenges/make resolutions to follow the Christian path in concrete ways.

Following the same approach as with evangelization programs, peer-to-peer discipleship is extremely powerful and beneficial to both the disciple and the disciple-maker.

5. Amazing retreats

So many priests, religious and lay people who are deeply committed to the faith can trace a turning point in their lives back to a youth or university retreat.

So many out there in the working world have never had the opportunity to attend a great retreat. St. JPII would host multiple retreats per year, serving as a fun and engaging and powerful and convicting, and for many are an entry point into the parish community.

6. Mission trips

So many Millennials, whether religious or not, see injustice in the world and desire to contribute to its betterment. I have been blessed to take part in many service trips down to South America with groups of university students and seen how service to the poor and exposure to Catholic cultures can truly prompt deeper spiritual questions.

Service to the poor is both a good in and of itself, and an opportunity for existential conversations. St. John Paul II would be unique in facilitating such trips for young adults to immerse themselves an unfamiliar experience and explore questions about the world, about themselves, about God and about their own future.


Solidarity. #SEA #solidaridadEnMarcha #Peru

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7. Outreach to the wider population

Few parishes utilize public gathering spaces in their ministries. St. JPII, being deliberately outward focused, hosts activities in pubs, cafes, parks, etc., in an effort to connect with the non-church goer.

Examples such public activities are Alphas, Theology on Taps, lectures, debates, artistic demonstrations, mixers, etc.

Such outreach would always be done with a desire to draw more and more young adults into an encounter with Christ and his Church, leading them into the heart of the Christian life through St. JPII’s initiatives or through connecting them to initiatives at their local parish. 

8. Community

It has been peppered throughout my picture so far, but a vibrant Christian community is a powerful thing. When young people encounter it it feels like finding an oasis. When they can’t find it they feel like they are starving (as I alluded to in my introduction).

Young adults actually pay money to meet peers online or as a cover at the club downtown. That’s how much they desire to connect! A parish or apostolate for young adults could provide this in a more meaningful way and for free.

And beyond giving them mere access to each other, it would also give them access to Jesus, the one who their hearts are truly and ultimately made for.


These are some of the things that I think a parish or apostolate fully dedicated to young adults could do. As I said in my previous post, university students that are blessed with a good campus ministry program have access to these kinds of opportunities. They fact that the masses outside the campus context don’t have this same opportunity should challenge us and give us pause.

Question: Does your parish approach this kind of ministry toward your young adult population? If not, what could your parish/diocese do to bridge the gap?

Here are 8 unique things that a parish dedicated to young adults could do — Josh Canning

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