One of the first times my wife and I attended the parish we decided to call our own, an older gentleman quickly introduced himself after Mass.
“Hey, we’re having a Final Four watch party next weekend,” he told us.
The invite was sincere, but it was also immediately clear he wanted us to feel welcome and at home in our new church. We were a young couple in a congregation predominantly made up of older families and those whose children attended the parish school. We were unique. He wanted us to stick around and get involved.
It did not take more than one glance in the bulletin, one Sunday of announcements after communion, and one conversation with our priest, Fr. Jacob, for us to recognize that community was a big part of our new parish. Among other events, ministries, and activities, there were trivia nights, monthly coffee and donuts, a rosary society, a beautiful choir, and a throng of altar servers at each Mass.
As strong as those communities were, we wondered where we might fit within this parish community.
With each passing Sunday, we began to see more familiar faces and a growing population of fellow young adults at church. Like us, many of them would stick around for a few minutes after Mass, chatting in small groups of friends. There was an appetite for community, but we needed a simple nudge to begin bringing us all together.
As more young people were beginning to appear in the pews on Sunday, Fr. Jacob decided to form a young adult planning team to begin organizing an official group within the parish. One evening, we gathered at a local sports bar for our kickoff meeting. Fr. Jacob shared his vision and hope for the young adult community, ordered a round of drinks, and then left, setting us free to begin brainstorming and really make this community our own.
Ninety minutes and many nachos later, we had developed ideas for our first several events, assigned roles and responsibilities to each member of the planning team, and created a plan for connecting with the broader young adult community.
It did not take long to create a Facebook group or begin an email list, and it has been exciting to see the enthusiasm for the few events we have held so far. Although it has only been a couple months, we hope our new young adult group can someday be as integral in the parish community as the aforementioned ministries.
Community doesn’t have to be costly
In college, perhaps no two words were met with more excitement than “free food.” It seemed as though every dorm or club event was accompanied by pizza or Chipotle.
While most of us are now a few years out of school, many are paying off student loans, others are pursuing graduate degrees, and some are saving for a down payment on a new home. With these factors in mind, we have made it a goal to keep our events as affordable as possible. One of the easiest ways to keep individual costs down has been by holding potluck meals.
There’s a reason parish potlucks are so common. They’re easy, affordable, and inclusive. People can bring a costly main course that takes hours to prepare, or they can opt for a simple salad or side dish that may only be a few dollars.
One week, we attended a local parish Epiphany concert and then returned to the rectory for a “Crock-Pot potluck,” featuring chili, sloppy joes, and other warm wintery dishes.
A week before Christmas, we gathered on Sunday afternoon to listen to carols and decorate cookies that Fr. Jacob would deliver to the homebound in our parish.
Neither of these events required all hands on deck for hours of planning, and both were a fun way to bring everyone together around the joy of food.
Nor does it have to be particularly religious
As we continue to try to build a thriving community, we have been focused on developing events that will feel welcoming to all young adults in our parish, no matter where they are in their spiritual journeys. Not every event needs to be deeply theological.
Two of our upcoming events include a bowling night and an ice skating outing. There’s nothing necessarily Catholic about these activities, but something sacred can be found in being surrounded by others who share similar values.
During these several months of the group’s infancy, our plan has been to hold two events per month — a gathering at the rectory during the beginning of the month and a fun activity toward the middle or end of the month. One is purely social and the other ties in faith elements, such as a talk or connection with another parish ministry event. Through these events and the launch of our young adult group, our church feels even more like home on Sundays.
Community can extend beyond your parish, too
Outside of our parish, my wife and some of her girlfriends have been part of a women’s bible study group for a number of years.
Over time, people have come and gone, and the meetings have been held at numerous members’ homes or apartments, but they have never been very formal. The group typically gathers for an hour or so to read and discuss a planned passage of scripture, then spend some time catching up on each other’s lives over wine.
These informal gatherings are independent of any parish-sponsored group, but they have helped turned strangers into roommates, bridesmaids, and lifelong friends.
Consistency builds community
Regardless of the type or size of your young adult group, consistency is key to building awareness, driving participation and building rapport among members. My wife and her friends’ bible study connections were first made in the church’s pews, but the close relationships were developed through shared beliefs and quality time spent together.
No matter if events are held weekly or once or twice per month, predictability and dependability are essential to building a community which will outlast the changing dynamics of our busy lives as young professionals. Even if people can’t make every event, it helps to build trust with them that a group will always be there to welcome them.
Whether meeting new people or strengthening relationships with those I see every weekend, it has been exciting to see the group of young adults in our parish coming together as a community.
If you attend a parish that does not seem to have a ministry for you, or if you feel called to get more involved in your church, don’t hesitate to help build a community yourself. It does not require a long-term strategic plan or costly financial investment, and it may only take one or two events for you to feel more connected to your parish and the people around you every Sunday.