In many ways, the 18-to-34-year-old crowd is a sought-after demographic. Advertisers continually try to lure young fashionistas, techies and foodies with their cutting-edge wares. Television executives craft sitcoms and reality shows hoping to capture the interest of this population. The Catholic Church, too, seeks their energy, enthusiasm and talents.
But appealing to these young adults in way that leads to lifelong commitment presents a challenge. How can an institution with a 2,000 year history, that’s not typically known for its innovation or it speed, attract and engage young adults, who prize the immediacy of text messaging and Google searches, change careers every two to three years, and thrive in a culture that promotes individualism and personal choice?
In Googling God, author Mike Hayes offers a rich resource that addresses this question not with pious, pat answers, but with nuanced suggestions rooted in a solid understanding of twenty-and-thirtysomethings, as well as the landscape of many U.S. parishes.
X & M
A longtime minister to young adults, Hayes first introduces readers to the two most recent generations to come into adulthood: Generation X (born between 1964 and 1979) and Millenials (born after 1980). He does this not only by classifying them within subcategories like “eclipsed” (those who show no interest in spiritual and religious matters), “private” (former latchkey kids who spent much of their childhood alone), or “evangelical” (those who favor praise and worship music, or those who veer toward “Catholic fundamentalism” in their beliefs.)
In two chapters devoted to in-depth interviews with Generation Xers and Millenials, Hayes offers personal, intimate introductions to young adults’ spiritual sensibilities. The significant differences between the interview subjects drives home an important point that Hayes emphasizes throughout the book: a successful young adult ministry can never be one-size-fits all.
Hayes also offers much in the way of practical how-tos. The end of the book includes an annotated guide to Web sites, blogs and e-newsletters, which will be invaluable to those who are new to “Googling God.”
The Technological Church
Hayes outlines an approach to young adult ministry that includes recommendations on how to provide opportunities for private prayer as well as community, how to incorporate social justice, and how to use technology. “We cannot not afford to not be immersed in technology as a church,” he writes. Yet, he cautions, “Use a technological world to deliver the message, but not merely be the message.”
In addition, Hayes offers a step-by-step guide to starting a young adult ministry from the ground up. He does not shy away from unconventional advice in this guide. One tip suggests: “Go where you think you should not go; do what you think you should not do.”
Googling God, an engaging, thoughtful resource, will be most helpful to church professionals looking to launch or expand their ministries to young adults, but it could also be useful for spiritual seekers who are curious about the faith journeys of their peers.
In the book’s opening pages, Hayes writes that many young adults are already making significant contributions to society: running their own companies, raising families or furthering fields like medicine or literature. Thus, parish communities should not sell them short, and should make every effort to make use of their talents, interest and energy.
“It is important for us… not to fall into the trap of defining young adults as the church’s next generation. Rather, young adults are the present generation of Catholics.
In Googling God, Mike Hayes offers tools that will help church professionals feel better prepared to act on this reality.