“Is anyone else really lonely?” A pause lingered in the room before the first response: “Yeah, I am.” Pretty soon, the “me toos” and “same heres” began rolling. My brave friend’s question came as we gathered during a trip to our alma mater for our first homecoming as alumni. We came from various states up and down the East Coast, bearing new job titles, roommates, and burdens since we were last together at graduation.
Even though it was only October, the post-graduation world had taken its toll on my spiritual and emotional well-being. Gone were the glory days of college: the days of popping into the neighboring apartment to watch TV, the sorority table in the dining hall that guaranteed me at least one buddy at every meal, and my church carpool group. For a natural extrovert, making friends outside of college—particularly Christian ones—was far harder than I anticipated. I was disillusioned, confused, and deeply lonely.
We’re Not Fine
The more I openly speak with my peers about post-graduation woes, the more I discover I’m not alone. Fresh college graduates are often unprepared for the loneliness and lostness that can accompany young adulthood. Growing up in an Instagram-saturated world doesn’t help. When the “real world” is presented as Saturday brunches, job promotions, and mountaintop proposals, 20-somethings feel we’ve failed when we’re alone on a Saturday night watching Netflix. To add to the burden, we’re told this decade is “defining.” So we’re disheartened when it appears we’re the only ones who aren’t thriving in our first jobs or finding a spouse within the first year after graduation.
Here’s the good news: experiencing adult-sized failure, loneliness, and listlessness for the first time makes us ripe to receive the good news of Jesus extended through his church. While it can be easy to assume young adults are fine on our own, don’t be fooled. We’re in desperate need of the church’s hospitality, wisdom, and grace.
While it can be easy to assume young adults are fine on our own, don’t be fooled. We’re in desperate need of the church’s hospitality, wisdom, and grace.
Open Your Home
Most likely, there’s at least one young person in your church right now who is in the painful throes of navigating the real world. If you don’t know the young adults in your church, start by befriending one and inviting her into your home. This is one of the simplest—and perhaps most overlooked—ways that the church body can embrace 20-somethings: invite us into what your family is already doing.
Most of us live alone or with peers, so being in a home, a real home—dirty socks, spilled apple juice, moody teenagers and all—is a rare delight. Have us over for dinner and let us jump on the trampoline with your kids. Give us the opportunity to help with the dishes or your seventh grader’s math homework. Teach us the family blessing you sing before a meal. When you do, you remind us that we do indeed have a family that loves and cares for us, even if our nuclear one is miles away. You help fend against the pangs of loneliness that can leave us feeling unseen or uncared for.
Of course, as members of the body ourselves, this requires that we show up and engage with our local church. But when we’re more engaged in the body, church begins to feel like home and we’re drawn back weekly.
Share Your Wisdom
When a young King Rehoboam listened to his peers rather than the wise counsel of older men, it led to the downfall of an entire nation (1 Kings 12). The words of Proverbs 13:14 still ring true: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”
At every turn, there’s an opportunity for young adults to be caught in the deadly snares of selfishness, spiritual laziness, and despair. We’re in desperate need of biblical wisdom from older saints with years of experience. You have a ministry opportunity simply by inviting a young adult out to coffee and sharing your experience of emerging adulthood. Reflect with her about how the Lord met and sustained you in the confusing and lonely seasons of your 20s. Tell him stories of the Lord’s grace in the wake of your failures. Remind her that life doesn’t automatically improve with the addition of a spouse or a family. Pray with and for him.
If your church has a college ministry, there’s even more opportunity to love young adults well. Having an accurate view of life beyond college can help soften the blow upon entering the real world. Of course, not every 20-something will struggle. But change is inevitable in this season of life, and all young adults need to be equipped with a spiritual suitcase. Come alongside college students and encourage them to pack well for the journey ahead.
Extend the Lord’s Grace
Welcoming young adults into your home and mentoring them with your acquired wisdom are indeed helpful practices for the church. And yet they can’t cure the deeper longings of the human heart. At the end of the day, the spiritual needs of a 23-year-old are no different than those of an 83-year-old: the free gift of Jesus Christ and his mercy, provision, and love for sinners.
The spiritual needs of a 23-year-old are no different than those of an 83-year-old: the free gift of Jesus Christ and his mercy, provision, and love for sinners.
For moments of loneliness, young adults need the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. For moments of aimlessness, young adults need the guidance and direction of the Good Shepherd. For moments of failure and setback, young adults need the tender mercy of the Father who never gives up on his children.
The church has an opportunity to encourage young adults that failure, loneliness, and confusion aren’t hurdles to be jumped over but valleys to walk through with the Lord. It’s often in these very valleys that God does his most refining and transforming work. With the help of the church, we can learn that our 20s need not define us—the perfect righteousness of Jesus has done so already.
Notice Your Neighbor
This Sunday at church, look for a young adult to love, mentor, and encourage. In the office, ask the new hire if he’s interested in reading the Bible with you at lunch. Next time the college babysitter comes over, ask her to stay for a cup of tea after the kids are in bed.
There’s probably a young adult neighbor who needs your ministering presence right now. Pray for opportunities to point these malleable minds to the truth of Jesus and his Word—the surest source of comfort, stability, and assurance any young adult could know.