As a 23-year old recent convert to Catholicism, something that has naturally held my interest for some time has been the religiosity of others in my own generation. There have been many books published in recent years discussing the overall decline in religious commitment among my fellow 20-and-30-somethings, yet a steadiness in the practice of self-defined “spirituality”. Many of my age group don’t embrace the Church, but do still have an admiration for Jesus and spiritual mysticism. Many don’t engage in the traditional disciplines of Bible study and participation in the liturgy, but instead have absorbed many contemplative practices of prayer while finding the divine through beauty and nature.
There have been relatively few books published examining these spiritual trends among these young-adult generations, especially through a distinctly Catholic lens. However, in the last handful of years, a few books have been trickling out examining these distinct movements of faith. Mike Hayes--a long-time young-adult minister in the Catholic Church--has contributed to these explorations by writing his own practical guide on young-adult spirituality, “Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in their 20’s and 30’s” (Paulist Press, 208 pages, $16.95).
As the title of the book hints at, many young-adults enter the realm of God through their internet browser. Typing “God” into Google will yield more than 525 million results, while searching for “church” returns more than 383 million offerings. Yet, as Hayes points out, the Church has done relatively little to tap into these realities; the Church needs much growth in seeking out and ministering to young-adults, both within and beyond the Church.
“Googling God” is split up into three sections. The first part describes who young-adults are, and what makes them tick. Hayes rightly recognizes from the outset that it would be sloppy to make blanket statements about all young-adults, especially coming from two different generations. Hayes defines two distinct generations under the “young-adult” umbrella: Generation X (born between 1964 and 1979) and the Millennials (born after 1980).Just as there is much diversity within the young-adult community, there are sharp distinctions even between these two sub-set generations.
Young-adults have different histories, different make-ups, and different spiritual experiences, so Hayes refrains from offering a one-size-fits-all approach. He instead references a symposium paper presented by Notre Dame Fr. Jim Bacik that groups young-adults into seven different types of spiritual identities, which include the following:
“Eclipsed” – Those not interested in spiritual or religious matters
“Private” – Those engaged in private piety, but with no public expressions of faith
“Ecumenical” – Those who believe that one religion is as good as any other
“Evangelical” – Those flocking to praise and worship services with vibrant music and an emotive sense of prayer
“Sacramental” – Those having spiritualities centered on the liturgical and sacramental aspects of the Church
“Prophetic” – Those emphasizing the service, justice, and social traditions of the Church
“Communal” – Those participating in several groups, activities, and retreats to satisfy their longing for community
These labelings are fairly loose, as the boundaries between each are at best hazy; most young-adults show strong identification with two or three of these groups. Nevertheless, Hayes argues that these provide a good foundational representation of the spirituality of young-adults as a whole.
The second part of the book presents interviews with a dozen young adults—six from Generation X and six Millennials—from across the religious spectrum. The interviewee pool contained a good mix of genders, religious experiences, and levels of current spiritual devotion. Each of the “spiritual identities” seemed to be represented as well. The one constant that I did notice among each person interviewed was the search for a church or ministry that “filled” or “appealed to” them. According to this small sample size, young-adults seem more concerned with finding a Church or group that will satisfy them instead of the other way around. This type of consumerist spirituality seems—to me, anyways--destined to remain unsatisfied.
The final part of the book is a rich collection of resources for those who minister to young adults. I believe that this section alone is worth the price of the book, because answered here is the book’s main question: How do we minister to young-adults? Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all answer, though, Hayes recalls the seven “spiritual identities” from the first part of the book to present unique ways of ministering to each identity.
This section also features fifteen steps in starting a young-adult ministry. I’m typically skeptical when someone offers a definite series of “steps” leading to a particular goal, but I thought these were surprisingly astute. The steps include taking stock of the young-adult situation around you, embracing technology as a vital tool, and offering a challenging faith at the core of your young-adult ministry.
Speaking of technology, Hayes spends some time in this last part discussing different technological resources to use in young-adult ministry, including websites, podcasts, and blogs. Everything in this section is fully explained, so I think non-technophiles would benefit especially from this advice.
Like I mentioned above, there is slim-pickings when it comes to books written for and about young-adult spirituality, especially from a Catholic perspective. Hayes quotes many times from two of the other Catholic gems in this genre, “The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry” (Fr. John Cusick) and “The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Returning to Christian Orthodoxy” (Coleen Carroll).
It is obvious that young-adults in our world crave deeper community, as seen through the explosive use of social-networking technology like Facebook and Twitter. It is also clear that young-adults are on a search for authentic spirituality, one that looks inherently different from that of their parents. If young-adults are to discover the wonder of a life with God, these realities must not only be recognized but entered into. If you are someone who feels at all compelled to spread the Way of Jesus to people in their 20’s and 30’s, especially through the Catholic tradition, this book is a fantastic introduction and a source of rich guidance.