Whether it’s churches, businesses, nonprofits, professional groups or service organizations, the question is the same: “How do we get more young adults involved?”

The only exception is the AARP!

When I hear this question, my first response has to do with motivation: “Why?” Are you just interested in financial support, the continuation of the organization or more hands to do the work?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these, then you are on the wrong track. If you want to involve young adults in your organization, you must be willing to take some risks and adopt some new strategies.

In a recent article on marketing to Millennials (or Generation Y, Net Generation or Echo Boomers), Gary Vaynerchuk suggests four tips for connecting with adults in their 20s. Here they are with some interpretation from my perspective.

1. Listen and don’t talk. Listening precedes dialogue. If you really want to connect with these folks, you have to come to some understanding of their perspectives and life situations. Only then will there be a real basis for discussion.

2. Understand that they inherently want to explore as many things as possible. Vaynerchuk comments, “Way too many people think that this generation is simple. Their DNA has shown me that they are far more exploratory than any other generation.” Perhaps their unsettled nature reflects this desire to investigate all the alternatives available.

3. Tell your story quickly and make that story relevant. Your message needs to be as personal and pertinent as possible. Twentysomethings do have a short attention span, but they are also highly relational. You have to make the connection between your story and their lives quickly or you will lose them.

4. Don’t try to put them in a square hole. In other words, we want them to conform to our structures rather than being willing to adapt to their approach to life and service. If we really want to involve young adults, we have to step over onto their turf. This is scary for those of us who lead institutions. We are afraid that what we have built will crumble. Of course, if we don’t breathe new life into the institution, it will crumble anyway!

To really get young adults to make a contribution, we will have to go more than halfway and be sincere about our willingness to accept their involvement and support in the way that they can offer it.

This means that we must be accepting, flexible and resilient. This is not an easy assignment. Most of us don’t want to spend the time and energy to accomplish this task, but it may be difference between stagnation and growth.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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