How to Start a Catholic Young Adult Group
A Step-by-Step Guide
By Anthony Mencini and Xavier Macfarlane
Co-Founders, Grapevine, Lakewood, Ohio
Starting a young adult ministry can be daunting. These twelve suggestions, based on real-world experience, will help you avoid common mistakes, focus on what works, and hit the ground running.
1. Find a Co-Leader
Two heads are better than one. You'll want someone with you to think things through and divide tasks. Find someone who shares your vision. Plus, you can cover for each other if one of you can’t make it.
2. Determine Identity
Know your reason for starting the ministry. In other words, be clear about your “Why.” This video from Simon Sinek will help you define your Why.
Here's an example of a Why Statement from Grapevine, a Catholic Young Adult Group we started in the Cleveland area:
"Grapevine exists to be an authentic Catholic young adult community for as many people in their 20s and 30s as possible at any stage of their faith journey. We do this through social life, intellectual conversation, personal development, the sacraments, and service."
Decide what your community will do. There are plenty of options, and you can do more than just one activity. Check out the Categories under the search bar of our group map or browse groups nationwide for ideas.
Combinations of faith and social activities can be quite effective. Grapevine's foundation is a weekly catechetical discussion at our parish followed by a bar hangout.
Choose a unique name that fits with what you want the group to represent. We suggest something other than "PARISH NAME Young Adult Group.” Rather, choose a name that communicates your identity and lets everyone know they are welcome—even if they attend Mass somewhere else.
Next, determine your desired age range. Who do you consider a young adult? Age ranges can vary. For example: "18 to early 30s" or “21 to 39.”
3. Decide Your Meeting Frequency
Having a consistent meeting time is crucial for starting a group that begins well and quickly flourishes.
The frequency of meetings will depend on the activity (discussions, social life, praise and worship, and so on).
Based on a variety of groups we know firsthand, we highly recommend meeting weekly at the same place, time, and day of the week. This consistency will foster the development of a real community through regular interaction. No one needs to check their calendar to know what "every Thursday" or “every Sunday night” means.
Note: if there are other groups in the area, try to pick a different meeting day so local young adults can go to both. (We’ll have more about working with other groups and leaders in Step 10.)
4. Seek Out a Host Parish
Parishes make a great home base because they are already structured for community life.
There's available space, easy access to the sacraments, and usually a priest who is highly motivated to help out. Most pastors are eager to support young adults. Some might not be, but don’t get discouraged. Find a priest who wants your group to succeed; it pays dividends.
Parishes also provide ample opportunities to promote your ministry. Make a flyer or a promotional card and put it in the back of the church (with permission, of course). Ask for announcements or a permanent listing of your activities in the bulletin.
Pastors are often open to regularly promoting your group in the announcements at the end of Mass. (Mention to him that parents and grandparents will be eager to tell their children and grandchildren about your work.)
If there is a youth or young adult minister at the parish, set up a meeting and find out how they can help.
However, not all groups need to meet at parishes. Especially at first, you can meet in a home or apartment. Some meet at various locations for game nights, hikes, bar get-togethers, sports, picnics, retreats, and more.
5. Before Your First Meeting
Once you have your location set, choose a starting date. This will make it real.
Next, reach out to everyone in your contacts and social media with an invite. If other young adult groups exist, contact their leaders and ask them to announce your new ministry. CatholicYoungAdultGroups.org can be a huge resource for this.
Bring flyers or cards to their meetings—and offer to promote their activities at your meetings.
Word-of-mouth begins with setting a date and grows after your first event. The more people who attend your first few meetings, the easier it will be to grow and thrive during your first crucial months.
Not everyone will respond to your first invitation, and that's perfectly normal, although you may be surprised by who does show up. Trust that people will come.
6. Your First Meeting
There will be some nerves. That's also normal. You may not get the attendance you hoped for, or you may get more people than you think you can handle. No matter what happens, put it in God's hands—ask the Holy Spirit for help. Ask everyone you know—including parents, siblings, and grandparents—to pray for God’s blessing.
We assure you: people will be happy just to be there and be a part of something new. You have every reason to expect success. There is a great thirst for friendship, community, and spiritual growth in our generation. Stick to your plan. Go for it!
7. Culture of Invitation
Many groups start small, some even with just a handful of people. Don't be discouraged—the biggest community in Cleveland began with just six people in 2018 and now regularly has around fifty people at their weekly meetings.
Now that you’re up and running, create what we call a "Culture of Invitation." This starts with you. Get in the habit of inviting any new people you run into during your daily life—the Holy Spirit will place souls in your path—from the grocery store, to restaurants and bars, and even the workplace.
A Culture of Invitation cannot solely depend on the leaders. Regularly encourage your group’s members to invite their friends and siblings, even ones who may not practice the faith or appear to have rejected it entirely. The social element of your group is a stronger draw than you might think.
8. Get in Touch with the Diocese
Your diocese has resources to help you. Ask your priest or a fellow young adult leader for the best person to contact.
The diocese can promote your ministry on their website, in newsletters, and other publications. You can ask for financial help with activities such as retreats or special events. Some dioceses have a full-time Director of Young Adult Ministry.
9. Special Events
Special events are a fantastic way to bond your growing community together, have a great time, and attract new people who may not be drawn in by your regular meetings.
We recommend hosting special events at least every few months. You can go on fun outings, throw parties at someone's house on the weekend, or have holiday-themed gatherings—there are many options.
Team up with other groups for sports, dances, beach days, etc. For instance, in Cleveland, co-hosted events are commonplace. There is even a dedicated young adult ministry which emphasizes organizing “tandem events” for larger social gatherings.
10. Connect with Other Leaders
In most areas, there are other young adult leaders (who you can find with our map). Consider starting a "Leadership Group" that gets together occasionally to share ideas, plan tandem events, and foster friendship among others who share your calling.
Don't worry if some of "your" people end up going to "their" group, or vice versa. This is a natural and positive development—every group has something uniquely attractive to offer—we all grow and thrive together.
One of the best ways to learn is from those who are doing, which is why we have a podcast series with young adult leaders from around the country who are in the trenches of young adult ministry.
Here's three episodes we think will help you with tips, insights, and hard-earned wisdom:
- Chris Mueller, Holy Family Young Adults - Jacksonville, Florida
- Kenn Demoll, Rooted - Westminster, Maryland
- Joe Vicario, Catching Fire - Cleveland, Ohio
11. Marketing Your Ministry
Once you find your stride with your regular meetings and have established a Culture of Invitation, it's time to grow. As Our Lord taught, “Do not hide your light under a bushel basket.”
Make some business cards with the basics of your ministry: what, when, where, and how to get in touch. Give them out when you invite people. We use UPrinting.com for a variety of affordable and dynamic options.
Give your cards or flyers to your group members. Keep them in your cars. Bring them to Mass in case anyone sees another young adult.
Along these lines, the Mary Foundation has created a universal promotional card that you and your members can use right away. They are offered at cost with free shipping.
Create (or improve) social media accounts. DM’s and posts are simple ways to stay on everyone’s mind and share information about upcoming events.
Seek out the best frequency for posting. Don’t worry too much about creating "content,” because most of your posts will be reminders about real-world events.
Start an email list for weekly updates about events and meetings. Add a spiritual insight, a quote from a saint, or special events from other groups.
Consider paid advertising. For example, we’ve set up localized, age-targeted social media ads for as little as $10 to reach 2,000 feeds.
Most of us can design a simple low-cost website so people can learn about your group before attending. Check out this example to get a sense of what's possible in an afternoon or two of work.
We also encourage you to reach out to nearby parishes that don’t have young adult groups. Ask for bulletin listings, announcements at Mass, and place your flyers in the church. Emphasize to pastors that your group serves the entire community, not just one parish.
12. The Power of Grace
The biggest help comes from heaven. God loves the young adults in your area and wants to touch their hearts through your ministry. Consider consecrating your group to Immaculate Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or Saint Joseph.
Commit to building a habit of personal adoration to pray for your ministry and guidance in your leadership. Even better, organize a weekly holy hour and encourage your members to spend time with the Lord. The graces that flow will have a profound impact on you, your members, and your ministry as a whole.
You are starting something that has the potential to be a permanent community in the Church. Your commitment might last a few years. Keep this in mind going in, but also remember that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life.
Along the way, people will step up to help out as your ministry grows and changes. Eventually, one of them will take your place when it's time for you to move on from the leadership role.
Those who come into your life through this work will become lifelong friends. It is possible, and even likely, that you and many others will find spouses organically through the relationships fostered by your group and the other groups you work with. Years from now, the young Catholics in your area will benefit when they enter adulthood.
You can look forward to the rest of your life knowing there will always be a solid, faithful community around you—one which you helped build.
Always remember, when it comes to growth, spiritual growth as individuals and as a community will always be more important than the number of people who participate. Return often to your "why," and know that the people you are serving, no matter how many, will become better witnesses for Christ.
We’ve had to learn to resist the temptation to change too many things just to draw in more people in the short run or to be more attractive to the secular crowd. Present the Truth of Christ as best you can, and rely on Him to bring the people He wants into the fold.
Find a partner. Define your Why. Set a date. Invite everyone. Rely on Christ.
And as soon as you get your ministry going, get listed on our network right away!
If you want to dive deeper, don't hesitate to reach out to us via our contact page. We're always happy to have a conversation and help make your mission a reality.