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Enfolding Emerging Adults in the Church

April 19, 2023
Young adults who are part of the Enfold program at First CRC of Denver
Young adults who are part of the Enfold program at First CRC of Denver
Photo: First CRC of Denver

About a 10-minute walk from the doors of the historic First CRC of Denver, Colo., lies the Platt Park neighborhood —a trendy spot with coffee shops, restaurants, and stores nestled near mature trees and historic homes. With the average house price soaring to more than $800,000 and a shortage of rental units, however, the neighborhood is rather unaffordable to new college graduates. That’s where a unique and transformative new program came in.

First CRC of Denver decided to repurpose an unused parsonage and turn it into a discipleship house for emerging adults. Residents of the home participate in “Enfold,” a year-long program that supports recent college graduates and other emerging adults who want to serve God in their careers and find their place in the church.

“First CRC is an intentionally intergenerational family of God, but in recent years young adults have been underrepresented in our intergenerational family,” explained Rev. Bret Lamsma, director of Faith Formation at First CRC of Denver.

“A part of our goal in developing this program has been to find creative ways to invite this missing generation into God’s family while equipping them to live as citizens of God’s kingdom in every area of their lives.”

To do this, each year Enfold invites a cohort of four to five individuals to live together in the church-provided housing. During the week, these emerging adults work at jobs they have found in the Denver area. They are also encouraged to be a missional presence in the Platt Park neighborhood and to be active participants in the life of the church.

In exchange, these emerging adults receive free rent (though they pay a $250 monthly stipend for the program), vocational mentoring from a church member (when there is a church member who works in their field), discipleship from church staff, space and grace to learn and explore, and the opportunity to be intentionally enfolded into a church community.

First CRC says that their vision for Enfold residents is threefold. First, that they “engage the community as Christ’s representatives.” Second, that they “discover their place in God’s family through participation in the church.” And, third, that they “be discipled by the pastors through vocational mentoring.”

Myriam, a nurse and recent graduate of Dordt University, wanted to work in the U.S. for a year as she took steps to transfer her nursing license to her home in Alberta.

“When I first heard about [Enfold], I thought it would be a great way to make connections in Denver. It was nice not to have to choose a church to attend. I was able to get involved with the church faster than I would have otherwise,” she said in an interview with Therefore Go ministries.

As she settled into her new life, Myriam began to figure out what it means to be an adult seeking out a relationship with the Lord.

“It was suddenly on me to make sure I was growing my faith and staying close to God,” she said. “I have been meeting with someone from the church who is also a nurse. She has helped me understand how I can express my faith at work.”

Ron DeVries, youth and emerging adult consultant for the CRCNA, said that programs like Enfold are incredibly valuable for young people such as Myriam.

“Opportunities like this one help our emerging adults navigate next steps in life with a confidence that comes from a caring community walking with them in faith,” he said. “This is a beautiful illustration of living into the baptismal vows we promise as congregations. If we desire to be intergenerational faith communities that value lifelong faith formation, the mentoring component (like the one within this ministry) is something that we need to consider implementing in our churches as a vital component of our ministries.”

For other congregations interested in doing something similar, Lamsma encourages them to just try something.

“Anything that a church does to help provide a soft landing space for emerging adults and to intentionally find a place for them in their church community is better than nothing,” he said. “In communication with emerging adults in your community, figure out what you have to offer and what is most needed, and step into where God leads. We had a house and a welcoming community in a city where housing is hard to find or pay for, and where community can be hard to establish. So we stepped into this Enfold ministry without knowing exactly what we were getting into. We didn’t have everything perfectly planned out and ‘together’ our first year. We made mistakes. But we tried something, and God has blessed our efforts for both our church community and our Enfold participants.”