This was the central question driving the Zoe Project, a “learning pilgrimage” seeking to build relationships between young adults and Christian congregations. After three years of work and research headed by Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, PhD ’97, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture, the Zoe Project launched its website last week.
“Early on we realized that the true measure of innovation and transformation could never be captured in data alone,” their website explains. “The real measure of the Zoe Project is its stories — stories about young adults asking big questions of their lives, stories of churches and young adults changing, stories about ideas that flopped, stories about lives and ministries that took unexpected turns.”
Sponsored by Princeton Theological Seminary and funded by the Lilly Endowment’s Young Adult Innovation Hub initiative, the Zoe Project invited participating congregations to form multigenerational teams of Zoe Fellows “to design ways young adults and congregants could support each other’s lives and faith.” These innovative projects ranged from First Corinthian Baptist Church’s “Beyond Brunch” initiative, a multigenerational opportunity for storytelling, worship, and reflection over a meal, to Upper Dublin Lutheran Church’s Ambler Union, a “collaborative of local young adults and partner organizations dedicated to helping young adults…live well and do good.”
While each congregation’s young adult initiatives looked different, they all shared the common thread of storytelling and community. In sharing their own stories and holding those of others, all involved were changed. There was indeed a marked increase in young adult participation and attendance in all participant congregations, but the Zoe Project’s deepest legacy is that of storytelling: “those who participated in the Zoe Project grew in their confidence of telling both the biblical story and their own congregation’s story,” cultivating deeper and more meaningful community with God and with one another.
To be sure, there were mistakes and moments of failure along the way. But participants in the Zoe Project understood these to be an essential part of their own story, a testament to the reality of “‘trial and error’ as churches and young adults found their way to one another.”
While the initial three-year pilgrimage has concluded, the ministry goes on, and the Zoe Project offers a wide range of stories and resources to inspire and equip congregations seeking to develop young adult initiatives of their own.
“They’re unfinished, of course, these stories,” the Zoe Project website says. “But we think they’ll ring true for you. We think you’ll hear yourself in them. We think you’ll hear hope.”