Most of us have heard the grim statistics that, across all denominations, church congregations are growing old. Many members, and especially younger generations, are falling away from both the Church and their personal faith. This trend, if it continues, certainly seems to indicate that many of our churches will die and be shuttered if we simply continue to operate as we always have. Researchers from The Fuller Youth Institute conducted thorough research with more than 250 churches to not just record what is wrong with today’s churches, but to discover what churches are doing to engage congregants in vibrant life, and provide energy into the whole church experience.
The research indicated that churches that were thriving shared the following six core commitments or strategies:
1. Unlock keychain leadership.
2. Empathize with today’s young people.
3. Take Jesus’ message seriously.
4. Fuel a warm community.
5. Prioritize young people and families everywhere.
6. Be the best neighbors.
These six commitments are not necessarily novel or revolutionary. We have been introduced to the concepts previously, but when these strategies are intentionally adopted, churches are empowered with renewed mission and spiritual revival which generates a growing, young congregation.
Matthew 5 records the memorable words of Jesus in what is known as the Beatitudes. The BE-ATTITUDES, as it were, are actually eight character traits that identify an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ. The eight attitudes ought also to be marks that identify a church congregation that is growing in the ways of the Lord. Each attitude has a corresponding promise connected to it. Jesus also emphasizes that with the correct attitude, one can grow to be the “salt of the earth,” a “light of the world”, a “city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” When we are willing to be salt and light to the world around us, we cultivate in others an appetite to know God. This is no doubt the Good News of the Gospel — to cause people to want to know the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died for their sins and lives to provide eternal life for each one.
During the past couple of years, it has been exciting to witness the application of the BE-ATTITUDES in a young adult ministry outreach serving in the greater Orlando, Florida, area. SALT is the acronym for Service And Love Together. The faith and can-do attitude that this group of Seventh-day Adventist young adults exhibit is inspiring! They do not believe that evangelism is dead; rather, evangelism just might look different than we might traditionally think.
The leaders of SALT have embraced a philosophy of authentic Christianity, as well as a concrete resolution to be “Jesus” to those they serve. The importance of building relationships here and now dictates the ministry opportunities they engage in. Service And Love Together is not just a slogan, it is the foundation for ministry.
As SALT continues to model relational ministry to the homeless of Orlando, Florida, the ministry has not gone unnoticed. Recently the city government of Orlando has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars directly to SALT to continue its ministry to the homeless situation. The government leaders recognize that SALT can effectively provide services that the city has needed for a long while. SALT operates as a voluntary, not-for-profit status and is dependent on donations and volunteers. Donations come from many varied sources, and volunteers from varied denominational churches, local colleges and universities, as well as civic businesses, are providing needed assistance. It is truly a light set on a hill in the city of Orlando, that God is abundantly blessing.
There is much to be encouraged by as we witness the dedicated strategy that these young adults provide as members of the Adventist Church. It is obvious that the six identified core commitments are being celebrated in a practical and direct lifestyle approach. What could you do to embrace and bring about culture change in your local church community? Perhaps not to the extent that SALT is doing, but change can happen by choosing just one or two strategies to start with. The BE-ATTITUDES will work for you and your church in ways that one cannot even imagine. It’s time for us to trust God and His provisions as we journey together to stop our churches from growing old and irrelevant. Let’s resolve to make Jesus better known and loved!
In the early days of the group’s formation, the young adults were cognizant of the growing homeless population in the city of Orlando. As the group leaders met together and prayed together for God’s direct leading and providence, they decided that they could do something. One of the first needs that was evident was the need to feed hungry homeless people. The team enlisted volunteers from their friends and local church members, resulting in volunteers providing sack lunches and conversations one day a week to downtown Orlando locations. As other needs became apparent, clothing which was donated or provided by local businesses was distributed.
From the beginning, SALT leadership referenced the homeless people as FRIENDS, a distinction that has not wavered. The ministry volunteers provide a listening ear to their friends at each event; they pray with their friends and they become personally involved with their situations.
From its humble beginnings SALT today is an incredible outreach ministry in the city of Orlando. Today, SALT operates four days a week with a hot meal service in partnership with other ministry outreach providers. SALT has acquired a shower trailer and provides hot water showers for their friends. Each Sunday in downtown Orlando at the Community Outreach Center, homeless friends can receive a warm meal, a new change of clothing, a haircut, a warm shower, assistance with a potential job application, and a concerned conversation about their well being.
One innovative local Adventist Church created a mobile stage platform by cutting a large hole in the side of a truck trailer and engineered a drop-down stage to provide for musicians and a preaching platform. The volunteers are discovering that when their homeless friends are fed up, cleaned up, cut up, and dressed up, they are more ready to be filled up with spiritual truth.
Southern Union | February 2021