Young adults from around the Conference started an extended weekend retreat to Camp Alamisco on Thursday evening, April 12, 2018. The Spring Retreat, arranged by the Young Adult Ministries Department, offered a relaxed schedule and plenty of opportunities through the weekend to take in the beauty and activities of camp, especially boating and kayaking on Lake Martin. Many enjoyed taking walks in the fresh air outdoors, and others were grateful to accept the opportunity to rest awhile.
Starting Friday night, guest presenter Justin Yang, pastor of the Atlanta Korean Church in Duluth, Georgia, began a series of presentations on “Growing Young,” and the six essential strategies to help young people discover and love their church. In addition to pastoring, Yang is also a #GrowingYoungAdventists, or #GYA, certified speaker. Growing Young Adventists is a learning journey for local churches and leaders, helping to build faith communities that will not only survive, but also thrive in the years ahead. The issue it seeks to remedy is not difficult to understand; the median age of Christian church members is becoming older. Young adults are leaving or have already left the Church, and what once was known as the future generation of the Church is growing non-existent. This is not breaking news; for years local churches and conferences have talked about the growing disinterest of young adults, and often have stated that something should be done. That something, however, has yet to happen successfully.
#GYA builds on the work and resources of the Fuller Youth Institute, particularly the book Growing Young by Powell, Mulder, and Griffin, and presents it in an Adventist context. The solution, to put it simply, is to treat others like Jesus would treat them. Yang offered this paraphrase of Matthew 25:37-40, “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the young adults, you did it to Me.” The most effective strategy in reaching young adults is offering a warm environment, not cool worship and programming. In churches where the median age is under 50, a Growing Young church, young adults state that what they like the most about their church is that they are treated like family. They are not being loved because they believe in or are following the right doctrine, but are being loved because they are there. This leads to more genuine interest in the doctrine, as it is presented in love.
Yang shared a story about a young woman who was attending a church for some time and showed interest in becoming more involved — before disappearing for several months. After many attempts to reconnect with her, the pastor was finally able to speak with her and learned that she had become pregnant as a result of her boyfriend raping her. She was devastated and didn’t know what to do; her family and friends were not able to help her. It seemed fitting to the pastor and several others to offer her a baby shower, so she could acquire all of the supplies she would need for her new baby. But, when the idea was brought to the church board, it was denied because the church did not want to condone the lifestyle that led to her pregnancy. Yang concluded the story by stating that “when people stop helping other people, they stop feeling.”
We can avoid this by living and loving as Jesus did, making a point to empathize with one another, and striving for intergenerational friendships. If people took the time to get to know their younger or older church members, their attitudes and understanding of each other would change for the better. One of the take-home challenges presented by Yang during the weekend was to empathize with a person from a different generation for six months. “If we really did this, each one of us, it would change the church climate,” stated Yang.
The idea of Growing Young is not a quick solution. Although our interactions with young adults and older generations could improve quickly, the goal is to make authentic and meaningful relationships, which will take time. Yang has been implementing these strategies in his church for three years, and is now seeing some fruit. The median age has dropped below 50, and their community impact has significantly increased.
To find more information about making your church a Growing Young church, visit www.growingyoungadventists.com.
Gulf States | June 2018