“What do we do about the youth?” The question, asked with sincerity and concern, was voiced by a church board member who, in the midst of a group discussion, expressed what many board members were likely thinking. The agenda for the meeting had included exploring methods and ideas for attracting and retaining more youth and young adults to become active in church. After a lively discussion, which included ideas and opinions on why the Church no longer seemed relevant to today’s youth, as well as few compelling options on how to change that reality, the rhetorical question was expressed: “What DO we do about the youth?” No one in the circle around the church board table had an answer, perhaps none was expected, and the board agenda moved on to the next topic. Has this scenario happened in your church board meeting?
As I travel throughout my Conference, and as I interact with my presidential peers in the North American Division, it seems that both denominational and local church leaders share a common concern for our youth. This concern could best be summarized as another question: “Where are they?” The reality is that, in many of our congregations, there is a noticeable absence of youth and young adults participating in the life and ministry of the Church. Statistics from the North American Division (NAD) reveal a sobering reality that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America reflects an overall aging active membership that is proportionally far older than the age demographics of the communities they serve. As denominational leaders we have also become aware that a majority of our Adventist youth are enrolled at public high schools and universities, thus adding to the challenge of connecting them to the local congregation. However, there is hope and there is reason to believe that where congregations and church leaders prioritize the value of youth and young adults, attracting and retaining this important segment of God’s family is possible.
Eighteen months ago, the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, where I serve, elected to invest more resources in youth and young adult ministry. Adding the position of Conference associate youth director — with emphasis in public campus ministries, Adventist school recruitment, and church youth resources — has resulted in some great new initiatives and measurable results. With much prayer and lots of church member support, Nelson Silva, D.Min., associate youth director, and Greg Taylor, youth director, have witnessed God opening the doors to establish multiple Adventist Christian Fellowship chapters at five of our public colleges and universities. In addition, we have reached out to our Adventist public high school students with a retreat weekend, and the response and attendance was higher than expected. We have also discovered that where we intentionally and proactively engage our youth and their parents in the value of Adventist education, we can grow our enrollments. Finally, we are also encouraged that where there are local church leaders who sincerely want to make space for youth and young adults in their congregations, creating environments where youth feel wanted and invited, growth is possible. If I were to summarize our focus in one statement, it would be, “We want to do everything we can to demonstrate to our youth and young adults that we love them unconditionally, and we want them to be active and valued members in the family of God.”
Well over a century ago, Ellen White wrote, “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world!” Education, page 271.
Let’s do everything we can to build this army!
Southern Union | May 2018