“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7
Have you ever felt like the odd man out? Like the proverbial “black sheep?” No matter if it was in a social situation, at a business or work function, or even at church: if you’ve ever felt out of place before, you know it isn’t a good feeling.
Now think of the young people in your church. What is their first impression when they come in the door on a Sabbath morning? Do you think that your youth feel accepted, that is, welcomed with open arms? How does your church approach their differences?
In a 2014 study conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry asked Adventist young people to respond to the statement, “I feel accepted in my local church.” More than four in five (84%) young people indicated that they “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they feel accepted. Ten percent indicated that they were not sure of how they felt on this topic, and a small percentage (6%) indicated that they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the statement.Yes, these numbers seem encouraging, but they do seem to contradict the finding that many youth do not feel comfortable inviting their friends to church with them. If our young people feel accepted in their local churches, why are they not more eager to invite their friends? This is something that will require future research.
What can you do in the meantime to increase your young people’s perception of their acceptance within the Church?
• Be warm and welcoming. First impressions are everything. A young person may arrive at your church with a bad attitude or perhaps not dressed in “church clothes,” but this does not mean that they do not want to be there or that they do not need to be there. A warm welcome and a genuine “It’s so good to see you!” might be just what they need to hear.
• Focus on what you have in common. Many times when we approach issues of youth, we take an “us” versus “them” approach. However, it is important to figure out what common ground you share with your church’s young people and move forward with that.
• Listen to your young people. Youth desire to be heard; they do not want to wait until they “grow up” to be considered a valued part of the church family. Find out what your young people value, listen to their needs and thoughts, and then incorporate their ideas into your worship service.
• Pray with and for your youth. Lead your youth into a strong and meaningful prayer life. This means not only praying for them (and letting them know you are doing so), but it also means praying with them. Your prayers and thoughtfulness have the potential to impact young people in ways you cannot even imagine!
• Develop a mentor program. As we have discussed many times before, the youth of today are the church of tomorrow. If we want to continue the legacy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is imperative that we train our youth up to be strong believes. By developing a mentor program, you will have the opportunity to not only influence the lives of your youth now, but to also shape the future of the Church, as a whole.
It’s time to stop letting petty differences or the excuse of “age” divide our youth from the rest of the church. It’s time we welcome in our young people with open arms
Image from Canva©.