When you think of groups of people who “love” the church, does “youth” come to mind? But that is, in fact, what SDA youth report. A 2014 study conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry surveyed youth to gauge their outlook on the Adventist church. Nearly 80% of the youth surveyed that they “always” or “often” loved the Adventist Church and would never leave it for any reason.
This is very encouraging! In a time when many are concerned about the rate at which youth are leaving the Adventist church, this new research brings a waft of hope.
However, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back just yet. Unfortunately, 6% of the youth surveyed said that they “rarely” or “never” loved the Adventist church. These are the youth that should be grabbing our attention!
In a recent presentation to the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee, former seminary professor, A. Allan Martin, PhD, shared a startling figure: an estimated 60-70% of youth are actually leaving the church (Rowe, 2013). This would show that despite their best intentions and values, the Adventist church is not retaining the younger generation as it would like it.
What can we do to capture and keep the youth, all the while growing their love of the Adventist church?
Martin had some suggestions for that. He emphasized the ABC’s of building relationships with the youth: authenticity, belonging, compassion, and discipleship. He also emphasized the importance of creating long-lasting relationships with adults within the church body.
This responsibility of connecting with the youth does not fall solely on the youth pastor. As Martin put it, “Kids are smart enough to know that the youth pastor gets paid to be their friend.” He added, “Not having a significant relationship with another adult makes young adults two times as likely to drop out of church.”Two times! Did you see that? Simply by inventing in personal relationships with young people, the Adventist church is significantly more likely to keep them.
So consider the ABC’s of building relationships in the context of your church.
Authenticity: What does it mean to be “authentic?” This does not just mean having a contemporary service style or wearing jeans to church. This refers to how you live your life. Are you reflecting Jesus in all you do (not just the minutes that you are within the walls of the church)? How can you show this to the young people around you?
Belonging: How can you make your youth feel as though they belong? They are, after all, not a separate entity, but a vital part of the body of your church. How can you include in them, invest in them, and show that they are needed and valued?
Compassion: It can be hard to show compassion and empathy to those who are far outside of your age group. It’s easy as adults to forget how hard it was to be young. However, meeting people where they are is exactly how Jesus reached out to those around Him. How can you compassionately connect with the youth in your congregation?
Discipleship: Discipleship is key for Christians of all ages; it is a central part of growth and maturity in Christ. What are you doing in your church to specifically disciple your youth? Do you have a Bible study in place that appeals to them? Could you pair up young people with an older adult as a prayer partner? Developing these relationships must not be overlooked.
It is vital that we view our youth as having value and gifts that can bring others to Christ. These youth are going to be the church of tomorrow; without them, the good news of Jesus will not be able to reach a world that so desperately needs Him!
Rowe, T. (2013, May 16). Columbia Union leaders discuss young adult attrition while whole church solution needed, speaker says. Visitor Magazine (website). Retrieved from http://www.columbiaunion.org/article/1281/news/2013-news-archives/may-16-2013-columbia-union-leaders-discuss-young-adult-attrition#.VL_I2nsqSSo
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