The beliefs and sentiments expressed by those whose letters appear here are not necessarily shared by the Adventist Review or its editorial staff. These letters have been edited for clarity and length. -- Editors
Engaging Young Adults
At 40, I suppose the “young” tag has expired on my adult classification, but I feel the heartache and have seen my friends and classmates slip away from the church.
I see two key issues in young adults slipping away:
The first is the most troublesome: an apparent lack of sincere interest in young adults from church leadership from the General Conference to the local conference level. Yes, there are exceptions, and there is the occasional study, or person brave enough to draw attention to the problem and wave the flag of interest, but the effort dies there 99 percent of the time.
Our conference has a few locally-led youth rallies each year and young adult meetings at camp meeting with a retreat at the summer camp annually. It’s just a sad, lackluster effort at best.
If my peers are any evidence, this same scenario plays out over and over across the North American Division, bringing me to my next observation from Phillips’ article.
There was a highlighted box on page 18 that stated, “You’re Not Helpless—Go Do Something.” That’s exactly right. Do something.
My church did something. Our attendance had dwindled to about 20 or 30 attendees on Sabbath--counting kids, adults, and visitors. There was even discussion of disbanding and joining one of the other churches in the area. Then at a board meeting we discussed the lack of any Sabbath school teachers for children under 18. We had four adult teachers, but no leadership for the kids.
We decided to get radical. All the adult teachers agreed to become teachers in the kids’ classes. We now had teachers for Beginners/Kindergarten, Primary, Juniors, and Earliteens, but no adult class teachers. If any adults showed up and wanted to have Sabbath school, they could talk among themselves or just attend one of the youth classes.
The first week some adults showed up with one or two visitors and surprisingly survived. In a short period of time we had fast growing children’s classes and lots of adults sitting in with their kids or socializing during the Sabbath school period. After a few months, the Beginners/Kindergarten class outgrew its classroom and the Beginners/Kindergarten class and the adults swapped places. The stage and front floor area of the sanctuary was the only place large enough to host the Beginners/Kindergarten class and the few adults who were not with their kids easily fit in the kids’ old classroom. Problem solved.
Now when visitors showed up and came in the front door they were greeted by an active, enthusiastic, and entertaining class that sent a clear message that our kids come first, our kids are the future, and we love families.
Our membership is now approaching 300, with two Sabbath services, and we’re bursting at the seams. We are preparing to add a multipurpose building, plant a new church, and we have built one of the largest EagerBeaver/Adventurer/Pathfinder groups in the conference. I have to believe that it is God’s blessing on our efforts to focus on the family that is making this possible. Nothing else can explain it.
Lastly, acceptance was the closing focus of Phillips’ article. But that’s just part of the equation. What do most young adults have that no one else does? Children. What do young adults want? A Christ-centered experience for their children. Acceptance is a given.
We have the idea that acceptance is good and judgmentalism runs people off; we’ve heard that before. Acceptance means accepting young adults and their children. It’s time to stop talking and start acting as though we want young adults and their children in the pews. Put several churches in the same town and let one have an outstanding children’s program, and young adults will come, I guarantee it. Music, pastor, social opportunities are all meaningless if children aren’t taken care of. I don’t mean babysat, I mean spiritually led. We should stop asking young adults about their church experience, and focus on their children’s experience. Because of this focus, our congregation has perhaps one of the most diverse memberships I’ve seen anywhere and I can’t keep up with all the visitors each week.
There is a hierarchy of needs. In the elusive young adult, it is children before self.
You want to build a better mousetrap to catch all those young adults? Build a better children’s program and pray like never before for God’s blessing.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Jimmy Phillips’ article describes a major concern regarding young adult Seventh-day Adventists. The nine principles listed on the Church of Refuge (COR) website are commendable and something most churches would strive to emulate. However, small churches may have difficulty fulfilling all nine principles on an ongoing basis. Should this disqualify those churches? The annual cost of $416 is difficult for some churches.
Is it really appropriate to have a web site publish a list of Seventh-day Adventists churches that are “approved and promoted”? What about those not approved? Does this listing create unity or division among churches? The article states “Reality says that as I search for a new sanctuary. I’ll only attend a given church three times before I decide whether or not it’s capable of meeting my needs. If it’s not, I’ll go elsewhere . . . or nowhere.” To paraphrase a former United States president could we say: Ask not what my church can do to meet my needs but what can I do to meet the needs of my church.
For young adults who try one church then another to find one that meets their needs, why don’t they try meeting the needs of the older members in the first church visited? Churches large and small need volunteers. How about coming a bit early and opening the door for the members as they enter? A warm, “Happy Sabbath, I’m Jo Doe,” will help those worshipers appreciate the wonderful new young person who has come among them. If someone is already opening the door, an offer to give the greeter a short break or to help in any way needed is sure to be welcome.
A willingness to serve others is the first step toward belonging and building a loving relationship with the worshipers. It won’t be long until the elder or pastor will have other positions for the young person to fill. Older members need the vibrant energy of the young; and youth need friendships with older adults. It is a life changing experience when youth concentrate on meeting the needs of others rather than thinking about their own needs.
The serendipitous reward is that as a person helps someone else his/her own needs are met. Jesus knew that “doing unto others” would end in blessing the doer.
Charlotte V. Groff
Berrien Springs, Michigan
Love that Review!
I love the Review, and recently as Sabbath school superintendent I was saddened to learn that only about three Sabbath School members out of about 25 subscribe to the magazine on a weekly basis—and all of us are old!
It’s only about a dollar a week and well worth it!
Crystal Beach, Florida
Getting Past Racism
As a member of a regional conference, I found the last three sentences of the article, “Death in D.C.”, as disturbing as the atrocities experienced by the Byards. The regional conference system further segregated us into a denomination that prides itself on having a doctrine of equality. Rather than promote total equality and inclusion, Seventh-day Adventists went the “separate but equal” route, further dividing us.
When it comes to racism, we are no different than other denominations. We are most segregated on Sabbath mornings. Very few of our churches in North America are truly racially integrated, and it’s not because of demographics. Our schools may appear integrated, but racism exists there as well.
Please explain how creating Black-administered conferences solved the kind of problem Lucy Byard faced. The racism was practiced in the hospital, an Adventist-owned and -operated facility, not in a church or conference office. Sadly, racism still exists in every level of our denomination. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.
Ellen White wrote: “No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the temple, that every soul may have free access to God” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 386).
Rosalie van Putten
Queens, New York
Thank you, Roy Adams, for sharing deeper insights into forgiveness (“Seventy Times Seven,” Feb. 26, 2009)! At times I had to skip some words because they hurt too deeply. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves through our amazing and forgiving Savior, there’s no question.
For years I have grappled with the concept of forgiveness after experiencing an atrocity to my heart. I pray continually for God to heal my hurt and pain.
One thing that causes me to think and rethink is Christ’s offer of complete forgiveness and restoration. In calling us to be like Christ and to be perfect through Him, I’ve wondered if that’s what we are to offer to others. Some can, some can’t; at least not yet. We can and should forgive; it’s biblical. But “restoration”? Only God can fully restore.
Thank you for helping me to think further. We serve an amazing God!