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Ministry with Millennials: Young Adult Perceptions
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By A. Allan Martin
 
“Perception is reality.” –Lee Atwater
 
Regardless of your age, one’s perception plays a significant role in shaping your sentiments, valuing, and behavior.   Young adults [those post high-school through pre-parenthood] have many opinions, and when asked, “What is your perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?” there was no lack of responsiveness.   In a recent study of Adventist Millennials, we took a look at Adventist young adults and compared them to over 27,000 of their peers as studied by the Barna Group1.  
 
Here’s what the research revealed, as summarized in Ministry Magazine2:
In his book You Lost Me, Barna Group’s president and owner, David Kinnaman, details six perceptual grievances that Millennials tend to harbor against “the church” as a cultural institution. These grievances hold that the church is: intolerant of doubt, elitist in its relationships, anti-science in its beliefs, overprotective of its members, shallow in its teachings, and repressive of differences.
 
Based on this survey of Adventist Millennials, these grievances hold true to an even greater extent when it comes to the Adventist young adult perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist church. The percentages of respondents who say their experiences fit these descriptions are higher than the national norms—for all six perceptions. For example, while one in four (25%) of U.S. Millennials (with a Christian background) say that Christianity in America is repressive of differences, almost four in ten (37%) of Adventist Millennials say this is true of Adventist churches. And while just over one in five (22%) of U.S. Millennials with a Christian background say that Christianity in America is like an exclusive club, more than one in three (34%) of Adventist Millennials say that Adventist churches are exclusive. Almost twice as many Adventist Millennials say that Adventist churches are anti-science (47%) compared to U.S. Millennials with a Christian background (25%). Adventists also score much higher among Millennials when it comes to being overprotective (36% vs. 23%) or intolerant of doubt (28% vs. 10%).
 
Keep in mind, these respondents were recruited from young adults who still have some connection to the Adventist Church; indeed, some are still very active in their local congregations.


As a church leader/pastor/member, whether or not you deem this to be accurate about your local church is a moot point given the strong perception Adventist Millennials have of our church.   Although some leaders may dismay given this finding, let me offer a suggestion to start or sharpen your ministry to young adults: Listen and Learn3.
 
Listen: Before you launch a young adult program, event, or ambitious ministry, I would recommend your leadership take time to share some conversations with your Millennials. . . conversations where they do all the talking and you listen intently. Ask open, heartfelt questions. Empathize with their experiences, and refrain from responding, rebutting, and reacting.   Simply listen to their stories and hear their heart.
 
Learn: Guided by what your leadership heard from your local young adults, intentionally do some additional homework, learning more in depth how to authentically and Biblically engage next generations.   Your leadership may find some training or a ministry resource helpful in learning skills and context for your young adults.
 
If your leadership will take the time to listen and learn with your young adults, you can build a robust foundation for a relevant and organic ministry.   In my experience, too many “fix-it” leaders rush headlong into programming, misdirecting their passion to make a difference in young lives.
 
Next episode, we’ll give some attention to what the research reveals as Millennial attitudes and behaviors, and take a look at next steps to consider4.
 
A. Allan Martin, PhD is the teaching pastor of Younger Generation Church [www.YCchurch.com], the vibrant young adult ministry of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas [USA].  
 
Notes
 
1Barna Group, a Christian research firm, is the world leader in understanding Christians, attitudes toward Christianity and Christian organizations, and spiritual perspectives in general. They surveyed Millennials who were (or had been) part of an Adventist congregation in order to understand their common experiences and attitudes. The survey was followed by multiple, moderated online discussions with Adventists and former Adventist young adults.
 
2 Jenkin, C., & Martin, A. A. (2014, May). Engaging Adventist Millennials: A church that embraces relationships. Ministry, 86(5), 6-9.
Online: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2014/05/engaging-adventist-millennials
 
3Let me suggest a step by step matrix for developing your young adult ministry.   LOST2LIFE offers steps to follow in progression as you consider starting or sharpening your ministry to Millennials. Download free https://db.tt/MRg3qRs9 (right-click and 'Save As' to download)
 
4Provocative parallels can be found in the emphasis on intergenerational church relationships noted in the Adventist Millennial Research and the work of Dr. Roger Dudley, professor emeritus at Andrews University, whose study of youth and young adults spanned over four decades.   See https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2009/01/embracing-those-who-reject-religion