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Ministry with Millennials: What’s Good About Church
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By A. Allan Martin

 Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.
 Charles M. Schulz
 
Being involved, being present, and feeling as if the church has something meaningful to say to one’s life can make a tremendous positive difference. For any age group, including young adults, attitudes about the church can influence behavior. Young adults [those post high-school through pre-parenthood] have many attitudes, and when asked to characterize the Adventist church, there was no lack of responsiveness. In a recent study of Adventist Millennials, we took a look at our 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:
Based on their responses to various questions in the survey, respondents were categorized as either “engaged” or “disengaged” from their local congregations. Engaged respondents were those who attend services at least monthly and indicated that church is relevant for them. Disengaged respondents did not meet one or both of those criteria. Then, key differences between these two groups were extracted from the data.
 
Compared to the engaged young adults within the Adventist Church, those who are disengaged have much weaker positive experiences—particularly when it comes to the church they attended as children. The biggest differences were in the areas of feeling like “I can be myself” and of feeling like “doubts are tolerated.” Engaged Millennials were also much more likely to strongly agree with descriptive statements of church such as “compas­sion for the less fortunate,” “teaching is relevant,” “helped me understand my faith,” and “people are authentic.”

Both groups were later asked about similar experiences with their current church; if anything, the differences observed here became even more pro­nounced as they answered questions about their current church.
 
However, there were no significant differences between the behaviors of the engaged and disengaged young adults when they were children and teenagers. In other words, we cannot look at the level of activity among the children and teens and then predict which ones will disengage from the church as young adults. But nega­tive experiences with their childhood church (specifically with the leadership and adult members) are strong predic­tors of such disengagement.

Among the poignant findings here is the contrast between engaged and disengaged young adults on the issues of “being themselves,” and feeling as if “doubts are tolerated.” I imagine we all have stories of where childhood, teenage, and young adult experiences with the adult members of the church helped shape our personal view of the church as “good” or otherwise.
 
As a church leader/pastor/member, what can you and your team do to constructively engage next generations? In light of these findings, and what the qualitative research bears out, let me offer a suggestion to start or sharpen your ministry to young adults: Initiate and Intergenerate3.
 
Initiate: After doing the step Listen&Learn in the Lost2Life model3, I would encourage you to ask your young adults about their journey with the church, discovering what their experience has been with Adventism generally; Then as you build rapport and trust, invite your young adults to speak candidly about their experience with your local church community. Taking the initiative to have candid, safe conversations where your leadership has a posture of empathy, humility, and receptivity will not only inform your leadership about young adult attitudes, but also begin building bridges of rapport with your local young adults that can lead to great, authentic relationships.
 
Intergenerate: I know, I just made up a word! But it best reflects this crucial step that is based on fostering intergenerational relationships. As you gain the confidence of your young adults and begin to discover their passions and skill sets, intentionally find ways to involve them in your church ministry. The key here is to partner them with your leadership and adult volunteers who can apprentice them and use their ministry activities as good reason to build friendships and camaraderie with your local young adults. Plug them in where they enjoy serving the church: An area of interest, specialized skill, cause/issue they have passion for. The key here is to build a culture of involvement where generations are not segregated, but rather cross-fertilized as they accomplish ministry goals in the church.
 
If your leadership will take the time to initiate and intergenerate with your young adults, you can spark productive and meaningful relationships that will impress all generations of the good the church can do.
 
Next episode, we’ll give some attention to what the research reveals as Millennial negative attitudes towards the church, and take a look at next steps to consider4.
 
A. Allan Martin, PhD is the teaching pastor of Younger Generation Church [www.YGchurch.com], the vibrant young adult ministry of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas 
 
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
 
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