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Ministry with Millennials: Feedback to Move Forward
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By A. Allan Martin
 
 “Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer.”
 –Rick Pitino
 
In this most recent survey of the Adventist Millennials Research, conducted by the Barna Group1, we’ve taken a careful look at why our young adults disengage from the church life, and discussions with next generations themselves have offered us insight as to solutions. Here’s what the research revealed, as summarized in Ministry Magazine2:
 
Fostering supportive intergenerational relationships; expressing forgiveness and acceptance; sharing experiences—Might this be a viable alternative to the departure so many young adults are taking from church? For the Millennials surveyed, it appears to be an adamant and heartfelt, “Yes!”
 
The findings of the research are seemingly not profound or extraordinary, yet this does not take away from their powerful relevance as the Seventh-day Adventist Church takes an honest look at engaging next generations.
So now what?
“So now what?” It’s the painful question my wife asks me after every sermon, and as we take a look at this series, Ministry with Millennials, her question rings loudly in my head and heart. “Great review of the research, Dr. Martin, so now what?” “Valid points Allan, so now what?”
 
LOST2LIFE
Truth be told, I love my wife’s question because it reminds me to make my sermons practical, relevant, and actionable. Here too, we offer an overview of the Adventist Millennials Research not just as an academic exercise but with hopes of helping church leaders love next generations better. So now what? Let me offer one potential plan for your leadership next steps.
 
Description: ::Lost2Life.jpg

LOST2LIFE3 is a step by step action plan to help leaders like you start or sharpen your ministry with Millennials. The steps are:
 
  1. Listen & Learn
  2. Initiate & Intergenerate
  3. Form & Foster
  4. Evaluate & Enhance
I’ll summarize these steps here, but would invite you to download the LOST2LIFE matrix to also review some of the resources I’m suggesting https://db.tt/MRg3qRs9
 
Listen & Learn4
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.
 
Initiate & Intergenerate5
Initiate: After doing the step Listen&Learn of 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 to build 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.
 
Form & Foster6
Form: It is in the contours of adult relationships with next generations that children, teenagers, and young adults develop their faith, their value, and their perspectives about church life. I would encourage your leadership to be very intentional in developing ministry environments where adults can caringly, competently, and consistently disciple Millennials. Discipleship done early, purposefully, and longitudinally will not only impact church retention, but also more importantly turn children/youth into spiritual champions and young adults into fully devoted followers of Christ Jesus.
 
Foster: This generation more than previous ones, has shown a notable receptivity to intergenerational relationships, building bonds with adults that are authentic, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial. Your leadership to encourage your church membership to mentor Millennials, will not only impact church ministry, but also bolster the vibrancy of all who decide to be intentionally involved. Especially in the society we live in, developing mentoring relationships needs to be deliberate, well-structured, and responsibly monitored. Although mentoring relationships can seem daunting, the dividends far outweigh the effort needed for implementation.
 
The church attrition losses are too great for us to continue with children and youth ministry practice as usual. We can no longer operate on an assumption that childbearing will return young adults to church attendance. It is no longer acceptable to simply finance the outsourcing of youth/young adult ministry to a scarce few youth pastors, chaplains, and Bible teachers, and hope for a notable turn in the departure of Millennials from church life.
 
Evaluate & Enhance
Evaluate: In order to improve effectiveness, the steps of the Lost2Life matrix, or whatever method you are using to engage Millennials, needs to be assessed. Feedback, whether in formal questionnaires or subjective surveys/interviews, will help you move forward with a sense of direction. Do not be afraid to let an ineffective program, initiative, or activity die a natural death. Ministry is for improving the spiritual life of people, not for sustaining programs for programming sake.
 
Enhance: Make excellence one of your ministry goals. Effectiveness is important, but there is also room for elegance and exceptional quality. When we engage Millennials, we are doing so as unto Christ. We are compelled not only to do “just enough,” but to reflect Christ’s exuberant grace and goodness. Young adults are drawn to excellence, so don’t settle for just good evaluations; Enhance and strive for excellence. Let’s give next generations our very best.
“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar
 
For generations7 we have seen young people disengage from church life. This most current research again shares the heart of young adults walking away from our faith communities, many who will disavow their relationship with Christ Jesus as a result. But there is hope. Your leadership can offer hope, action, and change.
 
I want to challenge you to hear my wife’s question, “So now what?” May your leadership and your congregation be haunted by this call to action. Luke 15 reminds me personally of the importance of this issue to Jesus Himself, and so I’m dedicated to being of help, support, and encouragement to your efforts to make a difference with next generations.
 
I can guarantee, should you aim to do nothing, you will be one hundred percent successful. But if you dare to make a difference in young lives, it could very well make all the difference in the world for one Millennial, and potentially for so many others who long to have a constructive, positive, inspirational relationship with you and your ministry.
 
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 [USA]. He and his wife, Deirdre, are proud parents of their own Millennial, Alexandria, a college student at Southern Adventist University.
 
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. Each young adult discussion group lasted for three days. One group focused on college-aged Adventist Millennials, and the other focused on post-college Millennials. All the young adults in the groups were still connected in some way to the Adventist church, but some had cut ties with their local congregation to one degree or another. For more on the Barna Group and their research with Millennials go to https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials
 
2Jenkin, 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
 
4http://www.nadministerial.org/article/833/for-nad-pastors/nad-ministerial-articles/ministry-with-millennials-young-adult-perceptions
 
5http://www.nadministerial.org/article/837/for-nad-pastors/nad-ministerial-articles/ministry-with-millennials-what-s-good-about-church
 
6http://www.nadministerial.org/article/839/for-nad-pastors/nad-ministerial-articles/ministry-with-millennials-what-s-bad-about-church
 
7Provocative 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