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Millennial Matrix Project: Discoveries at Chandler Seventh-day Adventist Church
By Shane Davis
As a Pastor who has been blessed and graced by God to be a part of a church willing to work together towards church growth, it is rare that one takes an inordinate amount of time to reflect upon the aforementioned growth, gains and or decisions for baptism. Rather, with a heart influenced by heaven, like the good shepherd who lost just one sheep, our focus often falls upon those that we have failed, let down or allowed to get away. Musing upon our ministerial mishaps can often make for some late, long, prayer-filled sleepless nights, as one inquires of God what more they could have been done to connect people with Jesus. Those distinctive nights are becoming increasingly more complex when compounded by the consideration that the largest generation in earth’s history is also the least likely to attend and most likely to leave our current congregations.    

Partnering with the Barna Research Group in early 2014 under the direction of Young Adult Director Benjamin Lundquist, the Chandler SDA church embarked upon a unique journey of reflection and self-discovery. Participating along with several other congregations in the Arizona Conference on the “Millennial Matrix Project”, we delved into a series of discussions, diagnostics and research aimed at unearthing just how well we reach, retain and relate to Millennials. While the journey was one which was tailored to be specific in focus and concentration, at its end, we found it to be wide ranging in scope and effect.

Reflecting upon the current disparity and apparent generational gaps in the Church, The Millennial Matrix made us reconsider how we relate, not only to every generational demographic within our congregation, but also to one another as ambassadors for Christ. Headed up by Chandler Church Elder Robert Cuff and Chandler Church Discussion Group participants Myrtis Richards, Derwin Crumpton, Lisa Cimino, Tracey Creeley, Leslie Jackson, Kyla Robinson and Derrick Holcombe, a consistent meeting schedule was kept that allowed us to delve deep into the Barna presentation topics at hand.

As the Chandler Church Millennial Matrix Discussion groups met together with an open invitation to the congregation at large, they mulled over the research data, mused upon their own young adult Church experiences and reflected on possible solutions that might apply in our own particular context. While the discussions were aimed at understanding the Millennials better, we discovered that while producing fruitful discussion, painful memories and effective forward planning, those dialogues proved to help us better understand ourselves.

  At the Chandler Church, we discovered amidst the Millennials, a generation that is seeking a genuineness and sincerity of action that transcends spoken words and good intentions. One that desires its church to hold on to its truths, yet also attain a flexible adaptivity towards sharing the gospel in ways that are new and innovative. We discovered a generation that longs for a diverse modularity that is not bound by what might be considered to be antiquated interpretations, religious customs or manmade traditions. We found a milieu of young adults which desire to be a part of congregations, affiliate with parishioners and belong to families that look, act and love the same outside of church, as they do inside on Sabbath.

We also discovered a generation that has felt bound, at times, by what they believe to be constraints produced not necessarily by the word of God, but our own individual, personal, and self-imposed religious preferences that we may or may not have enacted upon others. We saw how those perceived impositions have, at times, caused precious, special and uniquely gifted young adults to feel alienated and walk away from the church as to find spiritual fulfillment and usefulness in other venues. Incidentally, the discovery of this particular dynamic forced us to distinguish between our fundamental beliefs, Christian traditions and Adventist culture, as they relate to how we let the next generation receive, share and express the faith that has been passed down to them in their current context.
Most importantly, we saw the critical need for developing cross-generational relationships and inter-generational mentoring with Millennials in our Churches. We found that with a little bit of work, this may not only be possible, but more potent with this generation than any other before. We found that this current Millennial generation’s use of technology, through mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, have made them more relational and globally connected than any other in earth’s history and is a positive potential precursor for the group that may be able to complete the Gospel commission.

 Lastly we discovered, that despite what their demeanor may at times express, like all those that have come before them, spiritually minded Millennials are deeply longing and hungering for interconnectedness with both man and God. With all those project discoveries in mind, as we study the research that expresses characteristics which compromise their felt needs, the Millennial Matrix project indicates that the harvest has in fact retained its ripeness. The only question that remains is whether or not we are willing to labor for God in a manner befitting their needs of their generation or remained resigned to our own evangelistic designs and linger unwillingly few.

As we anxiously await our denomination’s response to that answer, as a Minister, I sleep better at night knowing that efforts put forth by Seventh-day Adventist administrators and lay people alike indicate, that we are committed to our task of connecting ourselves to the next generation of Christian leaders, that we might reach them, support them and love them, in their unique call to share Christ with the world, even if it may be in a manner different than we have may envisioned or anticipated.  

Shane Davis, the head pastor of the Chandler Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chandler, AZ.