~ by James Hall ~
“The youth of today are the Adventist church’s future!” How often have we as a church family heard this line? Many of my peers hear this and feel as if these are mere words – a broken promise. That’s not to say our religion is broken, because I believe Adventists have the right idea with most aspects of Christianity. Spiritual approaches vary from age to age, however. That’s where we as a church struggle.
My Family Life
I was raised in a family that would identify itself as Adventist; except my father who was raised Baptist. Though we saw ourselves as Adventist, we didn’t follow “proper” Adventism such as not eating pork and shellfish, no Saturday shopping, or going to church. We did always pray before meals and going to bed. We considered ourselves a Christian family that didn’t go to church, and I didn’t really think anything of it.
At age 16, my mother and I attended some Revelation seminars led by Pastor Steve Cook. My mother was incredibly moved by the end of the seminars, to the point that she has never been the same since. I was impressed as well. When my mother mentioned actually attending church, my initial reaction wasn’t entirely positive.
“So do you have clothes ready for Sabbath?” She asked one Friday afternoon.
“But the seminars are over,” I responded.
“Yes, but we’re going to church now.”
“What? Really?” (Imagine that with a slight whine.) I decided to go along and was baptized into the Adventist church roughly two months after I started attending. Right away I was incredibly interested, but found myself slowly losing interest.
My church family loves me so much, and I appreciate and love them equally, yet I often feel uncomfortable in a church environment. I am the type of person to wear nice clothes to church, but I am not a “suit and tie every week” kind of man. (I do not own a suit, so there’s one major problem right there!) You would normally find me at church in a pair of nice jeans or shorts and a polo or nice tee.
One of the members from my home church made a memorable comment to me. This was my first conversation with him after I had been in college for a semester.
He began, “So I see they’re teaching you the wrong stuff in college!”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“I mean they didn’t teach you how to dress properly for church!”
I was taken aback at the intensely blunt and rude way he approached the subject. Being 21, I decided to act as an adult and not say anything.
My mother chimed in with a simple, “Well, at least he’s here.”
When it comes to the current unwritten “dress code,” youth will challenge it. But if wearing nice clothes other than a suit keeps “our future” coming to church, by all means let them! It seems an incredibly petty topic to lose our youth over.
The Bible mentions children when referring to how we should be when we approach our church life. Mark 10:14-15 says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
A New Approach
According to this scripture, we should approach church as a child. Children do not care about what people wear at church (as long as it’s not offensive); they care only that they are there. This is how God sees us when we attend. He cares that we are there, not that we aren’t in a tuxedo.
Verbiage for Youth
Another concern is word choice. If you use words such as “Brethren” or “Beloved,” they likely won’t mean anything to the youth. If anything, these words will bore them. If we continue to use words that date us back to the late 1800s, then we will continue to suffer losses.
Music sung during church services is also a topic that needs to be addressed. Youth of today are often looking for a new sound that will allow them to sing loudly in their own voice instead of in a hum-drum half-alive clump of people.
While some in church would accept a band playing worship music along with hymns, youth sometimes feel that they don’t have the authority to propose the idea to the pastor or elders. Instead of continuing to attend a church that may not fit their needs, they leave. They either find a new church that will adhere to them, or they just stop going altogether.
How do we keep or bring back our youth? There are many ways. When the Adventist church was established on May 21, 1863 the only means of communication and outreach was telegraph, word of mouth, and snail mail. The telephone wouldn’t be invented until the 1870s.
The Adventist church began with roughly 3,500 members and saw rapid growth. By 1901, membership had exploded to more than 75,000. Now we’re at 20 million or so. I can only imagine that the use of new technology – telephone, radio, TV, satellite – is one reason for this growth.
In this time of immense technological advancement, we should turn to the youth to assist us in understanding how to employ today’s technology. As has always been the case, youth like to know that they are needed instead of just being told that they are. Involve us. Utilize our technologically savvy minds! We have much more to offer than to just fill up the pews.
As a church, we need to re-evaluate ourselves. If we continue to ride the slow-rolling tide of 19th century Adventism, we will become responsible for the decline of interest in our religion. Allow new life to flow in on the backs of our current youth. Youth are not just the future of the Adventist church. We are the present.
James Hall is a communication major with a graphic design minor from Dallas, Oregon, attending Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Before You Say That…Please Think Again
“Your music is offensive to God.”
“Are your really going to wear that?”
“Maybe in 20 years you can contribute.”
“You’ll know better when you’re as old as I am.”
“Forget it; we’ve tried that.”
“Please turn with me to everyone’s favorite hymn.”