For several years we have known that many Christian churches in North America are both shrinking and aging as more young people disengage. However, there are scores of congregations who are bucking this trend and developing cultures that welcome, engage and empower young people.

In Seventh-day Adventism, a special initiative is at work beginning this year to do just that. The Young Adult LIFE Tour, co-sponsored by the North American Division, unions, conferences and local churches, is an opportunity for family, friends and church members to come together in a dedicated space and place to empower young adults for ministry. 

The fourth stop of the Young Adult LIFE Tour took place in the Mid-America Union Conference territory at the College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Jan. 26 – 27, 2024. With over 150 registrants and 900 in attendance on Sabbath morning, the event reached a large audience with the message of strategically engaging and encouraging all generations to grow together on our faith journeys.

“The Young Adult LIFE Tour stop in Lincoln was such a hopeful and helpful way for the Mid-America Union to start off the year with a focus on young adult ministry,” said Pastor Nick Snell, director of Kansas-Nebraska Conference youth and young adult ministries. “The leaders created an inviting space for young adults and church leaders to show up, learn and share. The weekend brought us inspiration to move forward with practical instruction. I believe God is only getting started with what Young Adult LIFE will bring. We are better together, and I think that was abundantly clear on this beautiful weekend.” 

Be faithful and fruitful

Featured guest speaker Benjamin Lundquist is one of the leading voices for young adult ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Currently he serves as the YA ministries director for the Oregon Conference, as well as coaching and mentoring leaders across the nation and abroad. According to event organizers, he is instrumental to the initiative of Young Adult LIFE across the NAD. In addition, Lundquist hosts the Rise and Lead podcast, providing world class content and conversations to help people grow to their next level and expand their impact.

Lundquist spent his freshman year of college attending Union College in Lincoln. He was on the gymnastics team and says his year there “was a huge piece of my puzzle.” During his message on Friday evening, Lundquist focused on the difference between a career and a calling. Speaking directly to students, Lundquist told them what he said he wished someone had told him when he was a young adult. “Your calling is bigger than your career. Your calling is what you do with your life to bless the world the way God created you to. Your first calling is to follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Your relationship with Jesus defines your life. Your second calling is to do something with the gifts and abilities God has given you.” He added that as we spend time with Jesus He will make us into who He created us to be.

“Be faithful and fruitful in your current assignment,” or season of life, Lundquist advised. He then listed four ways to do this: 1) Lead yourself well, 2) Take care of “your people” in your sphere of influence, 3) Steward the momentum you already have in your life and keep it going, 4) Maximize your opportunities including showing up and connecting.

Lundquist used examples from the life of David to support each point. “Every assignment sets you up for the next assignment,” he said. “You don’t have to have it all figured out right now because God does.” 

Casting a culture shift

On Sabbath morning Snell facilitated a Q&A time with five young adults ranging in ages from 18-27. This discussion, recorded by the Adventist Learning Community to be posted on their site as a resource, focused on the young adults’ experiences with Adventist congregations. 

In response to the question If you previously disengaged from church, what brought you back? panelists stated that they wanted to be a part of something, wanted to contribute, and wanted to worship God and give Him glory. Most said they viewed “the involvement piece” as being a “major shift” for them.  They also mentioned critical thinking skills and favorite mentors. When asked to describe their dream for an Adventist Church that they would be proud of, and want to invite others to be part of, these comments were shared:

  • Every person is welcomed at church (and talked with)
  • More discipleship (have Jesus in our life every day
  • Believe in mental health (Jesus and a therapist is OK)
  • More cultural and intergenerational integration (don’t be afraid of each other).

Kyle Smith, teaching pastor at The Commons KC, a plant of the New Haven Seventh-day Adventist Church in Overland Park, Kansas, said, “The Mid-America Young Adult LIFE tour stop was a catalyst for culture shift in churches all throughout the Midwest. The presentations were not only equipping, but incredibly practical and tangible.” Smith added that “the reason we’re here is because we believe the way you change anything in life is through an overall culture change. We’re casting vision, casting culture change, and asking, What does that look like in practice? What does the new culture need to embrace? What needs to be let go of?” 

Reflecting on the panel discussion Chandler Tarbox, young adult pastor at Spring Meadows Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sanford, Florida (which hosted the Tour Stop #3), said, “What really caught my attention was the beautiful balance between authenticity and hope in their responses. One powerful moment in particular was when they shared their dreams for the future of the church. Dreams like deepened intergenerational connection, true discipleship modeled after Jesus’ love for the people, and an unmistakable warmth and welcoming to anyone looking to be a part. This weekend I was reminded that the future of our denomination is in good hands with this upcoming generation who are so locked in on Jesus. I pondered personally how to continue authentic and hope-filled conversations like this—with hopes to topple generational barriers, leading to the bright and beautiful future Christ desires for His Church.”

Giants for the next generation

During the divine worship service on Sabbath, Benjamin Lundquist continued his message series, this time speaking to the church at large. “This is my appeal to seasoned leaders,” he said. “It’s not your time. You’ve already seen the fireworks, the glory of God.” Lundquist said this in reference to a personal story he shared of how his young daughter had asked him to boost her up to his shoulders so she could see the fireworks at Disney and for a moment he hesitated, knowing he would not be able to see as well. Lundquist continued, “Your greatest investment in the Adventist Church is to pick up the next generation and put them on your shoulders…The generation behind us is our responsibility.” He encouraged each generation to put the generation behind them on their shoulders and offer even more than they had received. “On the shoulders of giants, people are able to see God. Be a giant for the next generation,” Lundquist challenged.

After the sermon, young adult attendee Katie Tahay said she had learned some things about her own generation and also how other generations view Gen Z . “I think it’s interesting how there’s a different outlook now on Generation Z. Seeing the perspectives he [Lundquist] had on Gen Z is interesting. It’s been impactful.”

During the luncheon hosted by the local Pathfinder club that abundantly fed Sabbath participants, attendee Andrew Sagala commented on the breakdown in which generational relationships can happen and also how mentoring can occur. “I loved the anecdote about how one man paid for mentoring Taco Bell lunches for a year and how the younger man went on to support 30-45 students as soon as that year was over. It empowers me because I had a mentor like that and now [as I’m graduating] I’m hoping that I can nurture someone else in my shoes for the future.” 

Pouring out goodness

Guadalupe Montour, associate pastor specializing in young adult ministry at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church and event co-planner, said, “The Young Adult LIFE Tour was a treasure trove of empowering messages and content rich sessions that resonated deeply. Speakers from diverse backgrounds shared their experiences and wisdom, covering a wide range of topics relevant to young adults and older generations. It was very clear that heaven was pouring out abundant goodness on this weekend.” 

A taste of the diversity and richness came through on Sabbath afternoon during the breakout sessions which included presentations from Pastor Kyle Smith, Pastor Gua Montour, Pastor Latoya Hazell-Alcide (Bible teacher at Midland Adventist Academy in Kansas), Pastor Sandro Sandoval from Omaha, Nebraska, and Pastor Mic Henton from College View Church. Their topics included mentoring, embracing conflict, understanding deconstruction, diversity and inclusion, and engaging Gen Z—all  in spiritual contexts.

“After months of meticulous planning, witnessing the outstanding success of the Young Adult LIFE Tour in Lincoln was truly gratifying,” said Pastor Tyrone Douglas, Mid-America Union church ministries director. “I am optimistic that we can capitalize on the momentum generated during this weekend event. In Mid-America Union we have excellent leadership among our young adult pastors, youth directors and other local church leaders. It is my hope and prayer that we will continue the conversations and work needed to cultivate a community where all generations flourish together.”

Allan Martin, teaching pastor at Younger Generation Church, in Arlington, Texas, and NAD point person for the Young Adult LIFE Tour, observed that the hospitality of @the.well.worship and the vibrancy of their leaders was tremendous. “I experienced first hand how warm community trumps cold weather every time! The presentations by @benjaminlundquist and the rest of the @nadyoungadults team were heartfelt and poignant. The worship music and meals were fantastic and delicious! Nothing warms up a place like the presence of the Holy Spirit! I came away toasty!” he added.

History of YA LIFE Tour

Tracy Wood, NAD director of youth and young adult ministries, said that the Lincoln stop of the tour was “an incredibly God-inspired collaborative experience! I came away inspired and deeply appreciative of it all—from the worships, the panel discussion, the breakout sessions, and most of all the connections and new intergenerational friends made.” 

Wood shared that the YA LIFE Tour came together through the Youth and YA Ministries Committee. In April 2023 they firmed up a concept that had been floating around for a number of years. It would be completely voluntary for unions to host. Texas visioned the first one, held in spring 2023. The Pacific Union also hosted one in June, and the Southern Union hosted in October. “We have a phenomenal team,” said Wood. On Saturday nights, after each stop, there is dedicated time for youth and YA leaders to gather and plan.

Wood explained that LIFE stands for a discipleship model, and each category has three subcategories:

Leadership impact

Intergenerational relationships

Faith development

Everyday compassion (community outreach)

YA LIFE is built on three different church revitalization models including iCORE (Intergenerational Church of Refuge) from the Center of Youth Evangelism; Natural Church Development, which is taught at the Adventist Seminary in Berrien Springs; and  Growing Young, Adapted for Adventists.

Wood pointed out that many church leaders, parents and adult members are eager to discover ways to engage and empower young adults in ministry and create meaningful bonds with local church life. But so often, they are at a loss as to where to start or how to begin building relationships. 

All generations thriving together

In her remarks, Pastor Montour thanked a number of individuals who played a pivotal role in the success of the YA LIFE Tour, including all the musicians and five pastoral interns from The Well Sabbath school connected with Union College. To the audience at large she said, “Your dedication to fostering growth and development in our communities is truly inspiring. Your contributions have not only made this event possible but will enrich the experience for every participant, creating lasting memories and impactful learning opportunities. Your support demonstrates a remarkable commitment to our shared values and mission, and for that we are deeply grateful.” 

The next YA LIFE tour will be in the North Pacific Union on April 19-20, 2024, at the Pleasant Valley Church in Oregon. Plans are being laid for tour stops in other unions as well in 2024 and 2025. 

Photos: Saul Dominguez and Allan Martin