The following begins a series about Engaging Young Adults in Ministry. At the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference we began a dialogue about the absence of young adults in the church and about how we can re-establish our relationships and ministry with them. This series is an edited transcript of the dialogue.
The video of this presentation can be found at new.livestream.com/accounts/846459/AC14 (“Young Adult Presentation”) and the full, unedited transcript can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2014.
Rev. Jacob Waybright
We are really excited for this opportunity at Annual Conference, offered by the bishop, for some young adult voices to share things that are on our hearts and that are important to us. As the bishop expressed his desire to have a space for some young adult voices, one of the questions we asked was, “What kind of voices, what questions do we want to ask? What is going to be most helpful for our churches that would be outwardly focused, that would help us in our mission of making disciples?”
What we thought might be helpful is to look, from the perspective of young adults, at a phenomenon that’s been in the news a lot, and that a lot of [United Methodists] are talking about; the idea that young adults are, in a way that is different from previous generations, disconnecting from the church, and oftentimes from faith as well.
We are going to use some research from the Barna Group and from David Kinnaman, author of “You Lost Me. Why Young Adults Are Leaving Church ... and Rethinking Faith,” as a springboard to begin this conversation.
In the next issue Kristopher Sledge will share some statistics and some context for what we see going on in our culture and in our country about young adults.
Then in subsequent issues, we will feature the thoughts of four young adults, Rev. Anna Layman Knox, myself, Pastor Mindi Ferguson, and Pastor Luke Harbaugh, who shared from their perspective some stories and understanding about some of the disconnection, and the themes of disconnection, that are brought up Kinnaman’s book and the Barna Group research.
Finally we’ll end the print series (but not the ongoing conversation) with a dialogue led Rev. Matthew Lake, where he facilitated some deeper conversation about this, and we’ll also start to think about what this means for us, the church, and what it looks like to create Christian communities that offer authentic community and relationships for young adults.
I think, and I hope, that in some small way this might be helpful for us in our mission of making disciples and that it is a desire that many of us have to engage young adults.
How many of you have that desire?
I remember the first church that I served. There was a woman named Nancy, one of those “saints of the church” — you know of these women, these men. When I got there, Nancy was in her early 70s. When you met her you could just see that somehow God had done this great work within her over years of [reading] Scripture, prayer, study, and worship. She just sort of glowed with the light and the love of Christ. She had generosity and joy that just abounded through her and out of her.
When I came to that church Nancy was fairly sick and at the end of her life. I visited her often in the hospital, and I asked her the question that I always asked, ‘What do you want me to pray for?’ What struck me is that she would never ask that I would pray for her health, but instead she always said, “You know, what I would really like you to pray for is my grandchildren, because I pray for them every day, and I worry about them sometimes.”
Nancy talked to me in particular about one granddaughter who had been through some difficult things in her life and had completely disconnected from faith and the church. She said, “I pray so desperately every day for her, that she might have the faith that I have.”
When I led Nancy’s funeral I had the opportunity to sit with the family. As they shared and talked about Nancy’s faith, and how it just exuded out of her, and the power of it, I had the opportunity to tell the family what Nancy had shared with me, about her hope for them, that they not only remember her faith, but they might actually have the faith that had sustained her and given her life.
To my surprise — though maybe it was a work of God through the prayers of Nancy and a church that was willing to reach out and make connections to all people — about two months later the granddaughter that she had talked about showed up in the pew with her boyfriend and her daughter. And to my surprise she showed up the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that .... Six months after Nancy’s funeral I had the great privilege, and experienced one of the most powerful moments of my ministry, of standing up in front of the church beside her granddaughter who was once again recommitting herself to Christ and to the church, and to stand beside her now fiancé who made his first public profession of Christ and was baptized, and to hold in my arms Nancy’s great-granddaughter and to baptize her as well.
At the heart of this is an issue about our children, our grandchildren, and for those of us who are sharing, our peers — and how we long that they would not just know about our faith, but that they might come to have a faith of their own.
As you ponder this exodus of young adults from the church and from faith, and wait for the next installment in this series, please take some time to look at a video (tinyurl.com/kolb3bo) by David Kinnaman as he talks about how and why we are losing this vital generation.