Perhaps you know one, two, or, unfortunately, countless numbers of young adults who formerly sat on the pews in your church. Perhaps you were his Pathfinder leader and invested lots of time with him as he was growing up. Maybe you were her Sabbath School teacher and counseled her several times. Or, perhaps, you were their pastor, who went to the board countless times to get financial help for them to attend an event. But as you look around your church, the spots they used to occupy are empty. He is not there. She is missing. They are gone.
It hurts even more if he is your son, or she is your daughter. After all of those years in church, wearing the durable shoes and pretty dresses you bought them, attending all those youth events and camporees, and the thousands of dollars spent on church school, maybe you wonder if it was all a waste of time and money. They are not in church and, although you miss them, your biggest concern is “Will they be there on the morning when Jesus comes?” And it hurts! Do you know one, two, or maybe too many?
If you don’t believe me, I invite you to conduct an audit of your church books. Go back 10 years and see how many of the youth and young adults who were members of your church are still members. Of course, there are some who have moved and are still faithful somewhere else, but what about the rest? What percentage are still attending church? I know this could be a painful process, but it is a necessary one that will help your church come to terms with the reality that we are losing the youth, and especially young adults. By the way, to me, losing one is one too many. Losing one should be alarming enough for your church.
Corporately, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America has recognized the need and has made the retention of our young adults one of its priorities. However, it serves our church little if organizational leadership makes a commitment that never reaches the local church, the congregation where young adults have grown, been baptized, and nurtured. If each one of our local churches in the Atlantic Union does not make a commitment to retaining our young adults, whatever the wider organization has voted means nothing.
Together with our conference youth directors, we would like to call on each church in the Atlantic Union to make the retention of young adults a priority. A church board vote, a discussion at a general business meeting on the subject, and an audit of the church books to identify the missing ones would be a good place to start. You won’t know who to reclaim unless you identify them.
If each church sees the need and agrees that it is time to change the trends with their own young adults and teens, it will be easier to make radical changes. This will provide a more healthy environment that allows our sons and daughters to remain in the church.
For the remainder of this year, we will dedicate “The Big Picture” to identifying reasons why young adults leave, how to retain those who are still attending, and how to reclaim those who have left. But remember, it all begins by identifying them. Each name has a face, each face has a life, each life is valuable to Jesus and must be to the church. Each one needs Jesus and, perhaps, the church. If you think they need Jesus and the church, it is time to get to work. I believe they need Jesus and the church, and, of course, Jesus and the church need them. So let’s get to work for our children’s sake. They are Jesus’ most precious treasure. He died, rose, and is coming back for them. Jesus wants them and so do we. Or do we really want them?
José Cortés, Jr., is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.