In previous articles we saw how Jesus provided some key insights through the Parable of the Prodigal Son on why young adults leave the church. Let’s explore Luke 15:25-30 and draw some practical solutions on how to reclaim them:
• Pray for them. I imagine the father praying for his son, at morning and evening worship. To keep them in our consciousness it is useful to have posters of missing young adults on the foyer of the church, slide presentations with photos and names of our missing sons and daughters during church prayer time, followed by invitations to constant prayer. These would also empower churches to intercede more on behalf of our prodigal children.
• Love them and let them know you love them. The expressions of the father when he first saw his son were not expressions of judgment and condemnation, but expressions of love. He hugged him, kissed him, and assured him of his love—no questions asked (Luke 15:20). Young adults don’t want to come back to a place where they are not loved. For years many of us in the church have looked as if our hearts are cold and our hands and feet are amputated. Love and compassion are never overdone. God is love.
• Invest in them. The father gave his son the best robe. Having active youth and young adults in the church can cost money; the alternative should not be an option. Sponsor them during their “broke student years” so that they can have meaningful experiences through which their love for God and loyalty for the church can be strengthened. Mentor them through the transition years. Cut other expenses and invest money and time in them. You may be surprised at the return of those investments (Luke 15:22).
• Trust them. The father did not wait a year to trust his son and reestablish his paternal relationship. He gave him the family ring (credit card) and put shoes on his feet right away, making it clear that He accepted and trusted his son (Luke 15:22). Slaves, at that time, did not wear family rings nor were they allowed to wear shoes, so this gesture by the father showed a total restoration to sonship. Young adults who sense their relevancy in the church community usually stay.
• Celebrate with them. Celebrations can provide positive reinforcement. They help to make life happier, more enjoyable, and more memorable. The father wanted his son to remember that day for the rest of his life (Luke 15:23). When life is celebrated and you are appreciated, it is hard to leave. Welcome them back to church parties, graduations, promotions, and anything else that marks an accomplishment in the lives of our young adults must be celebrated.
• Praise God and sing with them. While the older brother was outside complaining about the music that was loud and happy (Luke 15:25), the father, although from a different generation and perhaps with a different preference, was inside the house with his son. When different generations worship God together allowing different expressions of music and praise, the spirit of cooperation and understanding brings a blessing to God’s church.
The parable ends with the father inviting the older son to join the celebrations. If you don’t want young adults to leave the church, do not be like the older brother. If you want them back, be like the father. It’s that simple!
José Cortés, Jr., former director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union, is the North American Division associate ministerial director for evangelism.