Retaining Young Adults: Do We Really Want to Keep Them?

In our last article of this series, “Retaining Young Adults,” we asked hard questions. (See Gleaner, June 2014, p. 18.) Some of us arrived at the conclusion that perhaps our young adults are falling away because the “boardwalk,” meaning the church, is broken. We touched on the parable of the Prodigal Son that provides guidance on what needs to be fixed and ended with a question: Why did the prodigal son leave the father’s house?

As we read the story, one of the characters has very interesting characteristics—the older brother. Lets look at his characteristics as found in Luke 15:25-30.

1. He valued work more than relationships. He was in the field working rather than looking for his missing brother. (15:25)

2. He was not used to singing, praising, and celebrating. As he heard the music in the house, he complained to one of the servants, “What is this?” (15:26) Does this sound familiar?

3. He was an angry fellow. He did not show happiness at the news that his brother had returned. (15:27-28)

4. He did not love his brother. He stayed outside. Had he loved his brother, he would have run in to embrace him. (15:28)

5. He was a legalist. He thought he could earn his father’s love with hard work. He did not realize the father loved him, simply because he was his son. (15:29)

6. He was very envious. He could not accept that his brother had gotten something while he had not. “My brother got something more, after squandering what he already received, but I have been here longer and got nothing.” (15:29)

7. He was an accuser. He quickly pointed out the sins of his younger brother to the father. (15:30) Whenever we become accusers of our brothers and sisters we are in very bad company. The Bible refers to Satan as the accuser of the brethren (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10).

8. He was cheap. He was definitely unhappy that the best calf had been used for his younger brother. “Why spend so much on my younger brother?” (15:30)

9. He did not love the father. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also”—1 John 4:20-21, NKJV.

Although the prodigal son was totally responsible for his choice to leave the house, one can make the case that the behavior of his older brother contributed to his actions. Most young adults, teens, and adults today do not leave church because they stop believing in God, or because they don’t accept the principles that are clearly presented in the light of Scripture.

They leave because they don’t feel loved, they feel judged, they are of the impression that no one cares for them, they are criticized when they praise God and don’t sense the joy of the Lord; they leave because they feel they don’t belong in the Father’s house. One of the main reasons young adults leave the church is because of brothers and sisters who have big mouths and empty hearts, because of people who can talk the talk but cannot walk the walk.

If we really want to keep our young adults, we all need to become the exact opposite of the older brother and that would help fix the boardwalk.

José Cortés, Jr., is the Atlantic Union Conference Adventist Youth Ministries director.