Here are seven practical suggestions you can implement to turn the tide.
1. Change your vision of the purpose of church. The church doesn’t exist to prepare the next generation. It is a partnership of generations that are fulfilling God’s purposes in this time. Eliminate three phrases from your vocabulary:
a. There is no money.
b. You’re not ready.
c. You can’t do it.
If we keep saying that youth are the church of tomorrow, there will be no church tomorrow.
2. Be intentional about connecting job and faith. It’s a vocation. Adventist education is essential. A large percentage of YA that left said they had never been shown a connection between what they did for a living and their faith. That leads to compartmentalization. You can:
a. Stop calling “ministry” spiritual and “accounting” secular. What makes a job spiritual, is the spiritual person who has it. You can be a witness in ANY job.
b. Preach a series, teach a class, do a vespers on how to connect faith and career.
3. Give them real power. Not “junior” deacons, real power. Boards, elders, real leadership.
I once visited a church that had the same group of elders for 20 years. Giving them real leadership means being patient, as they grow and being open to changes. I always had a young adult and a teenager in the nominating committee. It helped the adults to behave and the young people to learn how church works.
4. Stand in the gap. Protect them. Give them permission to fail. The job of a leader is to empower the next generation, not do what is politically expedient. Stop acquiescing to the three cats that bark in your congregation. Be an insulator between the young people and the critics. Don’t sell them short; don’t throw them under the bus.
5. Strive for deep, long-lasting relationships, not just number of attendees. Measure discipleship by the ability to mentor a young disciple. Stop counting people. Stop feeling bad about your numbers. Stop comparing your numbers with the church down the street. Make sure you give the best, where you are at. Seek to go deeper, not bigger. Your job is to be faithful, let God make you successful.
6. Turn doubt into doing. Service doesn’t only benefit the people we serve; it benefits the people we serve with. Several young people have been converted while serving. Sometimes we have a big mouth and a small heart, and are educated well above the level of our obedience, which turns off this generation who is interested in making a real difference. What if we made it a priority for every youth and young adult to go on a mission trip before they finish high school or college?
7. Listen. They are under a constant barrage of information, but hardly anyone to listen to them. First listen. Then guide. What they need is not more information. When you do speak, do so in Christ-centered tones.
“The shortness of time is urged as an incentive for us to seek righteousness and to make Christ our friend. This is not the great motive. It savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God be held before us to compel us through fear to right action? This ought not to be. Jesus is attractive. He is full of love, mercy, and compassion…It is our privilege to have a calm, close, happy walk with Jesus every day we live.” (E.G. White, Review and Herald, August 2, 1881)