I’ve been involved with the North American Division’s (NAD) new initiative, Growing Young Adventists, since 2017. Contextualized for our faith community, Growing Young Adventists was derived from the the Fuller Youth Institute findings outlined in a book called Growing Young. The book reveals key principles on helping youth and young adults love and embrace their church. The team spent thousands of hours researching hundreds of churches in North America and found common denominators in churches that successfully engage their youth and young adults.
The churches had six things in common, known as the six core commitments for “Growing Young.” These are: Unlock Keychain Leadership, Fuel Warm Community, Take Jesus’ Message Seriously, Empathize with Today’s Young People, Prioritizing Young People (and Families) Everywhere and Be the Best Neighbor.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America recognized that we are not exempt from the very real issue of youth and young adults leaving our church. The NAD sought one representative from each union to go to Fuller Youth Institute for multiple summits in order to brainstorm, strategize and contextualize “Growing Young” to our Adventist churches and members. Each representative became the point person in their union to help any church that wanted to “grow young.”
I was freshly installed as the associate youth director of the Texas Conference when the NAD asked if I would be the representative for the Southwestern Union. I was eager to learn as much as I could about helping young people draw close to God and their church and I accepted the invitation, trusting Growing Young Adventists would help my youth and young adults ministry. Little did I know this initiative was more than just a benefit for our young people.
Growing Young Adventists benefits all people because growing young isn’t about changing youth ministry but about changing church culture. This fall we piloted the program in the Southwestern Union, conducting Growing Together Summits in Greater San Antonio and the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Fifty teams made up approximately 220 participants. More summits across the union are in the works and information can be found at GrowingYoungAdventists.com.
This is not about programs and traditions but about building intergenerational relationships within our churches. Forty-five percent of young people pointed to relationships as the reason they were involved in church. There is no mystery ingredient to helping our churches retain young people. What young people want is genuine relationships with people who are willing to journey with them. Young people today are looking for what Jesus offered when He was on earth.
Ellen G. White said it perfectly in her book The Ministry of Healing, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow me.’”
Growing Young Adventists is really about growing together. Young people bring energy to our church and our older generations bring wisdom and mentorship. We grow stronger together. Growing Young says,“Our church needs young people and young people need our church. One without the other is incomplete.”
My hope is that our churches will be the best place for young people to thrive and belong. I hope that one day the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be well known for what we are doing right in engaging not just young people, but people of all generations.
By David Craig, Texas Conference Associate Youth Director and Southwestern Union Growing Young Adventists Representative