June 1, 2018

How to Activate Young Adults in Your Church

What do they want? Ask them.

Dustin Serns

“If our church doesn’t get more young people soon, we’re going to die,” blurted the head deaconess during my pastoral interview.

I looked around the room at the dedicated group of 60- and 70-year-old church leaders. I respected their openness about the reality in their church (and many other churches in North America).

We didn’t have young adults bringing their personal flavor and spirituality into our worship service. We didn’t have young adults leading ministries on our church board.
1 We didn’t have a young adult group organizing Bible studies, socials, and service projects. We didn’t have a young adult Sabbath School class.

When you don’t have many, or any, young adults in your church, what do you do?

Here are four things that
anyone in any church can do to activate young adults in your church whether you don’t have many or any.

1 Pray

God has many people (including young adults) ready to take the next step with Him if given the opportunity. The solution is not more young adults sitting in pews or holding titles on a nominating committee report, but more people activated in reaping the harvest.
2 Jesus says this happens through prayer.

I began praying for God to bring us young adults whom we could send into His harvest field. The first answer came sooner than I expected. On my second Sabbath at my new church, in walked Nik and Shayla. I was excited to meet the young couple with their 4-month-old son.

“Have you been here before?” I asked.

“I came here once 13 years ago [half his lifetime] when we first moved here,” Nik responded.

“This is my first time in a Seventh-day Adventist church,” said Shayla.

After the service I greeted them on their way out and asked about seeing them next week. “Yeah, we should be back,” Nik replied.

I prayed God would bring Nik and Shayla back to church. The next Sabbath God answered. So began a meaningful friendship with Nik and Shayla. They continued attending church and joined our home Bible study group. A few months later they were baptized. Nik and Shayla joined one of the praise teams. Shayla’s baking became famous at church potlucks. Nik shared a powerful testimony during an offering call about how since he started returning tithe, God had blessed him with three promotions at work in three months.

God answers prayer. He will send more workers into His harvest field if we ask Him.

2 Notice

How did David go from being an obscure shepherd to the most respected king in Israel’s history? How did Esther go from being a helpless orphan to the brave queen that saved her people? How did Timothy go from being unaccepted to an influential young leader in the early church? How did John the Beloved go from being a futureless fisherman to a death-defying apostle?

The answer is simple. Someone had to recognize their gifts.

In my church, whom did God want me to notice? Every Sabbath I began looking for the young adults God was bringing to us. I wanted to make sure that a young adult never made it out of our church without feeling noticed and cared about.3 The greeters made sure to introduce me to new young people who came in the door. I started a list of names and contact information about all the young adults who visited our church. Through the process I began to better notice the handful of young adults God had already brought.

I got to know 18-year-old Dusty better. Through our conversations I discovered that he had a passion for youth ministry. So I asked if he would help me lead a Sabbath afternoon youth outreach activity. Largely because of Dusty’s creativity and enthusiasm, the youth loved it; moreover, Dusty loved it, and I loved it.

A few months later I asked Dusty to preach. He had never done that before. He knew I believed in him, and he knew Jesus would take over. Dusty preached a powerful sermon, and the whole church was moved to see this young adult fired up about Jesus.

Dusty wants to become a youth director, and I believe God will use him to do amazing things. Whom is God calling you to notice?

Connect

In these last days God promises to pour out His Spirit: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). I want to know what “visions” God is giving the young adults around me. The only way to find that out is to connect with them.

Timing is crucial. When young adults show up at church, I may get only one chance to connect with them and discover their passions. The best conversations happen over meals: potluck, at my home, or in a restaurant. One secret I have discovered about young adults: A genuinely caring person offers to treat them to the restaurant of their choice. They will almost always say yes.

When I saw a new young man in his early 20s during the worship service, I made sure to catch him in the lobby afterward. I learned that he had grown up in the church and just moved back to town. “You should be seeing me around here now. Except in a couple weeks I will be in Oklahoma to film a movie,” Forrest said.

“Wow! What a sweet opportunity! So you know how to do stuff with video?” I was intrigued.

Forrest’s face lit up. He pulled out his phone and started showing me a video with all kinds of special effects he had made. I discovered his passion.

We exchanged contact information and set up a time for a meal together. We brainstormed all kinds of ideas that could be done with video to advance God’s kingdom. Then I asked which one or two projects he would like to pursue first. We made a plan and prayed together.

Our first project was an announcement video for our Christmas brunch. The members loved it! They shared the video on social media to invite their friends. The brunch was wonderfully well attended, and the video still is the most popular on our church YouTube Channel. Forrest began receiving more requests from other ministries in the church to use his video gifts for God’s glory.

Activate

Remember Joshua, the courageous young leader of the people of God? How was he activated for God’s cause? Joshua’s debut in Scripture comes from an insightful story in Exodus 17. The Amalekites attacked, so Moses called on Joshua, a young adult, to lead the charge. The Israelites rallied behind Joshua. Moses stood on the hilltop and raised his hands in prayer for the success of Joshua. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning . . . . So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Ex. 17:11, 13). As long as we hold up our hands in prayer and support of our young adults, God will give them victories.

Whenever I discover a passion of young adults in my church, I immediately try to identify or create needs for their passion. Sometimes young adults already have ideas; other times I need to get creative. Then I do everything I can to dump fuel on their fire and set them up for success.

I met Marcus and Caitlin during greeting time at church. Although I only saw them sporadically, I continued to connect with them whenever they were at church. During one conversation I found out that Caitlin was a graphic designer. Immediately the wheels began turning in my head. By the next time I saw her, I had an idea.

“Our church will be launching a wave of small groups next month. Would you be willing to design a brochure with all the group options that we can distribute at church and mail out to our interest list?” I asked.

“Sure!” she replied. “What’s your budget?”

“Let’s aim for $100; we can adjust it later if needed.” I was fully prepared to pay the money myself if the church board chose not to.

Caitlin designed an outstanding brochure. Her passion had been engaged. She saw a difference that she could make for the kingdom of God and was willing to go all in. As a result of those brochures, dozens of people from both our church and community joined groups, including Caitlin. God had used her to multiply His mission. All we had to do was rally behind her and hold up her hands.

You and Me

How do you activate young adults in your church when you don’t have many or even any? It starts with you and me. As we pray, notice, connect with, and activate young adults, God will unleash them as a powerful force in ministry to usher in His soon return. Ellen White wrote, “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world!”4

Could it be that our greatest assets for reaping a harvest will walk into our church within the next few months in the form of young adults? Let’s pray for laborers, welcome them, connect with them, and activate them. Then let’s rally behind them to prepare the world for Jesus’ soon return!


  1. Recent research indicates that while the vast majority of “engaged” Adventist young adults attend church services more than once per month (97 percent), return tithe (71 percent) and offerings (60%) regularly, and attend Sabbath School more regularly than once per month (61 percent); only 35 percent hold some type of church office. See Barna Group Seventh-day Adventist Young Adult Study, 2013.
    www.youngadultlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Barna-SDA-Millennials-Report-final.pdf (accessed June 16, 2017).
  2. For more on this concept of “Total Member Involvement” in reaping the harvest, see
    tmi.adventist.org.
  3. Recent research in the Adventist Church discovered that only 17 percent of “unengaged” young adults say they don’t plan on ever returning to church. Whenever some of the other 83 percent show up, will we notice them? See Barna Group, Seventh-day Adventist Young Adult Study 2013,
    www.youngadultlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Barna-SDA-Millennials-Report-final.pdf (accessed June 16, 2017).
  4. Ellen G. White,
    Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 271.

Dustin Serns is a pastor in Port Orchard, Washington, United States.

Dustin Serns
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