Young People in Churches Are Longing for Relationships, Leaders Say

A recent training event in Thailand sought to help leaders who want to meet that need.

Edward Rodriguez, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, and Adventist Review
Young People in Churches Are Longing for Relationships, Leaders Say
Participants in the Youth Alive Facilitators Training enjoy a break in Muak Lek, Thailand. The training event took place July 31-August 6. [Photo: Southern Asia-Pacific Division News]

Young people are increasingly longing for deep connections, and churches across the world have an opportunity to make that happen. While there may be a decline in youth church attendance, research shows that young adults’ need for genuine relationships within their communities remains strong.

Church attendance among young people is on the decline across all religions, according to studies undertaken by religious institutions and youth-focused groups. The influence of secular forces and modifications to religious traditions are typically blamed for this loss.

Despite this loss, young people have a great desire to build stronger ties within their local churches. A vital part of their religious journey is the sense of belonging, spiritual development, and support provided by these relationships.

“We have observed that young people are longing for relationships with others with whom they share the same interests,” Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) youth director Ron Genebago recently commented. “Young people want to feel like they belong to a family that cares about them and accepts them for who they are.”

This is where a discipleship program for youth and young adults called Youth Alive plays a significant role in reaching out to young people, especially in this region. Youth Alive was developed through cross-departmental cooperation within the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It focuses on helping young people become resilient against risky behaviors like addictions, suicide, premarital sex, or violence by encouraging and empowering them to make positive lifestyle decisions, leaders behind the initiative said.

“The aim is to make youth feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings, and also gain purpose in service,” experts behind the initiative shared. “Confidentiality, openness, support, and acceptance are all hallmarks of a safe space found in the Youth Alive friendship groups. Rather than allowing put-downs, Youth Alive aims to build people up.”
It’s not always easy to bridge the generational and cultural divides that make communicating and connecting with one another difficult, leaders added. “It might be difficult for many youngsters to reach out to older adults or to keep up with the hectic pace of modern life,” they explained.

The Adventist Church in the SSD recognized the need for engaging the future generations and put into place several measures to build inviting and inclusive settings for young people. One of these is the Youth Alive program, church leaders reported. “Motivating young people to get involved in their communities and form meaningful connections with others is a top priority,” they said.

The SSD recently organized the Youth Alive Facilitators Training in collaboration with the General Conference health ministries department from July 31 to August 6 at the Mission Health Promotion Center in Muak Lek, Thailand.

“The goal is to equip young volunteers, pastors, health coordinators, and youth leaders to facilitate engaging small youth groups — called Youth Alive friendship groups,” organizers explained. “These groups provide fun social activities and service projects that create safe spaces for young people to connect with one another, talk about their struggles, and grow spiritually together.”

Katia Reinert, GC health ministries associate director, explained that the program can be adapted to meet the needs of young people across Asia among cross-cultural communities. “We are harnessing every available means to encourage communities and create spaces where young people can connect, share their faith journeys, and inspire one another to grow spiritually,” she said. “We can make a difference using Youth Alive to touch the lives of young people in search of meaning and purpose across unreached people groups.”
SSD health director Lalaine Alfanoso agreed. “Our youth deserve the emotional connection that neither society nor their own families have been able to provide,” she said. “God has given us the responsibility of shaping their personalities via our interactions with them, and of helping them develop their full potential. And we hope that Youth Alive can help them realize that.”

The original version of this story was posted on the Southern Asia-Pacific Division news site.

Edward Rodriguez, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, and Adventist Review