Past the point of no return?

I know, the title of the post is from an opera, but it aptly describes something I’ve been thinking about recently from a seminar at the summit. (I won’t name the seminar or the presenter as I don’t want to get him or her in trouble if I misrepresent the general point of the seminar.)

The point came up about the difficulties that many young adults face in worshiping/getting involved in “traditional” Adventist congregations; the speaker talked about his/her experiences of listening to complaints that young adults direct to him/her about their situation(s).

The speaker’s advice? Quite complaining. If you are in your 20-30’s and have a college degree you should spend your energy/education/experience in planting a new church. The general point was that traditional Adventist congregations won’t change to become young adult friendly institutions; they are set in their ways. If you’re a young adult, your energy is better spent in starting something new.

I want to be clear; the speaker was not advocating a mass exodus/revolt, but stated such an endeavor should take place with the blessings of the pastor of a particular congregation that the young adults is already attending and the conference.

Anyway, for some reason, this exchange has been on my mind the past few days.

What do you think? What challenges do you face as a young adult at your local church? Do you have positive or frustrating experiences? What do you like/wish would change? The music? The teaching? The programming? The people?

If you are a pastor, would you give your blessings to such an endeavor?

Are things really “past the point of no return” for most Adventist congregations when it comes to ministering to young adults?

The 18-35 demographic, supposedly, is the most coveted demographic for advertisers, business, and I would imagine, the local congregation. Is leaving and doing our own thing, for other’s in that same demographic, the best option for both us and the local church?

(I know I’ve asked a string of questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any one of them!)

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17 Responses to Past the point of no return?

  1. Roshan says:

    I think the advice given to young adults here is contradictory within itself and contravenes the spirit of fellowship given to us in the Bible.

    It is paradoxical to say one hand, “The point came up about the difficulties that many young adults face in worshiping/getting involved in ‘traditional’ Adventist congregations” to then offer the following advice, “such an endeavor [planting a new church] should take place with the blessings of the pastor of a particular congregation that the young adults is already attending and the conference.” I think it is highly unlikely that a young adult who has trouble connecting with a local congregation will then be able to get this same congregation’s “support” on starting a new church plant.

    The reality of what it means for a lot of young adult to have trouble connecting with a congregation is that they have bare minimum relationships with the congregation and usually leave church right after service. They usually attend church only on Sabbath morning. This isn’t true for all young adults, but I do believe it is true for a significant number of young adults who fit into the category of not being able to connect to a congregation.

    So, given that reality, it just seems fanciful to think that these people will be able to secure the blessings of a congregation that they barely know (and, by the way, who barely know them) to support a church plant. Supporting a church plant is a significant undertaking which involves resources that a church congregation commits to the plant.

    Now, I believe this advice also contravenes the spirit of Christian fellowship in Scripture. First, Jesus said that we should be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). Truly, what kind of love can we say that we have if the message others receive from us is that we can’t even worship together because the church only uses hymnal songs? Or, I can’t (or won’t) connect with you as a Christian, a fellow follower of Christ, because your pastor isn’t funny and doesn’t use computer-based slideshows. This is just outrageous.

    Second, having people different than you in a congregation is good because you learn from others. Ephesians 4:12-13 states that God has given us different gifts: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” I realize that all of those gifts can be given just to young adults as well. But if God has already blessed members of your local congregation with some of these gifts, how can we reject them? On what basis do we reject them? Further, how can you deny the gifts that God has given you to your local congregation? The Bible calls us a body of believers, literally. How can we, with a straight face, claim to believe and uphold that principle as we walk out the traditional church doors looking for something that suits our tastes better?

    No congregation is perfect, yet why not remain in the congregation to be an agent of change as you work together with the congregation to spread the Gospel?

  2. allan says:

    I think that reading Barna’s “Revolution,” and Kinnaman & Lyon’s “unChristian,” would be very helpful to this dialogue. Truth be told, there are congregations that as adamant about exclusiveness as some people were about about “white” and “black” bathrooms. Truth also be told, there are congregations that want desperately to connect with young adults and just haven’t a clue how to start. A final truth I would venture is that young adults are about as diverse as they come, so solution-finding will likely call for some diversity and creativity.

    Oh yeah, reading Cunningham’s “Dear Church,” would also serve to enrich this important dialogue. Thanks Zane and Roshan for getting it started.

  3. elisa says:

    i was part of a group that was a “church within a church” setting where young adults were part of the larger church but met in a separate location. i’ve also been in churches where young adults have stopped coming because nothing is relevant and they don’t have a voice in the church. i’ve also been part of a community that is what Barna calls a “mini-movement” where there is a definite community growing but all members of the movement have one foot in the church and are still connected to their church, making a difference there, and yet finding community in this “mini-movement”. i guess in all of these experiences i’ve learned something and they all serve different purposes. the biggest encouragement i would have is that it is important not to throw our hands up and start another “church” experience where people may find the same lack of community. what seems to resonate with so many is just creating community somehow-someway but not necessarily waiting for the “big” church to make it happen.

    there isn’t an easy or “pat” answer – but in my opinion (and that is all it is) starting a new church because the old one doesn’t work will not necessarily solve the problems. how is it funded? what happens when the new generation comes along? do they have to start something new again? does a new church service really respond to the issues?

  4. aamphd says:

    Young adults have many “issues” with the church, that is evident by the current attrition statistics for Adventistism (+50%) as well as protestant churches overall (+60%). So what might be some offered solutions as young adults express their “complaints” (or concerns) about their difficulties in the local church context?

    The one that Zane reiterates here is one alternative. One that seems to suggest to move from complaining to action.

    Roshan points out the need for Christian community and abiding with a Biblical ethos for inclusivity. This seems to suggest continuing on in church, intending to be an agent of change.

    Allan notes the diversity of young adults and the need for contextualized solution finding. Elisa affirms the diversity of models based on her experience.

    I would offer, another question.
    What will serve to deepen the devotion of young adults to Jesus Christ?
    How might we disciple new generations and embrace them as GOD has asked us to?

    • Might it call for the planting of a new church? (In GA/Cumberland, that is exactly what they are doing to reach new generations in metro Atlanta.)

    • Might it call for continued efforts with the exisiting local church? (In Michigan & Indiana, many young adults continue their efforts to infuse their vitality into existing local churches.)

    • Might it call for various hybrid-models? (Deeper in Florida, Oasis in Chicagoland, Fusion in Atlanta are among an array of examples)

    • Might it call for an apology from a church that has neglected to hear the voices of young adults, and an intentional effort to empathically hear young adult “complaints?” (Cunningham’s “Dear Church” expresses this intriguing process in the form of letters)

    It seems like the response may be multiple times “yes.”

    Covey’s dictum may be appropriate here:
    “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

    By carefully and authentically listening to the hearts of young adults, we may be better able to discern how best to disciple them. But maybe more important than knowing what to do with them, we will begin to build caring relationships with them.

    Prayerfully hearing young adults and hearing GOD’s purposes, one (who is invested in “being the church”) would potentially explore how they might “serve” these new generations, acknowledging them as vital part of Christ’s body.

    Both the “church” and the “young adult” risk being lost if we miss the point. Which brings me back to Zane’s novel title…

    Past the point of no return?

    In the Gospel of Luke…
    The lost sheep?
    The lost coin?
    The lost son?
    The older son?

    Past the point of no return?
    Only in so far as the shepherd, the woman, and the father stop seeking us out.

    I am so grateful for Jesus’ adamant pursuit of us and his robust theology of partying upon our return, regardless of the road travelled.

    • LisaE says:

      SOOO well said. I especially like the part -“But maybe more important than knowing what to do with them, we will begin to build caring relationships with them.” This is key in reaching the young adults in our church. My husband and I attend an Adventist church where the young adults are the majority. We are in our 50’s and love the energy these people bring to church. When we were young adults one of the most encouraging thing to me was the LOVE that was shown to us and the acceptance of wanting to be heard and seen and listened to. I feel very blessed to have had that experience and have tried to carry it on in this next generation. We have 3 young adult children. Two attend church, the youngest does not. But all 3 of them have lasting relationships with people from our church who cared about getting to know them. Thank you for your comment. It really sums it all up.

  5. Zane says:

    Thanks, everyone, for taking the time and energy to leave your comments and getting this conversation started:

    Roshan, you raise some great great points about Christian unity and diversity. You describe of the behavior of many young adults that attend your church–minimal relationships with others in the congregation, leaving early, etc. I guess the good thing is that they are there! The question is what can the congregation do to minister further to these young adults and those like them that are not at church at all? The claim of the presenter is that there is not much that can be done in most congregations, so people who have a burden for such a ministry should try to start something new (with the blessing of their pastor).

    Allan, thanks for the leads on the books. Could you give us a short synopsis of the books for those of us that might not have time to pick them up?

    Elisa, It sounds as if you’ve been around the bases when it comes to experimenting with different types of approaches to young adult ministry. I agree with you that a very important factor seems to be the development of community.

    AAMPHD, I’m glad God hasn’t given up on me, too! =)

  6. lisahope says:

    a conversation i had last week came to mind as i read this… it was with a woman in her late 70s. we became friends when i moved to tennessee in ’04. i’ve since moved and i don’t see her often, but both of us are thrilled when our paths cross. somehow, despite the difference in our chronological ages, we are kindred spirits.

    our conversation turned toward the connection (or lack, thereof) between the younger and older generations in the church. she grew intense as she shared her heart with me. “i know the younger people get frustrated with us when we don’t understand them–don’t like their music, don’t appreciate their earrings–but this is what i grew up with! this is what was ingrained in me all my life! someone tell them that i want to connect with them, but i just don’t know how… and tell them to be patient with us!”

    i was challenged by the cry of this woman’s heart. her words have echoed in my heart and mind over the past several days. what can i do as a young adult to reach out to the older generation? what can i do to bridge the gap?

    fear is a powerful tool in the hands of the enemy. this woman is afraid of the younger, outspoken generation who is demanding things change in the church. i sensed in her heart, however, the intense yearning to reach out, to understand, and to be understood.

    if wonder what would happen in my church if i was more intentional about developing relationships with the older generation and facilitating other young adults to do the same…. could it be that if they knew our hearts first, they would not be as fearful of our minds? could it be that if they knew we loved them just as they are, they would be more accepting of where we are?

    it’s like both generations are seeking the same thing… “what a man [and woman] desires is unfailing love” proverbs 19:22. who will be the first to give? who will be the teachers to dispel the fears?

    perhaps this fits in this thread of thoughts… perhaps it belongs elsewhere… there is not one right answer to the dilemma that faces our churches. may God expand my mind and heart to realize he has a thousand ways to provide for us of which i yet know nothing… may i be willing to evaluate my current situation to see which solution may best serve to advance the Kingdom of God… may i humbly seek connection with those who are different than me… may i introduce others to the love and grace of God in every possible way–including those who “should already know it” but perhaps have not experienced it, despite their many years in the church….

    God, keep my heart from ever getting past the point of no return….

  7. Bill says:


    A comment on the attrition stats. The latest Pew study has better numbers.

    “Of all of the Protestant families, Baptists, Adventists and Lutherans have the highest retention rates, at roughly 60% each. The Holiness, Anabaptist and Congregationalist families, by contrast, have much lower retention rates, below 40% each.”

    And what happened to those who left? Among those raised Adventist, 23% changed to another Protestant denomination (10 became Evangelical, 6 became Mainline, 6 joined historically black Protestant churches), 7% joined a non-Protestant religion, and 10% stopped practicing.

    This study didn’t ask why they left, though. A study by LifeWay Research last year did. Some of the relevant factors:

    • Sermons relevant to their life as teenagers
    • A worship style that was appealing
    • A welcoming, non-judgmental environment
    • Five or more adults making a significant investment in their lives; personally and spiritually
    • Having regular responsibilities at church

  8. allan says:

    Are these young adult retention stats? I would love to see the Pew study numbers and see if their analysis had specificity to the age range typically labeled “young adult.”

    LifeWay Research reports 70% attrition among 18-22 year olds.

    Barna Group reports 61% attrition among twentysomethings.

    The Institute of Church Ministry’s Roger Dudley offers a conservative estimate of 50% attrition by the middle 20’s, based on his longitudinal study.

    Would love references for the Pew Study.

  9. Roshan says:

    Offtopic: is there a way to subscribe to the post so that I can be notified of new comments posted via email?

  10. I think that I may have just been that presenter. If not at that particular seminar, I have certainly made this statement before in public. That being said I wanted to make some points of clarification.

    1 – My heart breaks for young adults that are leaving the church. It has already been mentioned previously, but we must wake up, smell the Postum and listen to the needs of young adults. By the way, for the young adult reading this that doesn’t have a clue what Postum is I have included a link – If only Starbucks would see the light!

    2 – We were told at Ignition that the average age in our churches in N. America is 58. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. And instead of blaming young adults for not getting involved with the community in their church (which happens to be twice their elder), why not create an environment/DNA whereby the oldies are reaching out and befriending the youngins?

    3 – Church planting provides the opportunity to create the sought after DNA. I once heard someone say that it is easier to give birth than raise the dead. If a church is dead and the leadership will not empower young adults to fulfill God’s calling on their lives, then I say PLANT A CHURCH! Our entire denomination was ignited by young adults who caught a vision and started going out and planting culturally relevant churches. And now we seem to be in a bottle neck. We’ve developed a culture of control and not empowerment. Jesus’ accepts that “All power and authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me.” But then what does He do with it? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!” (Matthew 28:18,19).

    As I advised, I believe that we need to be respectful of church leadership, but just as Jesus did, if it ain’t happening in the local church, take it outside! Please don’t misunderstand me here. I love this denomination and believe that we have a specific purpose, BUT we as leaders must recognize that the younger generations don’t care about structure and bureaucracy. And they won’t stick around for policies to be made. This must be addressed.

    The young adult who asked the question spoke to me for sometime after the seminar (which I think was on spiritual direction). She explained to me how many young adults have contributed to a recent building project so that their church could have a new home. There is a group of highly committed young adults who love Jesus and are agonizing seeing so many of their peers leave the church. They want to start a young adult church service in the new church facility that they have just contributed to see to completion and they are being told that they cannot have this service. Now I ask you, what would you say? I think that there is something devastatingly wrong with this picture.


  11. Allan says:

    As to descriptions of “Revolution,” “unChristian,” and “Dear Church,” I would suggest going to and search IGNITION, that should pull up these titles and others for young adult ministry as well as their corresponding descriptions. Hope that helps.

  12. aamphd says:

    Points to Return to…

    • When young adults care enough to verbalize their concerns, what might be our response as the church? What actions might affirm that we not only hear/understand, but that we are actively responsive to these concerns.

    • When complaints and concerns are not being heard by leadership in our church, as opposed to continuing to complain or leaving the church, what solutions might we offer young adults to pursue?

    • What help can we offer to church leadership and older generations who want to include and involve young adults but just don’t know where to start?

    • What solutions can we develop to not only react to young adult attrition, but maybe more importantly, what can be implemented to heighten retention across all generations (young adults are not the only ones leaving the church)?

    • How can we provide support for innovation, creativity, and spiritual movements that will at times challenges us and call for change. Change, even if constructive, can be intimidating and even painful.

    • How might we deepen our value of our diversity, anticipating unity being our ethos across the multiplicity of ways we worship, minister, disciple, and fellowship. How do we affirm harmony as an alternative to unison as a valid expression of diversity?

    • How might we best bring glory to GOD? What behaviors, changes, solutions, attitudes, initiatives, thoughts, etc. will lift up Jesus Christ as we return to the heart of GOD?

    These are some of the points I am gleaning from this fascinating conversation, points to which I eagerly return.

  13. Zane says:

    Matthew, sorry you weren’t the presenter to which I was referring. =)

    I have heard, however, similar comments being made by others. Not so much in reference to young adult ministry, or specifically about the Adventist church, but in reference to reaching our culture/society at large and the challenge that most congregations seem to be having. Most people who don’t go to church, don’t relate very well to church the way we usually do it. Their DNA and ours, to use your lingo, don’t match up very well.

    The issue of young adult attrition is closely related to wider issue of the effectiveness of Adventist ministry/evangelism to our society (post-Christian/”post-modern”) in general.

    Young adults that have been raised in our society have the same/similar mindset of that of the wider culture…I believe that if you can effectively minister to one set, you’ll probably be able to minister to the other.

  14. Manny Vela says:

    zane…here is a part of a review i wrote for kinnaman’s unChristian. i would piggyback on allan’s comments and say it is a must read.

    “Christianity has an image problem and as a church we have always been aware of image problems. Do we care? David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons spent three years studying some uncomfortable realities about what it means to be the church and what Christians look like to outsiders. The central message the book is: How do we understand, accept, love, and bring the transformational power of Jesus to a generation that’s very skeptical, that’s very done with Christianity as we’ve expressed it in this culture for the last 20, 30, to 50 years?

    Six out of the nine chapters explore the most common points of skepticism and objections raised by outsiders: Hypocritical, Get Saved, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, Judgmental. Each chapter begins with a current perception outsiders have about Christians. These perceptions are eye-opening and come across as a one-two punch that will knock you to the ground! Kinnaman and Lyons found that “Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” The implied suggestion from these perceptions, if we pay attention to them, is that we need to try to understand a world that is moving away from things that we respect and adore as Christians. As we begin or if we begin to understand the generation’s skepticism about Christianity, then we begin to understand what Jesus is all about.

    Along with the current perception outsiders have about Christians is a suggested new perception that Christianity should strive for. This part of the chapters we enlightening and practical. At the end of each chapter a variety of contributors weigh in with short essays. This added a well-rounded perspective to the book that the facts alone would otherwise not have done.

    There are many things that stood out prominently to me, but one of the most catching statements was in regards to homosexuality. In fact, it was a short essay at the end of chapter 3. Shayne Wheeler wrote, “The Bible is clear: homosexual practice is inconsistent with Christian discipleship. But there is not a special judgment for homosexuals, and there is not a special righteousness for heterosexuals. For all of us, our only hope for the fracture in our soul is the cross of Christ.” To me, this statement speaks not only about how we treat homosexuals or our thoughts and judgments about them, but in the larger scheme of things, it speaks to the only hope that insiders, that is, Christians, and outsiders have: Jesus Christ.

    As I read this book, questions kept popping up in my mind: Are we, Christians, that is, really pushing the rest of the world away? I mean, really? If so, shouldn’t we be held accountable for our actions and attitudes are perceived by outsiders? Do we even care that we’re misrepresenting the holy, just and loving God we serve? Don’t we serve a God who sent His son, Jesus, who was constantly pursuing people to reconcile them to Himself? What are we doing wrong?

    Is there a solution? Is there one thing that could be done and the problem would be solved? As one reads though Kinnaman and Lyons book, the solutions seems simple: People need to have enough positive experiences with what Christians are doing that’s different, that’s distinct. We need to understand what outsiders are frustrated about. They are frustrated about a shallow, superficial expression of Christianity. After reading this book the question I’m left with is: Can we put all of that aside and talk about what is Jesus? He’s a compelling figure. Let’s talk about His words. Let’s talk about what He’s done in my life. Is that the solution? Maybe it’s a start.”

  15. i’d like to split hairs a little more . . . because the advice to plant churches was tied to the reality of complaints. Here’s what I mean:

    church planting needs to be pursued all the time. the Great Commission to “go make disciples” is a CHURCH PLANTING COMMISSION — if you (believer) are going to GO to (unbelievers) make disciples… the result is a group of believers, i.e., “the church.” Clearly, going and making disciples means planting new churches.

    however, i believe it’s dangerous to start a church based solely on what you don’t like. i’ve had several congregants say they want to go start a new church. when asked what kind of church they’d like to start, they say, “one that’s not like this one.” haha! gotta love it… starting a church that ISN’T something else. That’s like finding your identity in what you’re not… a problem some ex-Adventists encounter.

    Church planting must be driven from a clear vision of what you DO intend to BE, not what you don’t want to be. However, vision emerges out of problems given solutions (Read Andy Stanley’s, Making Vision Stick).

    We must be comfortable with identifying the problems (complaints?)… but we must not stop there! Solutions must come and out of the solutions, a clear vision has the best chance to emerge!

    When a group of people, no matter what age, have a clear vision of what type of church GOD is calling them to be… there is nothing more powerful on earth.

    I think the complaints are often tied into a deep-seated conviction (most likely subconcious at that) that the church being complained about has lost its’ clear vision of the identity and purpose of “the church,” — it’s become institutionalized. You don’t need to go start a new church if your ministry style is just different than the mainstream thrust of your current church… but if you have major philosophical differences about how to BE the church, you will never be satisfied and you will be labeled a rebel if you try to stay and make it work (Read Ed Stetzer’s book, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age)

    I agree that we need more people to go start new churches. I think we need the older generation to partner with the younger (it’s usually the middle-aged generation that’s running the show anyways because they’ve finally “arrived”) but they better be clear about the call of GOD for the church.

    Here’s my shameless plug ::

    We are planting a NEW church in Atlanta, using mostly young adults and some retirees. It’s in the “core building” phase… so, if you or anyone you know is in Atlanta and are interested in a new, missional, contemporary Adventist church — please let me know!

    Email me at or

  16. aamphd says:

    Church planting based on the Great Commission not the great complaints. Wise and relevant comments Chris. Our prayers go with you Chris as you expose the Kingdom in the heart of ATL.

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