We know it’s happening. Christian churches all over the US are aging, and it feels as though there aren’t enough people to step up and keep them going. Maybe it’s not your church. Maybe you belong to a congregation that’s growing. Awesome. But there are plenty of Adventist churches that aren’t experiencing that right now. Two years ago mine was one of them.
This Sabbath I opened up my bulletin and pulled out a little offering brochure. It said something like, “Imagine a time when young people are bored with religion” and “Imagine a time where entertainment comes in a box or gadget instead of in nature.” I would guess that these ideas resonated with a lot of members concerned about Adventist youth. I would also guess that those same people would not realize the harm that can be caused by these kinds of attitudes. No, we aren’t “bored with religion.” We aren’t dropping out of our churches in droves because it isn’t fun enough. We’re leaving when the church doesn’t reflect Christ.
Let’s go back to my little church in Orangeburg, South Carolina. When my family first moved into town a couple of years ago we found a few scattered members sitting in the sanctuary watching a Doug Batchelor sermon. They were sharing a pastor with another church about an hour away, and often did not have anyone else to speak when he was gone. They had no website or social media presence at the time. VHS movies and a dated desktop sat in the church office from some time in the past. In that respect, they were not alone. At the time my wife and I were really struggling with coming to the service. While we were Adventists in belief, our previous church experience had really dragged us down. Honestly, we weren’t thrilled with Orangeburg at first either.
Soon after we moved into town, however, things started to change. My family (my parents, grandparents, and extended family all moved into town over the same couple of years) joined the pastor and other members in studying the Natural Church Development program. They started to tackle some of the less tangible issues Orangeburg was dealing with at the time. They took deliberate steps to foster an atmosphere of welcoming and fellowship. We started talking about intergenerational relationships. They asked questions and didn’t try to force my wife or I into positions we couldn’t handle. One Sabbath I stood in front of the congregation and explained to them the impact we could have if we started utilizing social media. After the service two members waited for me and said “Whatever you need to get Orangeburg online, we’ll help.” Within a month they had bought the church a new laptop.
It was that same attitude that kept me coming back. No, we didn’t always agree on music preferences or decoration choices. But we shared a common goal of trying to educate ourselves and continue communicating with each other. Walking into church today you would never know that we had gotten so close to closing our doors. We’re still ironing out details and laying the groundwork for bigger things, but the Orangeburg Seventh-Day Adventist church is now a vibrant place with higher attendance than it’s had in years. It’s a place I love coming to every week. It makes me wonder how many of our churches could be turned around.
Here’s where we come in. The young Adventists who care deeply for the fate of our faith. What if we were able to partner with burnt-out pastors and bewildered congregations, what if we could help reverse the trends we’re seeing? I think it’s possible. It worked here. I went from hardly attending to giving sermons, taking up the offering, and managing my church’s social media presence. Imagine the impact Millennial knowledge could have if we were allowed to apply it.
I want to end with some questions. What are some of the roadblocks keeping us from being active in our churches? What kinds of ministry/service could we render to our congregations with our skill sets? How could we connect dying churches, who often have no internet presence or youth with willing mission-minded young people?