By Ed Barnett … There is an old trick I have shared with pastors on several occasions that is really very simple. I first heard it from Robert S. Folkenberg, our former General Conference President. The pastor gives everyone in attendance a small piece of paper and asks them to write their age. When the deacons pick the papers up, they add the numbers together and divide it by the number of individuals who filled them out to find the average age of the church. If this is done every year, within a few years, it will become evident whether your church is growing younger or older.
Across the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the population is rapidly aging, a real concern for me and it ought to be for you as well. I don’t believe we are drawing young people into our churches today. Even our pastoral leadership across this division is aging. When I visit rural churches in RMC and look around the congregation, I realize I am often the youngest one there! Unless there is a miracle, their days as congregations are numbered.
Has the church lost its zeal and its first love? Are our young people frustrated with the church? Is it because of the bickering taking place in the church? Are they frustrated they are rarely offered a place at the table when it comes to making decisions for the local church or the church in general? Do we need to dust off some of the things we have typically done for the last hundred years?
Perhaps the piece that bothers all of our people, especially our young, is the lack of genuine love for one another in our faith communities. It should be obvious that as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we ought to be the kindest and most loving people in our communities. But is that really what we are in our churches? Are we a testimony for Jesus?
On January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a mob, I was bothered by seeing a person holding a sign that said “John 3:16.” We all know that verse. When I saw that, I cringed. I was thinking, “So this is supposed Christians using a Bible verse claiming God’s great love to the world and yet here they are attacking our nation’s Capitol, looting and desecrating one of our country’s greatest symbols and all in the name of God?”
Reflecting on the events of January 6, I wonder if this is how our young people see our church today? Do they see “us” carrying placards pointing to John 3:16 and hear us saying we ought to love like Jesus? And then, come to church and question why they don’t feel that love? Where is the love? Why do we instead hear gossiping and see the back-stabbing?
Our young people may be asking questions, “Why won’t they let me take part in the life of our faith community?” Why do we do church the same way every week, year after year? Young people don’t want to play church. They want an authentic and transparent experience. They want it to be meaningful and life changing, not only for them, but for the rest of the church family as well.
In the last year, so many of the norms of life have changed, a very discouraging fact that drains us all. Yet, one thing we noticed that has surprised us was how quickly our churches and schools closed. Some naively thought the only way that would ever happen was when the Sunday laws came. Hopefully, this has been a wakeup call. Be careful not to go by a list of things that you think must happen in a certain sequence before Jesus can come. Perhaps we need to enhance our Bible study and be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit as we consider the end of time on this old planet.
We need to shake off the cobwebs and realize the church has to change to keep up with the times. For starters, we must be a draw for our own young people and those in our community who are looking for answers to the crazy world we live in. We need to dust off the furniture and make it look new again and inviting!
Jesus is coming soon! He wants the church to be reaching out with a last-day message of hope and love to the world around us.
–Ed Barnett is RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]