We are young, and we used to be Adventist. Some of us went or still go to college or graduate school; most of us work. Some of us are pierced and tattooed, and many of us carry cell phones and use the Internet daily for information, communication, and community. Some of us are married, some of us have children, and some of us prefer to remain single. Each of us used to be involved with the Adventist Church.
For various reasons—time constraints, disenchantment, or specific negative experiences—we no longer find ourselves at church on a regular basis. It doesn't mean we're necessarily opposed to returning. There are just some things we'd like to see.
It's not the building, the music, or the technology that draws us or keeps us returning to a church as much as it is these four things:
1. Authenticity. In our Hollywood culture, we're surrounded by the untrue. We want church to be a place to escape the falsity and dis-ingenuousness of society, not just another show. We don't want to be patronized or coddled. We want truth and the sense that the members of a congregation are honest, straightforward fellow sinners and seekers.
2. Substance. If we just wanted to sit with a crowd and be entertained, we'd go to the movies. When we go to church on Sabbath, we're not looking for good music and a good time as much as for the opportunity to meet God and to worship. We want truth that we can take away with us, and intellectual and spiritual stimulation.
3. Relevance/practicality. We want our church experience to be applicable to our everyday lives and struggles, not just something heard on Sabbath and forgotten. We want the sense that our pastor is in touch with the world today and can help us understand and apply Scripture to our day-to-day lives. If Christianity is going to be real for us, we're going to have to be able to take it out of the church.
4. Community/acceptance. In some churches, Christianity feels like an exclusive club. We want to be genuinely accepted regardless of how we look or dress. Most of us don't look to the church to satisfy all our social needs, but a feeling of community is important. Many of us would also consider positions of leadership or other involvement in the congregation; we just need an invitation.
Leadership is important. A pastor doesn't need to be young to reach us, but he or she does need a youthful mindset. We are turned off by sermons and attitudes that focus overly on doctrine and not on the practical details of deepening and living our faith.
Social activities are an added benefit. Ones that we can bring non-member friends to are even better. Since we're all different, variety is important, but in general, we prefer an environment where the pressure is low to "sign up" for either the church or an Adventist life partner.
Many of us have left, but not all of us have. Some of us are still at church, or back after a time away, and would gladly invite our friends back with us if we were certain it would be to a loving, accepting environment and meaningful spiritual experience.
Will your church be one that helps welcome us home?
Used by permission and reprinted from Together Again Newsletter, Volume 11, No. 3, published by Center for Creative Ministry for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.