Innovation Labs Encourage Listening

February 12, 2018 | Heidi Baumgartner

Lyapa Simuzoshya sat by herself at a table and watched as young adults filtered into the room, found friends, chose tables and prepared for the start of Innovation Lab.

“I was struggling with being at Innovation Lab because I was certain I’d be an outsider at the church gathering … again,” says Simuzoshya, who moved to the area a couple years ago. “I’ve struggled to find warm, inviting church people.”

Then someone noticed her, started a conversation and introduced another person who had also recently moved to the area. A young married couple, also new to the area, joined the table along with an adult leader, who, you guessed it, was new to the community as well. This became a perfect opportunity for table participants to make new friends over a simple dinner and guided conversation.

A Collaborative Adventure

A year ago, Washington Conference embarked on a ministry plan to involve more young adults in all aspects of ministry. Conference leaders asked young adult ministry experts for names of someone who could lead this endeavor. The common recommendation was David Yeagley, a ministry leader already on the team.

In the first year, Yeagley met with small groups of young adults to listen to their needs and established connections with ministry partnerships already in progress.

The North American Division is partnering with California's Fuller Youth Institute in a learning cohort called Growing Young, based off a similarly titled book by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin. The Adventist training track is designated as Growing Young Adventists. (You’ll find this ministry page on Facebook.)

In Growing Young and its related research, six factors of young people friendly churches are identified: unlocking keychain leadership, empathizing with today’s young people, taking Jesus’ message seriously, fueling a warm community, prioritizing young people and families everywhere, and being the best neighbors.

The North Pacific Union Conference also has young adult ministry involvement as a key focus and recently sponsored 12 churches in the Pacific Northwest to participate in the Growing Young cohort. Three of the participating churches are in western Washington: Emerald City Community Adventist Church, Volunteer Park Church and Port Orchard Church.

A Lab for Listening

Taking time to listen and learn is important in inviting young people into ministry involvement. Yeagley organized two Innovation Labs in Washington — one in Auburn and one in Bellevue — where approximately 40 participants at each venue discussed the question, “What does it look like to do church together?”

To open the guided conversation time, each table built the tallest free-standing balloon structure with balloons, tape and pipe cleaners. It opened the creativity and imagination of participants as they headed into timed one-on-one interviews about their church experience, needs, ideas and suggested solutions.

The conversations revealed heart longings to connect with church family beyond the sanctuary, serve God in a variety of career fields, help address church and community needs such as in mental health, and foster cross-generation communication.

“We ended up with a list of needs, seeds of ideas and an opportunity to discuss the next phase of actions,” Yeagley says. “We want to continue dreaming and dialoguing together as we move forward in faith to grow the next generation of Adventists.”

As the second Innovation Lab ended, one young person told his friend, “We just talked about church for three hours. I liked it so much that I don’t want to go home.”

Conversation Wish List Highlights

  • Develop real, honest connections;
  • Nurture authentic, Christ-centered community;
  • Find common points between generations;
  • Increase mentoring and opportunities to learn;
  • Allow failure to happen;
  • Provide accountability;
  • Connect with neighboring churches;
  • Allow young adults to have a voice;
  • Understand there are different needs on the same pathway to heaven.

Innovation Lab Voices

  • “I want to feel valued and loved.”
  • “I need cross-generational friends.”
  • “I want to serve … especially the disenfranchised.”
  • “I want to be part of something that makes a difference.”
  •  “I dream of empowered younger generations to take leadership roles in the church.”
  • “I dream of more flexibility in programming: fewer lectures, more service opportunities.”
  • “I dream of more open communication between churches.”
  • “Here’s an idea: one-on-one spiritual buddy system. Everyone has a church buddy.”
  • “I sense a complacency and lack of integrated culture in the church.”
  • “I am looking for a community in action.”
  • “I need a way to build a sense of family in my new home church.”
  • “I need acceptance and support to serve God in a way that uses my gifts.”
  • “I need ways to connect with others my age to build relationships through experiences (and sitting in a pew doesn’t count).”
  • “Church makes me feel like I am home and welcomed.”
  • “I need to be part of a church that extends beyond two hours every Sabbath.”