News Feature: Profile of a Growing Church with Many Young Adults
January 1, 2016: “Large enough to celebrate, small enough to care” begins the vision statement for the College View Church (CVC), an Adventist congregation which is “still growing while organizing people in ever-smaller groupings so they can be cared for in even more personal ways.” CVC is located in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Midwest American state capital and university town. The church facilities share the campus of Union College (UC), one of the oldest institutions of higher education affiliated with the denomination.
The core values of the congregation are to be Christ-centered, celebrating and praising God, serving compassionately and unselfishly, and being an inclusive community. Its mission: “People being empowered through a loving relationship with Jesus helping others discover wholeness in Him.” Because the church is next door to the college, UC and CVC work closely together to make the church a place for the college students, local families, and the larger local community. The majority of the members are not students or employees of the college.
The Backpack Ministry is one way CVC reaches out to the city. Dr. Mark Robison, who doubles as a professor of English and chair of humanities at UC, and his wife oversee fundraising and operations. Robison told Adventist Today that CVC partners with the Food Bank of Lincoln to provide 60 sack lunches to students at Riley Elementary School, a public school in an area with low-income families. The sacks of food provide or supplement meals for the children each weekend and include four pieces of fresh fruit, cans of vegetables, and a meal the recipient chooses from a selection of six options.
The sacks are provided 34 weeks of the school year. During summer and holiday breaks the children receive grocery vouchers. The cost is “just over $200 for one student for the school year,” reported Robison. Through offerings, members of CVC finance 30 of these bags and the other 30 are provided by donations from businesses and the general public to the Food Bank of Lincoln.
The Pathfinder Club provides another approach for the church to reach Lincoln residents. One of the ways the Pathfinder Club does this is by collecting food donations at Thanksgiving for Lincoln’s Good Neighbor Community Center’s food pantry. Dr. Rich Carlson, the vice president for spiritual life and a religion professor at UC told Adventist Today that the Pathfinder Club collected 6,000 pounds of food donations in 2015.
The Something Else Sabbath School is an adult class which has a new way of functioning; it is an entire system actively involved in serving the needs of people as well as Bible study. It raises thousands of dollars each year to help individuals and families, Carlson said.
CVC offers a ministry specifically for women. Angel Bock, the wife of the administrative pastor for CVC, Terry Bock, leads Women of Spirit which meets the first Monday of each month from October through December and February through May. Some 300 to 350 women attend, and half are not church members, said Pastor Terry Bock. Women of Spirit addresses emotional and practical self-help, as well as spiritual topics.
The church also works with the Matt Talbot Outreach, a soup kitchen for the homeless and poor, and helps support the Good Neighbor Community Center. The center is the local Adventist Community Services agency in Lincoln which provides refugee resettlement as well as groceries and clothing for poor people among the local residents. Through another outreach ministry CVC provides toys for grandparents who cannot afford gifts for their grandchildren.
Project Impact is yet another way Union College students and young adults from CVC are involved in outreach. An entire day each year is dedicated to students and faculty aiding local nonprofits in many different ways.
Young Adult Ministry
Young adults who do not enroll in Adventist education are also involved. “We have a University of Nebraska ministry where we take care of Adventist students on public campuses around town, and try to reach out to their classmates and peers. We have a young professionals group of 20- and 30-somethings hosting … get-togethers to keep them connected,” explained Pastor Michael Paradise, the young adult specialist on the CVC pastoral staff. He works with young adults, those age 18 and over, while Pastor Mick Henton is the youth pastor working with teenagers younger than 18.
A number of young adult programs are available to CVC members, UC students as well as others in the area. Eight years ago a room was added to the church building for the specific purpose of young adult ministry.
Many of the pastors from the church teach classes at UC, which keeps them in touch with what is on the minds of young adults. “Our worship services … are geared toward young and old,” said Paradise. “We seek to give our young adult worshippers here an environment and experience allowing them to feel like they have a home church even if they’re away from home, and to commune with others.”
“College View Church creates a very welcoming environment and enjoys having college students as part of the church family,” adds Carlson. “[It] is a very supportive church toward Union College, welcoming the students like family members.”
CVC also offers a young adult Sabbath school class, assistance for young couples, and spiritual counseling for young adults. Of course, there are Sabbath school classes for children as well. Marcia Nordmeyer leads the Cradle Roll II Sabbath school for 3- and 4-year-olds. “I have been attending CVC exclusively for three years. I was a member of another church in Lincoln but when my son was born, children’s Sabbath school became important to me,” she told Adventist Today. “On November 7 , I filled out a membership transfer card, and that day I was also asked to become a Sabbath school teacher.” Nordmeyer was asked to teach every week through the end of 2015 and she accepted. She is employed as guest services director at UC.
Although Nordmeyer fears singing up front, the children are non-judgmental and the parents help her out by singing either loudly or on-key, she said with a chuckle. “The best part is at the very end of the program all the little kids run up and give me big hugs. The best part of my day is being dog-piled by a bunch of preschoolers. It makes everything worth it.”
“We have a pretty strong adult Sabbath school program and offer four or five classes in the sanctuary,” added Bock. “Many of these do a good job of functioning as a small group or as their own little congregation,” observed the pastor. “In a large church people can be lost but these classes help us know who’s here, who’s sick and needing help. They do a good job of ministering.”
“One of the unique aspects is it’s located on the college campus so there are many young people providing energy and creativity,” Bock continued. But, “CVC is also a family-friendly church with a lot going on for families and kids, and it has much to offer [all kinds of] people.”
A Rich Heritage and Contemporary Growth
The CVC congregation was organized in 1894, just three years after Union College was founded in 1891. Its purpose was specifically to provide a church ministry for the college, explained Carlson. And “it continues to provide that environment to this day.” The original building lasted until 1978.
In 1977 it was decided CVC needed a new physical plant and so the facility standing today was constructed. In 2007 the latest addition to the building was added to provide rooms for youth and young adult activities which the former building lacked. The 2007 addition includes a new fellowship hall and more parking spaces were constructed at the same time. The new facilities also feature stained-glass windows in the lobby, a sight which attracts visitors.
Over the years, CVC has had a number of notable pastors, including Morris Venden, Floyd Bresee and Rich Carlson. Venden, while senior pastor, wrote books about “righteousness by faith” and became a recognized champion for this theme. Bresee taught theology at UC and was known as a great preacher. He became secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association. Carlson is known by his peers as a leader in campus chaplaincy and now serves as a vice president for UC.
Attendance is about 1,500 on a typical Sabbath with two worship services and a number of Sabbath schools. The membership of the church has grown steadily throughout the years, and continues to grow in a time when many Adventist congregations in North America are stalled.
In the 1980s CVC grew by 2.4 percent, and that is the slowest growth rate it has had in recent decades. In the 1990s it grew by 13 percent and in the first decade of the 21st century by 3.6 percent or half again the rate in the 1980s. In the last five years growth has continued at a rate that would be around 5 percent by the end of the current decade.
Recent research on the growth of Adventist churches in North America has shown that the most important contributing factors are strong community involvement, rich spiritual life, inclusive fellowship, intentional planning and regular events aimed at the unchurched. CVC provides good examples of at least the first four and some of the activities probably encompass aspects of the last item.
The Midwest region of the United States is one of the most challenging mission fields around the world for Adventists. Retired people move to the South. Young adults often start careers on the East or West coasts. There are relatively few immigrants. The small towns are in decline and have long-established religious patterns that people find it hard to break out of. CVC is an exception to this overall pattern.
CVC demonstrates that even in Midwest America, the Adventist movement can engage young adults, win converts and grow. It is a story of hope and an example from which to learn.
Stefani Leeper, a journalism student at Union College, provided much of the reporting on which this profile is based. She has attended College View Church and is a regular contributor to Adventist Today.