By AT News Team, Feb. 4, 2015: The annual retreat of Adventist conference presidents in the denomination’s North American Division listened to a panel of young adults yesterday (Feb. 3). The topic was, “What do you wish pastor’s knew about Millennials?” The Millennial generation is the cohort born from 1978 through 1994, according to the American Demographic Institute. They are 21 through 37 years of age this year.
The percentage of members from the Millennial generation in the Adventist Church in the United States and Canada is less than half the proportion in the general population. “This is a major concern not only among Adventists, but among all faiths in America,” Adventist Today was told by Monte Sahlin, an Adventist researcher who serves as executive secretary of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a group that includes researchers from the most religions.
The topics discussed at the annual retreat of conference presidents are suggested by the presidents themselves, although most, but not all of the presidents participate. The fact that this topic appears on the agenda is evidence of the concern that Adventist administrators have about this topic.
Five key points were made by the panel, according to a Facebook post by Pastor Sandra Roberts, president of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She was present during the meeting.
- Today’s young adults are hardworking and want to be asked to do things for the church and Christ’s mission. They are smart and capable. They want to talk about complex questions. They want in-depth Bible study.
- The Millennial generation has access to Google and other search programs on the Internet, which puts them rapidly in touch with a large amount of information and opinion. They do not always use critical thinking skills, but they do have critical thinking skills. Don’t forget that! This generation is fact oriented.
- If young adults do not attend church, they are not generally rebelling against the faith. Many are disengaged but are still Christians. Even among non-attenders, most still consider themselves Adventists. Each individual is at a different stage in their spiritual journey. Millennials are looking for a reason to be engaged by church again.
- Today’s young adults are looking for something authentic. “I work with human trafficking victims,” said one panelist. “They can tell if we are real, just like Millennials.” Engage in relationships with the young adults in your church and be real. “If we can sense you are authentic, we can work it out.”
- Millennials have a different mindset than older generations. The brain works differently now because of the way the world is wired. This creates conflict between generations because of different perceptions. Adventists need to try to learn from each other and recognize how rapidly the world is changing.
“Perhaps we old folks too often make assumptions about a young person’s proximity to God … with reference to our way of doing things,” commented one Adventist pastor who preaches each Sabbath to many young adults. “In other words, our established practice (which includes much that is good) has replaced God as center in our faith. Christendom is not Christ and renovation is often needed … The next generation is neither (wholly) divine nor (wholly) deviant.”
In the interest of full disclosure, Adventist Today has paraphrased some the points summarized above for space and grammar considerations. Monte Sahlin is also executive director of the Adventist Today Foundation.