by Monte Sahlin

From a News Release, October 23, 2014

A lifelong Adventist and daughter of missionary parents, Natalie Bruzon is tired of seeing young adults walk out during a sermon and sometimes joining them. Feeling disconnected to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, she even considered attending a nondenominational Christian church.

“The struggle is real,” said Bruzon, a student at Union College (UC) in Lincoln, Nebraska. Bruzon decided she wanted to see something change for her generation and became the driving force behind the three-day summit of student leaders from the Adventist colleges and universities in North America that began today (October 23) on the UC campus. The event gives young adults the opportunity to discuss ways that Adventist young adults can stay connected with their church and how the church can stay connected with their generation. The focus is "being a part of the solution."

Last year student leaders were invited to sit in on the annual meeting of the governing body for the Adventist denomination in North America. The student body presidents who attended "felt that the Adventist church needed more young adult support,” said Bruzon. “One of the big issues in the church right now is that 60 to 70 percent of our young adults, 18 to 30 years old, are leaving.”

The student senate at UC took up the idea and looked at various possibilities, events and other ways they could generate awareness of the issue. Feeling that they needed something different from the usual campus spiritual activities, the senate concluded that they needed a long-standing solution in the form of a five-year plan and a committee to steer it.

“As church members, we felt like we needed to do something to help,” explained Bruzon. “Everything I do is powered and encompassed by my beliefs,” she told her classmates. “I never stray from them.”

Passionate about her new-found goal, Bruzon organized a committee of UC students to figure out how to reach young adults of all ages and educational programs. The committee is not directly affiliated with the student government, but works independently.

“Our purpose was to discuss issues that we see in the church and reasons why we would not want to stay in the church, to bring to light this problem of young adults leaving.” Out of these discussions developed the idea for the summit.

As part of this week's summit, two representatives from each Adventist college and university in North America have been invited to Lincoln and the committee has invited four speakers. “The summit is not so much to offer concrete solutions, but more of presenting the young adults’ voice,” Bruzon explained. “We want to bridge the communication gap that we have with our church leaders.”

Over the next three days there will be four "think tank" sessions of guided discussion. Information from these sessions will be compiled, followed by a short presentation on the results. Then there will be a general discussion. Any young adult can participate in the discussion, and those who are not young adults are welcome to listen. The summit will wrap up with breakout groups exploring questions such as: Why do young adults leave the church? Why do young adults stay? What can we give the church? What would we like the church to give us?

The speakers will include Pastor Allan Martin from the Arlington Adventist Church in the suburbs of Dallas; Pastor Ben Lundquist, young adult ministries director for the denomination's Arizona Conference; Dr. Ron Pickell, pastor of the Berkeley (California) Adventist Church and coordinator of public campus ministries for the denomination's North American Division; and Pastor Harold Alomia, senior pastor of the College View Church on the UC campus.

The students also launched a social media campaign on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the hashtag #iAmTheChurch. This hashtag was intended to raise awareness about the summit, but organizers hope the campaign will also initiate critical thinking by young adults across North America, challenging them to consider what role they will be playing in the church five years into the future.

“We are the church of tomorrow. What are we going to be doing in five years?” ask students in a short video created as part of the campaign. “Are we going to be passively sitting on the pews and complaining about everything we don’t like, or are we going to be actively part of the solution?” The goal of the committee is that the student leaders who participate in the summit this week will continue the movement.

“The committee members are really passionate and have done all the work to make this possible,” said Bruzon. “It’s been amazing the way every single one of them has stepped up, taken on a project, and volunteered to be a part of something.”

The summit and the committee are especially important to Bruzon because she personally wants to see young adults take an active role in the church and a step forward in their spiritual journeys. “This committee has made me aware of the role church plays in our lives,” she explained. “It’s made me take it more seriously and actually look at it from a new perspective.”

“I would love to see committees like this in other schools,” she added, “to see young adults raising their voices and saying they want to be a part of the Adventist church, and strive to make things happen. I would love to see us take a part in our own problem and be proactive about it.” As for Bruzon’s five-year plan, she sees herself still actively and passionately involved with the committee and its mission to reach young adults struggling to connect with the Adventist Church.

"I hope this is a genuine, authentic grass-roots uprising," a retired NAD officer told Adventist Today. "We need a new generation of deeply rooted, centrist Adventist young adults to take hold of the church."

If you want more information about the movement join #TheFiveYearPlan (#TFYP) on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. The video can be seen at this Web address:  https://youtu.be/iA2TYBng9c8